BY KEVIN KERNAN
Batboys grow up.
Fifty years ago Ray Negron found his baseball calling after the Boss, George Steinbrenner, found a young Negron hanging out on the streets of the Bronx. Two years later Negron was a second round pick of the Pirates. His baseball dream did not ultimately come true; but his Yankee dream is flourishing to this day, 50 years after Steinbrenner put him to work around the ballpark.
“When I proved to America that I couldn’t hit, I was back working with the Yankees,’’ Negron told BallNine.
Negron, an accomplished children’s author, works for the Yankees as a community consultant and a special assistant to Yankee president Randy Levine. As an ode to Yankee batboys, he has written a play that is a tribute to those who work in clubhouses and dugouts throughout baseball.
The play’s title is “BATBOY.”
“Batboy is a play on my life,” Negron said. “We do the play all around the city and in Florida to help different charities. I have actors who love my story, so they volunteer their services and we do the play. The play has done beautifully and there is a production company that is trying to take it to Broadway.”
Ray Negron has the stories.
The Boss used to joke that Negron had the best degree in the world because he graduated from the extremely difficult “University of Steinbrenner.”
Carmine Elvezio plays Ray. Joey Gian, who played detective Tom Ryan in Knots Landing, also is in the play and portrays Thurman Munson. Layla Dionne plays Ray’s mother. Dave Revels, formerly of The Drifters, plays Ray’s father. Former Yankee batboy Luis Castillo plays gang member Edwin. Castillo’s nickname is Squeegee, a name given to him by Derek Jeter. But more on him later. Theresa Farrell also plays a key part, Aunt Olga.
“I am extremely grateful to George Steinbrenner for getting me off the street and giving me a life, not just in the game of baseball but in the game of life,” Negron told me. “In my house, there were six boys who lived there. I’m the only one who didn’t go to prison and I’m the only one that is alive today. The mentorship I got through the Yankees’ organization, through George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, and that whole crew literally saved my life.”
Reggie Jackson (left) with Ray Negron in the Yankees Clubhouse. (Photo courtesy Ray Negron)
Negron, 67, said many former Yankee batboys have become police officers – and in fact, the Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon was a Yankee batboy in 1979-1980.
Sheriff Toulon once told Newsday, “The players really made you feel like you were part of the team. My experience with the New York Yankees taught me about professionalism, how to treat people. That stayed with me.”
“I’m still in touch with a lot of the batboys,” Negron said, “because just recently I was given an award by the New York State Legislature for humanitarian service and the years in baseball. I didn’t want to go to go Albany. I wanted all my family and friends to be there. I told them I wanted to do it at the old Yankee Stadium and I’d like to bring in all the different batboys. Besides it being Ray Negron Day I would like it to be National Batboy Day, and I brought in batboys from Mickey Mantle all the way to Aaron Judge; each decade was represented. We had 10 batboys there, including Shawn DeRosa, who came up from Florida and to this day is still close friends with Don Mattingly.”
Like I said, Ray Negron has batboy stories.
“The greatest batboy story for me,” he began, “was the one with Sam Carey. A lot of these kids do not have fathers and the thing about Sam, when he was about eight, his father called him and said he would pick him up and take him to the Yankee game.
“Sam put on his Yankee hat and shirt, and waited for his father – and his father never came. He never saw his father again. Sam used to wait outside the old Stadium just to see the players. One day Steinbrenner saw him outside Yankee Stadium and asked him to help sweep the parking lot.”
Having parked in that lot many times, I can vouch it was a clean lot.
“Sam helped sweep up the place and George took him downstairs and made him a batboy,” Negron said. “He would bring Sam to spring training. Then after like three years, one day, we didn’t see Sam, and I told him Sam joined the circus. The Boss was like, ‘Why would he join the circus?’”
Negron told him, “He wanted to see the world.”
The Boss started laughing and asked, “Didn’t he realize with the Yankees he was already in the circus?”
Generations of batboys lined up. (Photo courtesy Ray Negron)
“How important are batboys?’’ Negron asked. “Important enough that David Cone is in the middle of a perfect game, he can’t find his catcher, so he asks Squeegee to warm him up with the rain delay and Squeegee got him ready. To this day Cone gives him credit for helping him pitch that perfect game.”
Cone wrote the script for a perfect game. Years later Squeegee wrote a book called Clubhouse Confidential on his life as a batboy during the Dynasty of the Core Four Yankees, and beyond.
Negron worked as a batboy for several years and then graduated to work in the clubhouse. He also threw batting practice. In those days if a player was on the injured list, he would stay back in New York when the team was on the road and would work out at Yankee Stadium; so there was always work for the clubhouse staff to do even when the team was away. Steinbrenner, Negron said, was the first owner to put a gym in the ballpark.
“One of my responsibilities was to take care of that gym,” he said.
Negron wasn’t that great a BP pitcher.
“One day I hit Willie Randolph and Rick Dempsey back to back,’’ he explained. “Dempsey threw a bat at me.”
Steinbrenner and Billy Martin brought him in for a meeting and told him he was done. Negron started to cry, thinking he was fired.
“You’re not fired,” the Boss said. “You’re done throwing BP. See those boxes over there? They are video cameras. Put them together and take video of the guys, maybe you won’t mess that up.”
“So,” Negron said, “I was like the first video guy that the Yankees had.”
I asked if he still had the videos. “I had those videos for years and (then) my stepfather threw them out.”
Negron built strong relationships with the star-studded Yankee teams of Billy, Reggie, Thurman, Goose Gossage, Willie Randolph, Roy White, and Bucky Dent; all the Bronx Bombers that formed the Bronx Zoo.
“They all knew my story,” Negron said. “They all understood my plight.”
Ray Negron (right) in the Yankee dugout with Thurman Munson. (Photo courtesy of Ray Negron)
Ray Negron is the ultimate Yankee ambassador who knew what really went on behind the clubhouse walls.
No one has made more visits to schools or hospitals to see sick children, or brought more Yankees into those hospitals to lift the spirits of those kids. From his early days with the Boss, and then later through his work with Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, Negron truly is the King of Networking. He also developed a full-length animated movie called “Henry and Me.”
There is a documentary of his life set to premier at the Puerto Rican Heritage Film Festival later this year.
In many ways Negron was looked upon as a baby brother by the Bronx Bombers.
“Bucky Dent had a bad situation with his father, Thurman Munson had a bad situation with his father,” Negron said of his conversations those days with the Yankees.
It still pains Negron to talk about the friendship he built with the great Munson, who should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I used to drive Thurman to Teterboro Airport,” Negron said. “I would keep his car, a brown Cadillac, when the Yankees were on the road. We would drive to the airport and we would sit on the runway until they got his plane ready and those were our quiet moments where we would just talk. He would tell me about his situation, I would tell him about my situation. And then he would take it home to Diana and he would talk to her about it. Then later on she would tell me how much Thurman loved me and our talks. That was like heavy to me. Things like that always kept me going.
“Life wasn’t easy for Reggie either because he comes from a broken home,” Negron said. “Billy Martin had the same situation as me. Our mothers were little, tough women who were both named Jenny. He understood my pain.
“Billy, to his credit, took me over to Patsy’s one day, which I didn’t even know existed,” Negron said of the famous New York City restaurant with a history of entertaining high-profile patrons. “He sat me down with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. and had them school me about being proud of my heritage, being proud of my color, being proud of who I am and who I was going to become. Both Billy and Mr. Sinatra made me totally aware of the incredible favor that Mr. Steinbrenner had done for me. At that table they explained to me that if I did good, Mr. Steinbrenner was going to help many, many others. And he did.”
The Batboy Brotherhood.
George Steinbrenner reading Ray Negron's children's book, ``The Boy of Steel`` to Ray's son Ricky. (Photo courtesy Ray Negron)
Munson carried an attaché case with him. In the case were eight-track tapes. Neil Diamond was Thurman’s favorite.
I remember Diana Munson telling me about that when I visited her in her Ohio home on the 20th anniversary of Munson’s tragic death.
“Neil Diamond, ‘I Am… I Said,’ he would play that song 100 times in a row,” Negron said. “That was like his theme song.”
Did you ever read about a frog
Who dreamed of being a king
And then became one
Well except for the names
And a few other changes
If you talk about me
The story is the same one…
Negron still has a strong relationship with both Diana Munson and Jill Martin.
“We talk all the time,” Negron said. “Even though Jill was young, she was there for Billy when he needed her most.”
Negron has one of those personalities that makes you want to talk to him. The Boss used to joke that Negron had the best degree in the world because he graduated from the extremely difficult “University of Steinbrenner.”
One class at the Boss U included babysitting during spring training, where Negron would keep tabs on youngsters Barry Bonds and Roberto Alomar and the Boss’ youngest, Harold Steinbrenner. Yes, that would be Hal Steinbrenner.
Negron can laugh at himself and he can make you laugh at yourself, a special trait. In the high pressure world of Major League Baseball, humor can be a great thing for a team.
Remember the video cameras? Negron would take videos in the clubhouse of the clubbies imitating the ballplayers after the players left the clubhouse.
“The next day we would show the players the videos and I had beautiful stuff of Thurman, he was funny,” Negron said. “He could imitate Curly (Howard) from The Three Stooges better than anybody.”
Ray and The Boss. (Photo Courtesy Ray Negron)
Reggie Jackson became the godfather to Ray’s first son Jon Erik, a police sergeant, who amazingly has delivered five babies on the job. Another son, Ricky, is a police officer, too; and played in the Blue Jays organization.
“My son Joey was a former NY State light heavyweight champion and Golden Glove champion who now works for UPS, and my daughter, Toni, who is in the makeup field, just gave me my first grandchild,” Negron said proudly.
Negron is still close to Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry and helped them through some difficult days. “How I was able to help them was from the streets,” Negron explained. “Not from no school but from seeing guys die in the streets. And through the process I got to know Adele Smithers, too.”
Negron said his favorite time as a batboy was the legendary Reggie three-home run World Series game.
“They are doing this documentary about me and you see in the footage me talking to Reggie in the dugout,” Negron said, who wore a mustache at the time and can be seen reminding Reggie to take a bow.
Negron was trying to get Jackson to take that curtain call and Reggie said no.
“Remember, he was angry with the fans that year because they sided with Billy,” Negron said. “After the second home run I went up to him again and said, ‘Take a curtain call.’”
Reggie again said no, in no uncertain Reggie terms, and Negron told him that if a third home run is hit, he must take a curtain call.
“I’ll do it,” Reggie promised.
The third home run was hit and Negron implored him, “The curtain call, Reggie. You promised.”
“He looks at me and runs out and takes the curtain call,” Negron said of that incredible moment. “Reggie will always be a big brother. He impacted my life in a huge way.”
Of course, the most difficult time was when Munson died in the plane crash, August 2, 1979.
“Those five days in August were so painful,” Negron said. “It was like losing a big brother.”
When Diana told Ray how much Thurman loved him at the funeral at the Canton Civic Center, Negron was overwhelmed. To this day, 44 years later, Negron’s voice fills with emotion when he recalls that moment.
It’s been a difficult year for the 60-63 Yankees but Negron believes better times are ahead and is happy that Hal Steinbrenner has maintained a “great relationship with the community, and that was something that was important to his father. The Boss ran the Yankees with passion, and I feel comfortable seeing the passion too that Randy Levine has in helping to run the Yankees today.”
Win or lose, batboys will always be right there in the middle of the action.