Out of respect to Cope 2 and Slone, two of the greatest graffiti artists of all time, I must admit that I was not doing graffiti art when I was caught by George Steinbrenner in 1973. I was doing a simple interlocking “NY” with blue spray paint on the wall outside Yankee Stadium on a dare from the guys that I was with. It was a true case of peer pressure.
As fate would have it, a car drove up on the sidewalk and two guys jumped out. In the scramble to get away, I bumped into one of the other guys, stumbled and I was the one who was caught. The men dragged me to a holding cell within Yankee Stadium with the intention of sending me over to the 44th precinct.
For whatever reason, the two men came back to the makeshift jail area and told the cops stationed there to “give them the kid.” I was extremely confused, almost disoriented because I had never been in trouble before,and now I was wondering where these two guys were taking me. To say that I was scared was the all-time understatement.
The two guys each held me by my arms as they dragged me down a dark hallway. One of the guys seemed angrier than the other and kept saying, “You can’t help these kids.” All of a sudden we stopped at a black metal door and we walked in and it was as if we were walking into the Land of Oz.
We were in the Yankee locker room. Beautiful bright pinstriped uniforms were hanging all around every locker and some of the players that I recognized from television were actually sitting at their lockers.
The one guy that seemed to be the boss introduced me to an elderly man that he called Pete. The boss man told me that I had a choice. I was either going to work for Pete in the clubhouse or go to jail. I was a dumb kid, but I wasn’t that dumb, so naturally I agreed to the work.
The other guy seemed very disturbed with what this man was doing for me and again he blurted out that he was making a mistake. But the guy told him to shut up and that he was in charge. The man told me to listen to Pete and do whatever he said. In a threatening voice, he looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Don’t you make me look bad. (That was my “PG Statement” — kids may be reading this). Then the two men walked out of the clubhouse.
Pete walked me to a locker and asked me if I knew who the man was who just gave me this opportunity?
I said, “No.”
Pete told me that he was George Steinbrenner, the new owner of the New York Yankees. Pete stared at me up and down and I wondered why. He walked away and then he came back with a Yankee uniform and said, “This should fit you.”
A real Yankee uniform and a real Yankee cap! In my neighborhood you only dreamed of having a real Yankee cap because we could never afford one. Pete introduced me to the other batboy’s and they showed me the ropes. Pete Sheehy could not have been nicer. He had been with the Yankees since the days of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. In time he would tell me incredible stories about all of the Yankee greats. At one point, when I would become close to Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson and Bobby Murcer, Pete would love to tell me that he was the same way with Babe and Lou. I used to think about how incredible that was. That day, I learned how to clean shoes and shine helmets, fold towels and how to put the underwear in the right locker.
Ron Blomberg was actually the first player to come over and introduce himself to me, he even offered me a bagel. Because he was one of the few Jewish players in the big leagues, a lot of proud Jewish fans used to wait outside the stadium and bring him bagels and lox.
During batting practice I got to shag in the outfield. I learned how to put the bats in the right slots in the bat rack in the dugout. Bobby Murcer and Thurman Munson got a big kick out of the way that I became a batboy. That was the big laugh in the clubhouse that day. I was actually very embarrassed, but acted like it didn’t bother me.
I have to say that when I put on that uniform I couldn’t help but to think of Gehrig in the movie “The Pride of the Yankees” when he got his uniform and he kept looking in the mirror. Man what a proud moment for me. When it was game time I was so nervous standing in the dugout.
Bobby Murcer came over to me and said that I looked scared. I said that I was, and he asked me what I was going be doing during the game. I told him that I was the ball boy on the right field foul line. Bobby told me to run out on the field with him when the organist, Eddie Layton, played “Here Come The Yankees.” I have to tell you that this was one of the biggest thrills of my life.
We played the Cleveland Indians that day and we won. It was a big victory for George Steinbrenner because he was from Cleveland and he had tried to purchase the Indians. After the game, he came into the clubhouse and acted as if we had just won the pennant. He was really happy. After the game we had to collect all the shoes, scrape all the dirt off the bottom and shine them. We picked up the towels and the underwear that the players threw on the floor and took them to the laundry room.
When I finally finished, I was instructed to go see Mr. Steinbrenner by the managers office. He asked me how did I like my job. I said, “It was great!” He asked me if I wanted to keep it and I said, “Yes sir I would.” He asked me how was I in school and I told him that I was just fair. He said that I was to improve my grades and he said,”Oh and naturally you and your friends won’t do graffiti on Yankee Stadium anymore right?” I said, “Yes sir.”
My mom and my father had been called and they picked me up that night. It was the only time they ever met George Steinbrenner. Before I left, Mr. Steinbrenner told me not to ever let him down because he was taking a chance on me even though people that worked for him told him that he should not. He went into his pocket and handed me money for carfare. He said, “Tomorrow is a day game; don’t be late.” That was my very first day as a Yankee batboy.
Forty-seven years later I can honestly say that it is the most wonderful job that I have ever had. Years later, I would ask the Boss why he would do that for me, and he said that when the security guard told him that there is nothing you could do for this kid, I knew you deserved a second chance.
I remember thanking him for saving my life and he said, “I didn’t save your life. Your story was told long before I met you.” It wasn’t until recently that I truly comprehended what he meant. I asked “the Boss” how I could pay him back and he said, “Just don’t forget where you come from and never be afraid to help those in need.”
Today with this whole coronavirus situation going on, I think of the Boss and how he would have been handling this. I think about the fact that out of the four guys that were with me that first day, two are dead and the other two were always in and out of prison, so the blessing that this man gave me overwhelms me to this day. There has to be a God or else how could all of this have happened.
So today and every day that I get up and as the Yankees Community Consultant I go to wherever I can in the city to help deliver food and whatever else is needed with many volunteers including my dear friend and psychologist Steve Vaccaro. We try to work extra hard in the Bronx with some people that fall between the cracks.
One of the Bronx school principals, Luis Torres said that he needed a way to keep the kids in the house, so we came up with the idea of doing a movie night through the public access television station, Bronxnet. Many families in the Bronx saw the animated film that I was the creator of and also the executuve producer. After the telecast, Principal Torres said, “Tonight we actually saved lives by keeping all those families home.” I was so very proud and happy about this because it would not have happened without the magic of George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees.
As the Boss would say, “We’re Yankees it’s what we do!”
Ray Negron is a sports executive with over 40 years of experience in baseball. His first job came from a chance encounter with George Steinbrenner as a youth. He has become an American film producer, a best-selling author, and a philanthropist. His memoir is entitled,“Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers.”