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Tag: ray negron

Million Dollar Movie

I covered the last game at the old Yankee Stadium for SI. Spent almost the entire time trailing Ray Negron, who at one point, gave a two-hour private tour of the place to a party of four headlined by Richard Gere. The filmmaker Barbara Kopple was part of the media swarm and she followed Ray and his group with her camera crew, hoping to get some footage of Gere. For his part, Gere was gracious and allowed her to film him some.

Well, Kopple’s ESPN documentary will air soon but it seems that Yankee president Randy Levine doesn’t much care for it. Which means, it might be pretty good, after all.

Curtain Call

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I was at the final game at Yankee Stadium and wrote a bonus piece for SI.com on what the night was like for Ray Negron:

It was just before one o’clock in the morning on Sept. 22, but the scoreboard clock was frozen at 12:21. The last game at Yankee Stadium was over, Sinatra had finally stopped singing New York, New York, and organist Ed Alstrom was playing Goodnight, Sweetheart. The home team had won 7-3 in a game that meant nothing in the standings but everything in a deeper, gut-felt way. The Yankees would not be going to the postseason for the first time since 1993, yet they had drawn 4.3 million fans, including another capacity-plus 54,640 on this night. And now, as the last of them drifted out of the ballpark, it felt like closing night for a hit Broadway show.

Now it was just the clean-up crew swinging into action and a select group of others clinging to the night — players and their families, reporters, radio and TV personalities, cameramen, front office workers, the grounds crew and cops, lots of cops. People hugged and slapped hands and talked and laughed. Players scooped up dirt and grass and put them in paper cups and Ziploc bags. Grown men had their pictures taken at home plate, on the mound and sliding into second. It was like Never-Never Land — everyone was a child. Why would anyone want to go home, knowing they were the last precious few to soak in the Stadium? They stayed, stuck between history and the wrecking ball, until the head of security announced that it was time to leave.

Ray Negron was out on the field, right where he belonged, with the players and sportswriters. Ray had seen them all — from DiMaggio and Mantle to Reggie and A-Rod. He was there when they came to play at the Stadium and he was still there when they left.

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Inside Man: A Bronx Tale (Part Three)

Real Life

When Reggie Jackson left New York, Ray Negron’s glory days came to an end. Now, he had to adjust to a more mundane reality, and a greater challenge—how to advocate for himself. Negron had defined himself by what he could provide to other, more famous men.

"Growing up is hard," says Negron. "In baseball, you are a kid forever. When I left the Yankees, I didn’t have the players to protect me anymore." Negron married his longtime girlfriend Barbara Wood in 1981; they got an apartment in Far Rockaway, had a son four years later, and were divorced before the end of the decade. "It was hard to give my heart and soul to a situation when I didn’t really want to be there," he says.

While he was with the Yankees, Negron gradually lost touch with his half-brothers who were caught up in the street life, junkies while they were still teenagers. "It wasn’t until the eighties that we got back together again," says Negron. "To them, I was wealthy. When they reached out it would be out of desperation or need. Then my brothers started having kids all over the place, and I couldn’t handle it, I couldn’t handle it." Negron is shy when talking about them because he doesn’t want to embarrass them. "They think that I think that I’m bigger than them. I mean, it becomes very tough because they are still your blood, you understand?"

Negron’s two cousins who had been with him the day he first met Steinbrenner, Edwin and Christopher Perez, died within a year of each other during the mid-eighties; Edwin, in what Negron calls "a gang-related incident," and Christopher, from AIDS, which he got through a dirty syringe. Negron was with Christopher the night Edwin was murdered in Brooklyn. They drove to the Perez home in Brooklyn and were greeted outside of the house by Christopher’s father, and a group of cousins and neighborhood friends.

"My uncle had a cardboard box in his arms filled with guns. He said, ‘Take one, let’s go.’ That wasn’t my style, so I stayed at the house with my aunt. ‘She’s going to need somebody to be with her,’ I said. I wasn’t going to get caught up in that. That wasn’t me. I loved Billy the Kid," he says remembering Martin, "but I wasn’t that Billy the Kid."

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Inside Man: A Bronx Tale (Part Two)

Prince of the City

 

Ray Negron was only supposed to work a couple of games to re-pay his debt, but then one of the regular bat boys got sick, and in no time, Negron had himself a steady job. He moved on the field with the languid movements of a professional, his uniform fitting tightly, his stirrups pulled up just so. At 145 lbs, Negron was too skinny to be confused with a big leaguer though the players occasionally tried to pass him off as one of them when he was on the road with them, to get him laid. "You said it, not me," Negron squeals with delight, remembering today.

When the Yankees took batting practice, Negron was busy with the daily clubhouse chores, but he would sneak in a couple of swings in the batting cage or hang around at shortstop and take ground balls while the visiting team came to hit. One day, the Texas Rangers were in town and Negron was playing short against live bp when he made a couple of good fielding plays. Billy Martin, the Rangers manager, a man rarely without a fungo bat in his hand, was standing on the third base side of home plate. He turned his attention to the boy, motioned with his hand and then tossed a ball up and cracked a hard groundball at him.

"Billy noticed that I could play," Negron recalls. "Later, he introduced me to two of his middle infielders, Lenny Randle and Davey Nelson. Every time Texas came to town, I would ball boy down the right field line so I could hang with them. They taught me and to this day, I can honestly say that I’m still friends with both of them."

"I was impressed by his etiquette and his manners," recalls Lenny Randle today. "A lot of kids are annoying at that age, they just want stuff from you. But Ray wasn’t pushy, he was honest and had an innocence and genuine enthusiasm about him. He was the kind of little brother you wanted to have. Hey, when he was a teenager he was booking us to speak at the Y, at local Little Leagues for a couple of hundred bucks here and there. He had moxie."

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Inside Man: A Bronx Tale

A Four-Part Bronx Banter Exclusive

[Author’s Note: This story was written last summer. It covers Ray Negron’s life from the spring of 2006 through the spring of ’07. Some of the basic facts stated in the piece have changed: Joe Torre is no longer the manager of the Yankees; Hank and Hal Steinbrenner have taken control of the team; Negron has just completed his seventh children’s book for Harper Collins. But, despite these events, the essence of Ray’s story remains true. I hope you enjoy.]

 

Part One

"Let me show you the Boss’s suite," says Ray Negron. It is a cool evening in early May, 2006, and Negron’s boss, George Steinbrenner, the principal owner of the New York Yankees, is out of town. Several hours before game time, Negron, 51, is walking down the outer corridor of the loge section at Yankee Stadium, his head cocked like an upper classman with the run of the school. He exudes an insouciant confidence, the kind of man who is used to keeping his cool in hot situations. Negron has short black hair and skin the color of café au lait. His large, liquid brown eyes and long eyelashes are almost feminine; his cheeks sag–the sign of a thin man growing older—and lend a sense of gravity to an otherwise boyish countenance. As usual, Negron looks crisp. He is wearing a gray, patterned suit and slim brown shoes. On his right ring finger is a massive gold World Series ring from the 1996 Yankees.

"I can’t wait for the new Stadium," Negron says. "Maybe I’ll get an office."

"The ubiquitous Ray Negron," a veteran New York sportswriter calls him. Negron is a gypsy, constantly on the move, from the executive suites through the press box down to the locker room. He does not even have his own desk; instead, he totes everything he needs in a leather-bound book with a Spaulding logo embossed on the cover: Negron serves as a director of community relations for the sporting goods company, one of his many jobs. The book is filled with notes scribbled in different colored inks–reminders, phone numbers and addresses.

Negron knows everybody and stops to say hello to security guards and executives, retired sportswriters, scouts, and current players. Negron works for the Yankees as a special advisor to Steinbrenner and is primarily employed as an all-purpose utility man. He represents the club at the Kip’s Bay Boys and Girls club, the Hackensack University Medical Center, and grass roots community centers in the Bronx. Like a greeter in a casino, he escorts business men and their children through the corridors of the Stadium, giving his own private tour, and he schmoozes with celebrity visitors, like Patti Labelle, Regis Philbin and Richard Gere, making sure they are comfortable in their seats. Negron, of Puerto Rican and Cuban ancestry, is an avuncular figure to the team’s young Latin players like Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera. This summer, Negron will enlist the two, along with other Yankee players, to visit classrooms, hospitals and boys and girls clubs around the tristate area, as he promotes his first children’s book, The Boy of Steel, a story about a young boy with cancer who becomes bat boy for the Yankees for a day.

Few people know Yankee Stadium as well as Negron and few people have been around Steinbrenner’s Yankees longer. And it all happened by chance. In 1973, Steinbrenner’s first year as team owner, the Boss caught Negron, a skinny kid with an afro, spray painting an "NY" logo on the outside of Yankee Stadium. But instead of handing him over to the police, Steinbrenner made Negron a bat boy, issuing the kind of punishment that is the stuff of a boy’s wildest fantasies. So began a career in baseball that has lasted more than thirty years. Negron has done everything from shine the players’ shoes and collect their dirty jockstraps, to bring them food from their favorite restaurants and park their cars. He has been an agent, an actor, an advisor, and a liaison; a confidant, a sounding board and a whipping boy to some of the biggest egos in the game. He is whatever he needs to be.

Negron has founded a career off his serendipitous meeting with Steinbrenner and everything that has happened next—from Billy and Reggie to Doc and Darryl. "The Boss essentially saved my life and I’ll never forget that," says Negron, touching my arm. He likes physical contact, and occasionally touches his listener in a jocular, reassuring way to make sure you’re listening. He speaks in a measured, cautious manner, his raspy voice tinged with an unmistakable Brooklyn accent. Ray speaks so often in public that in private his conversation sometimes feels rehearsed, like he’s an actor repeating the same lines over and over in a play. Yet he is so sincere that it feels as if he’s telling you something for the first time, even if it’s a variation of something he’s said countless times before.

Negron pauses and then adds, "Not saved, really, he gave me a life."

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver