If George Steinbrenner were alive, he would probably be advising Donald Trump on how to deal with Latinos in New York and America as a whole. I know for a fact how much Trump respected the Boss, as did most politicians and very powerful businessman. Trump would surely have the Latino vote because he would listen to Mr. Steinbrenner. Then they would celebrate at my favorite Latin restaurant in New York, a place called El Nuevo Caridad. I have been going there since it opened. The name “El Nuevo Caridad” is the name for the Cuban Saint known as the virgin of charity.
To this day, I don’t know how I met the owner of the restaurant, Miguel Montas, but feel like he has always been in my life. Whenever Latin players come to the Yankees and they want to eat Latin food, we would go to El Nuevo Caridad. Soon the restaurant was simply known as “Miguel’s” located on 191st Street and Saint Nicholas Avenue in the Washington Heights section of New York.
It became the post-game hang out for most Latin and a lot of American players that craved a good Latin meal. Miguel would become a big brother and a father figure to a lot of the players, both Yankee and Mets, as well as players from out of town teams. When Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were going through their low points, I was able to hang out there with them and Miguel always had a wonderful, common way of talking to them. When Roberto Alomar was going through his tough times I introduced him to Miguel and to this day, El Caridad is Roberto’s first stop in New York. What’s really funny is that when I first drove Robbie there, he wouldn’t come out of the car. He thought he was going to be bothered by the people and he wasn’t sure if the neighborhood was safe. Robbie was wrong on all accounts. He found out that the food was incredible and when he sat in the restaurant, he saw that everyone was treated like a king, whether you were a Hall of Famer or a plumber.
I remember having a meeting with the Boss at his hotel. At the time, I believe it was the Carlyle Hotel. I remember the Boss and the great piano player Bobby Short sitting together. They were very good friends. When Short asked me if I was Puerto Rican I said yes and Cuban. Mr. Short asked me how long had I worked for the Boss, Mr. Steinbrenner screamed out,” Too long.” and we laughed. I told Mr. Short that I had been trying to talk the Boss into going to a Spanish restaurant for a while and Mr. Short said,” Come on George, you’ve got to go.”
As we were driving up to the stadium, I’ve been telling the Boss about Miguel and how great he had been to our players. The Boss knew the pulse of the city. He knew that a lot of important people were always telling him bad places where his players shouldn’t go and Miguel’s place wasn’t one of them. At that moment Mr. Steinbrenner decided to pay a visit. The Boss could be that way.
Always expect the unexpected.
When we walked in, Miguel lost his cool. He started to scream that the Great One was there Miguel was literally shaking. To Miguel, George Steinbrenner was bigger than life. For Miquel there could never be a more important person to step into his restaurant. He had the Boss sit at a corner table and he sat with him the whole time that we were there. Miquel had all sorts of food brought to the table, even though the Boss kept saying that he wasn’t hungry, he sure did eat a lot.
This meeting reminded me of when Joe Scognamillo, the owner Patty’s Italian restaurant, would stay right at Frank Sinatra’s side as the chairman of the board ate his meal. Just like Joe, only Miguel would touch the Boss’ food. Steinbrenner and Miguel talked very intensely. The Boss asked Miguel to please watch over his players and Miguel promised that he always would. The Boss told Miguel that even though he was known as a very tough and difficult man he really loved his players and his team.
By the time the meeting with Miquel was over the restaurant was packed with neighborhood friends. However, they never bothered the Boss once they just stared and smiled. These people would never disrespect Miquel by bothering the Boss. The Boss tried to pay but Miguel wouldn’t have it. I explained to the Boss that the rest of his life Miquel can say that he cooked a meal for the Boss “El Chefe.” The Boss told Miguel, that if there is anything he could ever do for him, to let Ray know. Miguel whispered something in my ear, the Boss asked what he said to me. “Mr. Steinbrenner, Miguel wants to know if he could take a picture with you.” The Boss laughed and said,”let’s do it.”
Mr. Steinbrenner had Miguel visit him on several occasions at his office. I used to laugh inside because it was like watching the Godfather, everyone would go to pay their respects. After meeting with Miguel, the Boss took time to meet many of the Latin people from the community and would always take pictures with them because he knew that was important to them. Miguel would later tell me that meeting with Steinbrenner was one of the most important days of his life. He said that his sons were so proud of their father that it brought tears to his eyes. “Mr. Steinbrenner made me feel like I was an individual that mattered in the society.”
Miguel says that the day Mr. Steinbrenner died he cried all day and did not come to work. “I will always cherish the memory of my friend George Steinbrenner,” he said. “Brian Cashman has come to my restaurant on occasion and it makes the neighborhood people happy to know that like the Boss Brian Cashman has a soft place in his heart for us.
“We even had Alex Rodriguez buy hot lunches for neighborhood kids and Alex acted like he was the chef.”
Thanks to Mr. Steinbrenner and the Yankees, Miguel says, “I have a lot to be grateful for.”
The Yankees also are very lucky to have a friend like Miguel.