I was recently attending a charity event for the American Cancer Society. I noticed that they were auctioning off different sports and entertainment items. The most interesting was a painting by the terrific pop artist, Riz Robinson. It was a very deep piece of John Lennon. Mr. Robinson saw me staring at the painting and asked me what my attachment to it was. I told him that John Lennon was a spiritual mentor to me and that Lennon and Paul McCartney were my all-time favorite song writers.
November 1977, one month after Reggie Jackson had hit the three home runs in game six of the 1977 World Series, Reggie and I went jogging in Central Park.
It was a beautiful brisk day and at this time I could still run really well. Reggie liked running with me because I would make him run harder, I always wanted to beat Mr. October but he was deceptively fast. Three quarters of the way to the west side of the park, I noticed two very familiar figures. It was John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
John Lennon noticed Reggie before Reggie noticed Lennon. I screamed to Reggie, “Stop Jack! It’s John Lennon.” I was in shock because I had always been a giant Beatle fan. Reggie and Lennon shook hands and then Lennon introduced Yoko Ono to Reggie.
Lennon said to Reggie “I don’t know your sport, but I do know that right now you’re bigger than the five Jackson’s put together.” Reggie laughed at that and I guess you could say that John scored big points with that comment. John told Reggie how much he loved New York and Reggie replied about how intense and crazy the city could be. Yoko never really said much and I was just mesmerized watching two entertainment gods of the era enjoying one another. Years later, I asked Reggie if he ever thought about that time that we met John Lennon and reminded him of what Lennon said that day. Reggie smiled. You have to remember that Reggie had met all of the greats from the last six decades. Stars from film, TV, music and sports. We are talking about greats like Sinatra, Mohamed Ali, Pele, you name it. I believe he even met Elvis but I’m not sure, Today, Reggie understands the magnitude of John Lennon and what Lennon meant to the world and he must think to himself, “that’s pretty neat.” That’s what Reggie’s smile told me.
Years later I spent time with Paul McCartney, right after his wife Linda died of cancer. Paul was just the coolest guy. He was the youngest 60-year-old guy ever. I was working for the Cleveland Indians and a good friend introduced us. Every time that I ran into Paul he was always great. One time I told Paul that I loved writing and was thinking about doing a children’s book. He told me to put my soul into it and not to be afraid, something that some of the great writers that I have met had also shared with me. I didn’t know what he meant until I started to write the book. I was scared because I wanted it so badly and I wanted it to be great.
My publisher was Harper Collins and the book imprint was Regan Books and the great publisher Judith Reagan. Judith had known of my story and my friendship with George Steinbrenner. She thought that this was the real book, however that would be a book for another day. When going over the children’s book, Judith told me not to tell anyone about the book except for Mr. Steinbrenner who had given me permission to write it. Since I knew a lot a writers I decided to ask everyone for advice. I wanted to tweak the manuscript to try to make it better and better. At one point Judith said,” Do you understand that I like your idea for the story and I have editors that will help shape it up? If you keep asking all these people for their advice, one of them is going to say that they wrote it.” Boy she was right. After the book came out and started to have success, some guy started saying that he wrote it. When I saw Paul McCartney again I gave him a copy of the book and told him what had happened. Paul told me that the same thing had happened to him when he wrote one of his first songs. I asked him, “What did you do?” He said,” I sat down and wrote another song and it had to be better than the first.” He told me that I had to do the same thing to shut this guy and all the other jealous souls up. It was the best advice that Paul McCartney could have given me and I love him for it.
I went to Mr. Steinbrenner to tell him what was being said and he was quite annoyed and like Paul, the Boss told me that I had to prove that the first book wasn’t a fluke and I had to come right back with another one. My next two books went to number one on Amazon.
This year, I start my seventh book and if I have one regret it is that Thurman Munson and Billy Martin didn’t get to see me accomplish such an incredible feat. The reason for this is that like Reggie and the Boss, Billy and Thurman always motivated me. My very first published writing was actually a story that I did about Munson entitled “Five days in August.” I wrote it in 1979 and it appeared in a magazine years later.
Let’s just say that I was a kid who always happened to be in the right place at the right time. I will forever be grateful to the kindness and sincerity and of course musical genius of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. I was not disappointed when meeting two of my heroes– thank you.
A special thank you to the 1974 Yankees, Mr. Steinbrenner’s first contending team, also known as “the band on the run” named after the McCartney song because we were playing that 1974 & 1975 season at Shea Stadium while they renovated Yankee Stadium.
Finally a special thanks to the great sports artist John Pennisi for being able to re-create a wonderful moment in my life with his god given talent as an artist.
Hear Ray Negron every Sunday at 11am-1pm on 1050 ESPN or read him on Newsmax.