October 26, 2014

Yankee Miracles: Life With the Boss and the Bronx Bombers

November 10, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

When my buddy Joe Favorito asked for my address because he had something he wanted to send me, I gladly forwarded it to him not knowing what to expect, but figuring it would be worth my while.  The package arrived and when I opened it I couldn’t believe my eyes; there in front of me sat a book about the New York Yankees—Yankee Miracles: Life With the Boss and the Bronx Bombers by Ray Negron and Sally Cook.  The same Yankees I grew up despising first from my perch in the heart of Red Sox Nation, then later in the Pacific Northwest where I currently reside.  Needless to say I was in no hurry to crack it open, especially during a season when the Evil Empire was on its way to yet another playoff appearance while my Sox were smothered under the weight of a 69-93 record, their worst since 1960.

After some prodding, I finally dug in and found myself enjoying Yankee Miracles as much as I’ve enjoyed any book in recent memory.  In fact had I started it earlier in the day, I would have read it cover to cover.  The book begins innocently enough with Ray attending a Yankees game at Yankee Stadium in 1968 and witnessing Mickey Mantle’s last multi-homer game of his career in a 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins.  Five years later we see Ray heading down a path of potential destruction as he’s busted painting graffiti on the most hallowed of baseball grounds.  Adding insult to injury is that the man who caught him was none other than new Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who dragged Ray into the bowels of the stadium and had him locked up in the small police station housed there.  Surrounded by security guards and police officers, Ray sat in his cell pondering what his punishment might be:

They’re gonna shackle me in handcuffs, shove me in a cop car, book me at the precinct, call me a dirty spic, dump me in a cell full of drunks and addicts.  Doomed.  I’m gonna get beaten up.

Instead something very different happened.  Steinbrenner returned, retrieved Ray and escorted him to the Yankees’ clubhouse where he ordered long-time clubhouse manager Pete Sheehy to give Ray a job.  It was then that a long relationship between Ray, Steinbrenner and several members of the Yankees organization began, some of whom became close friends.  Negron’s life takes a few twists and turns in his late teens—he meets Billy Martin while Martin is still managing the Detroit Tigers and gets encouragement from the former major league second baseman, who tells the teenager he’s good enough to be a major league shortstop; he’s drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1975 but is released after only seven at-bats and gets an offer to play for the Texas Rangers’ Single-A team—but he eventually lands a full-time job as the Yankees’ batting practice pitcher.

From there he works his way up through the organization and the rest of the book takes us through his experiences and relationships, and gives a fantastic in-depth look behind the scenes and into the people he’s met along the way.  The list is long and distinguished and I found myself actually liking guys I couldn’t stand when I was a kid.  Guys like Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson, and, of course, George Steinbrenner, about whom Ray wrote “When the Boss got mad, you couldn’t look him in the eyes, because his steely blues seemed to pop right out of his face as if they wanted to punch you.”

Throughout the book we’re given a front row seat to many of the controversies that surrounded the Yanks of the 1970’s—Billy Martin’s apparent hatred of Reggie Jackson that eventually led to a near brawl in the visiting dugout at Fenway Park after Martin embarrassed Jackson by removing him from the game mid-inning; Jackson’s infamous “straw that stirs the drink” remark and his relationship with Munson; Steinbrenner’s love/hate relationship with Martin, and Martin’s destructive behavior that eventually led to his death.; and Negron being in the middle of it all, having befriended all of them.

But the book also has lighter and more poignant moments.  Munson’s humor, Jackson’s generosity, Martin’s wisdom and Steinbrenner’s compassion all shine through.  There’s a particularly humorous scene in the book when Ray, fast asleep in the back seat of the team bus instead of seated in his usual spot, had apparently gone missing and Catfish Hunter jumps up and yells at the driver to stop the bus.  “Where’s Negron?  Where’s Ray Negron?” Catfish yells out.  Ray, hearing his name being screamed, gets up and walks to his usual seat, much to the relief of Hunter.  “I didn’t even know Catfish knew my name,” writes Negron.  But after the laughter died down, Negron grasped the enormity of the moment; that the world champion Yankees and a future Hall of Famer stopped the team bus for a confused 21-year-old kid and made him feel like part of the family.

As the book moves forward we learn about Bobby Murcer and his battle with a brain tumor; Hunter’s fight against Lou Gehrig’s disease; Alex Rodriguez’s philanthropy; and Ray’s attempts to help Dwight Gooden, among other things.  Yankee Miracles is very well-written, easy to read and full of wonderful stories about arguably the most storied franchise in sports history.  It runs the emotional gamut—laughter, tears, tragedy and destruction, celebration and elation, and the love that these men had for each other.  Even if you’re not a Yankees fan, you’ll appreciate and enjoy this book.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the book being reviewed by the publisher, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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