I cannot remember a time I was not a baseball fan – and as a kid growing up in a small town in the ‘60s that meant I was a Yankee fan. No other team was on television as much or got as much national press coverage. Those were the days of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Tony Kubek, Whitey Ford, Clete Boyer, Bobby Richardson, etc. – a classic Yankee lineup. Although my keenest interest in the team would only last another decade or so, I could never resist keeping up with all the drama associated with a George Steinbrenner team.
As it turns out, a guy I never heard of, Ray Negron, had a front row seat to all that drama all his own – right in the dugout. Negron’s story is an inspirational one, one that he shares with the rest of us in a book he has co-written with Sally Cook called Yankee Miracles (Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers). His story can be characterized as a fairy tale with a very unexpected “fairy godmother” by the name of George Steinbrenner. Who would have thought Steinbrenner had a heart? Not me, I confess, but something was going on here.
Steinbrenner and one of his security people caught the then 17-year-old Negron spray-painting graffiti on Yankee Stadium one day. Abandoned by his quicker cousins, all of whom managed to escape, Ray Negron had no idea that the man holding tightly to his arm was about to change his life forever. But, after throwing a real scare into the teen by letting him stew for a while in a holding cell inside the stadium, that is exactly what Steinbrenner did.
Instead of immediately filing charges against him, Steinbrenner offered Ray the chance to work in the Yankee clubhouse until he had worked off the damages he owed the team. Ray jumped at the job for two reasons: one, to stay out of jail and, two, because he was an avid Yankee fan (something Steinbrenner didn’t know). The next time Ray saw his quickstepping cousins, they would be in the stands (after sneaking inside the stadium again) and he would be walking the field among his heroes.
Yankee Miracles is about the “Yankee miracle” that Ray Negron personally experienced; it is the story of his chance encounter with a notoriously egocentric man who stepped out of character long enough to save a boy’s future. Ray Negron would go on to make baseball his career, most of it as a member of the New York Yankee organization, a life that a young boy headed toward big trouble the way he was could have never otherwise achieved.
Along the way, Negron and Cook tell of the close friendships between Ray and some of the most famous, and infamous, players ever to call the Yankee clubhouse home: Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, Thurman Munson, Catfish Hunter, Dwight Gooden, Mickey Mantle, and Derek Jeter, among them. Do keep in mind that Ray Negron is a Yankee-lifer and that he tends to see the Yankees a bit through rose-colored glasses. However, despite the feeling that much of what he reveals about his years with the Yankees is sugarcoated, Yankee Miracles will definitely appeal to readers who miss the likes of Mantle, Munson, Maris, and Martin. They don’t make them like those guys anymore.