Miracles, men and mirrors

Yankees executive Negron spreads the word in new biography
10/27/2012 3:00 PM ET
By Jon Lane

Alex Rodriguez with Ray Negron at Yankee Stadium.(Aris Sakellaridis)
It was the morning after the Yankees won the American League pennant in 2009 when Alex Rodriguez showed up on little to no sleep at a struggling parochial school in the Bronx, not far from the Yankee Stadium clubhouse where he and his New York Yankees teammates sprayed champagne here, there and everywhere. A reporter, apparently tipped, was on the scene and asked A-Rod if he was tired.

 “Yeah, it’s been a long season,” Rodriguez said.

The reporter countered by asking why he’s not resting up for the World Series. “After all," the inquisitor suggested, “this isn’t that important.” A-Rod, face stiffened, replied, “If you’re not going to ask me about these kids, then don’t ask me any more questions.” He brushed past the reporter and walked down the school hall singing Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” a song about changing the world – and yourself – for the better.

The passage is from the seventh chapter of Yankee Miracles, a professional and personal biography on Ray Negron, an executive and author with more than 30 years of experience in baseball, beginning with his days as a Yankees batboy in 1973. Over the years he grew close with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, manager Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson – during the time they were at odds with one another. He was named a special advisor to the Boss and today works with the club as a personal consultant. His philanthropic efforts include three best-selling children’s books whose proceeds were donated to various charitable organizations, along with ongoing visits to children’s hospitals and his assistance in rehabilitating those battling alcoholism or other demons.

 “It was a family,” Negron said of the Jackson-Munson-Martin triangle. “You have a bunch of brothers, and they’re always fighting with each other. There’s always one that everybody sort of mends with.”

The book portrays Rodriguez as a superstar who, like Reggie Jackson, brought his star to New York and tried so hard to accomplish the arduous task of pleasing everyone’s exacting expectations. It took Jackson only one season to win over New York – and teammates he alienated that spring with his infamous “straw that stirs the drink” comment to SPORT Magazine --  by bashing three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series and winning the first of two World Championship rings.

A-Rod’s journey was riddled with twice the turbulence in a world dominated by digital and social media. Even the exorcism of his postseason demons with a bevy of big hits en route to helping the Yankees to title No. 27 in 2009 proved temporary. Rodriguez’s Yankees career faltered this month with a .125 postseason batting average and banishment to the bench against right-handed pitching.

Rodriguez is resolute on not waiving his no-trade clause if the Yankees were to entertain the idea of trading him and the $114 million over five years remaining on his contract. “I gotta look in the mirror,” A-Rod said shortly after the Yankees’ elimination from the ALCS. “I love New York City and everything about being a Yankee. The highs are extremely high and the lows are extremely low.” Speaking at a Lake Grove, N.Y., book signing, Negron’s advice to A-Rod was to not take so much advice. The man in the mirror is calling, so look him dead in the eye, and be accountable.

“I feel too many people get into his ear,” Negron said. “He’s such an intelligent individual, like Reggie is. Too many people get into his ear. That’s the problem. It has nothing to do with age because he’s in great, great shape and he’s only 37 years old. I just think too many people got into his ear and that’s it. Nothing more than that.”

One too many voices is what got Negron in serious trouble with Steinbrenner on a fateful afternoon in 1973, when he was caught scrawling a Yankees logo on Yankee Stadium. Steinbrenner gave him a second chance and hired Negron as bat boy to share the dugout with the famed “Bronx Zoo” Yankees of the late 1970s. What was initially the worst moment of Negron’s life, sitting in a holding cell in the bowels of the Stadium for 20 minutes with a burly guard taunting him to be very afraid, became a seminal moment in Negron’s life. A movie on Yankees Miracles is in the conception stage with the concept of what if Negron never got caught and lived the life of a teenage prankster in one of the roughest of New York’s neighborhoods.

“Remember, I was with four other guys,” Negron recalled. “What happened to those guys? Two are dead, and the others are in Rikers Island, so what if? Does that mean I was going to be living in Rikers or going to be killed?”

Negron has helped plenty of people – Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden among them – rehabilitate themselves and their image over time. As he rose in stature, Negron explored the field of psychology. Growing up with two brothers who struggled with drug addiction for most of their lives provided incentive for Negron to take counseling classes, eventually doubling as a sports agent and someone who helped professional ballplayers combat their demons.

Negron's first client was Otis Nixon, an outfielder arrested in 1987 for cocaine possession and suspended by Major League Baseball in 1991 -- costing him a World Series appearance -- after testing positive for the narcotic as a member of the Atlanta Braves. Gooden and Strawberry were two troubled talents who buckled under the temptations of playing and winning in New York before winning world championships with the Yankees.

Rodriguez is three years removed from the revelation he used performance-enhancing drugs while playing for the Texas Rangers from 2001-03. He recovered to set a league record of 12 straight seasons with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, but will be dealing with an offseason of persistent trade rumors despite the Yankees’ insistence – general manager Brian Cashman told WFAN on Tuesday that A-Rod will be the team’s everyday third baseman gravitating towards DH in 2013 – he’s not going anywhere.

“You never know with something like that, because if the right deal comes along, anything can happen,” Negron said. “Right now you run the team like he’s going to be back, but you never know what’s going to happen from one day to the next.

“This is a very good team, so there’s not much you can do with it,” Negron continued. “I don’t think anybody knows what happened … who knows? Ten years from now we’ll be asking the same question. It just didn’t happen.”

Negron’s future includes a planned trip to Iraq to distribute books to soldiers and discussions about a sequel to the book. “There are so many stories we didn’t get into,” he said. “It’s unreal, so we’ll see what happens.”

Negron has opened as many doors as there are tales. He took an immediate liking to Francisco Cervelli, and the influence to help children created awareness for the Venezuela-based Francisco Cervelli Foundation, which helps get kids in Venezuela off the streets and active playing sports.

“I always believe people come into your life for one reason,” Cervelli said. “He was the first guy to take me to hospitals and meet the kids. Since that time I love to do that. I do those kinds of things in Venezuela.”

Staring at a large crowd at the bookstore, a throng of people there to greet him, Cervelli and Hank Steinbrenner’s Hank’s Yanks youth baseball team, Negron’s reach was very apparent. Bleary-eyed but not worn down by controversy three years ago, Rodriguez high-fived those parochial school kids and later gave an impassioned speech on the importance of reading. He and Cervelli are examples of how Negron’s book promotes the power of baseball to transform lives and see certain miracles none of us ever knew were there.

“It’s beautiful. The fact to be doing it with a Yankee, especially a good Yankee and person like Cervelli, makes it surreal,” Negron said.

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