Yesterday I was in Manhattan, meeting with the head of H2One hand sanitizers, Alfred Zaccagnino, about getting more products to Bronx schools when all of a sudden my phone goes off.
It was Gabby Martinez. Who is Gabby Martinez you ask? Well in the spring of 1996, the Yankees made a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers that got them this great young prospect named Martinez. He was a middle infielder that the Yankees hoped could possibly become their future second baseman to play along side another young player named Derek Jeter.
In those days George Steinbrenner would ask me to watch over his young players like a hawk. That spring, my assignment was to look over Jeter, Martinez and ‘Doc’ Gooden, who was making a comeback after being suspended because of a drug violation. Oh and I had to have Gabby stay in my house because he was a special case. Naturally you didn’t say no or question the Boss, you just did what he said.
I was just curious as to why I had to take Gabby home. That first night I took Gabby to dinner. Then we went home, we sat down and watched television, talked for a while, during which time he told me that his long range plan was to be a professional singer. Then we went to sleep. Before I fell asleep, I remember saying to myself, ‘This is a piece of cake!’
At about 5 am, I was startled by what I thought was somebody screaming because I thought they were getting killed in the back of my house. I grabbed my baseball bat that I keep by the side of my bed (an old Bronx-Brooklyn habit) and ran to find out what was happening. Well, when I got to the back I could hear that the screaming was coming from Gabby’s room. I opened the door and there he was holding a hair brush as if it was a microphone. He was singing at the top of his lungs, mariachi music as if he was on stage. I told him that he had to tone it down or practice at the ballpark.
Well he didn’t tone it down and my neighbors started to complain. This went on for two weeks, then he was sent down to the minor league camp. At that point I literally begged the Boss to send Gabby to the minor league hotel. He agreed. Don’t get me wrong I love Gabby and music is my life but I hate mariachi music.
To this day we are good friends. Even though his aspirations to become a major league player didn’t quite work out, he is still involved in baseball. He owns a baseball instructional facility in Queens New York.
When Gabby called me, he immediately started to tell me about a kid that he considered the next Derek Jeter. He said, ‘Ray, he is even better than me at the same age.’ Naturally I chuckled because if you know Gabby, you would understand.
Please understand that I’m not a scout by any means, however through the years if there is a kid that looks good, and he could be a part of the Yankees, I will call our area scout and ask him if he can take a look.
I told Gabby that I really didn’t have time today but he was insisting that it had to be today. I asked him why and he said that the kid was someone whose family I knew. Once he said that, I figured that the kid wasn’t really a prospect and that this was a favor. I asked Gabby who was the kid. Gabby said the kids name is Michael Sirota. I said that I don’t know who that is. Gabby said his uncle was Whitey Ford. Whitey was the greatest pitcher in Yankee history. Whitey was also the second greatest player ever to come out of New York, The first being Lou Gehrig.
Whitey, I am proud to say was a friend who took time when I was a kid to help me with my throwing before I was drafted by the Pirates. So out of respect to ‘Slick’ (which was the nickname that Mickey Mantle gave him) I went to see the kid. I got to meet the dad, Michael senior and I also got to spend time with the son, Michael Jr.
When the practice started and Gabby and his protege’ got into their routine I have to say that I was very impressed. This kid wasn’t just the relative of a big leaguer looking for an advantage just because his work ethic and what I saw, told me that I needed to call our scout Matt Hyde to officially check this kid out.
I have been around baseball for more years than I want to remember, however scouts are trained and develop an eye to really see what they are actually looking for. Anyone can see that I definitely needed to call Matt Hyde because maybe Gabby is right, when he said that Michael Sirota could have ‘Derek Jeter’ ability. From what I saw, this kid is a natural athlete with a great swing and a terrific arm. Hopefully Michael has the true Whitey Ford pedigree and will someday wear his Hall of Fame uncle’s pinstripes. Michael’s dad asked me why didn’t Gabby make it to the Big leagues. I told him, because he was a terrible singer.