Ray Negron first met George Steinbrenner when The Boss caught...

Ray Negron first met George Steinbrenner when The Boss caught the 17-year-old spray painting the exterior wall of Yankee Stadium. Credit: Handout

The kinder, gentler Steinbrenner

Alex Garrett and his father wanted to meet Phil Rizzuto at Old-Timers Day in 2000, so they left the Yankees game early and stood outside the stadium offices.

When an older-looking man walked out of the stadium, Garrett — who was 8 years old at the time — approached him and asked if he knew where Rizzuto was.

“Up in my suite,” he said.

That man was George Steinbrenner, and he took an instant liking to Alex. He and his father have been regulars in Steinbrenner’s owner’s box ever since.

Born with one leg, Alex Garrett gets around with the help of crutches and a roller blade. Now 18 years old, he recently finished his freshman year at Queens College and is pursuing sports broadcasting, saying Steinbrenner “taught me how to succeed.”

“He wanted an excellent standard from everyone,” Garrett said. “You should always do your best and make sure you succeed in life. He always mentioned to do well in school. He said that a lot.”

To show his appreciation to Steinbrenner, Garrett gave him the gold medal he received a few years ago for winning the 800-meter dash at the Empire State Games for the Physically Challenged at Mitchel Athletic Complex. Steinbrenner had it put on the wall in his office in the old Yankee Stadium.

Last year when Garrett made his first appearance in the owner’s box at the new stadium, he was happy to see that the medal made the trip across the street, as well.

“Most people knew a different side to Mr. Steinbrenner, the more gruff and tough side to him,” Garrett said. “I sort of saw that, but I also saw a really kind man. He opened doors for a lot of people.”

Garrett, who attended the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson, said Steinbrenner also used to give him a booklet of free agents and asked him to evaluate the players the Yankees should sign. Garrett said he always reported back to The Boss with his carefully calculated opinions on potential additions.

“Overall it’s been an interesting experience, quite a life I’ve had,” Garrett said. “This has been a tough day. I’ve been trying not to grieve, but it’s hard because I’ve known him and his family for so long.”

A teen’s life turned around

Ray Negron never will forget the feeling of George Steinbrenner’s hand grabbing his shoulder as he tried to run away. To this day Negron believes that precise moment forever changed his life.

In 1973, Steinbrenner’s first year as owner of the Yankees, he personally caught a 17-year-old Negron spray painting the Yankee Stadium exterior wall.

But instead of punishing Negron, Steinbrenner made him the batboy for that night’s Yankees game. And Steinbrenner told him he could keep the job as long as he stayed out of trouble.

Negron has been working in baseball ever since.

“He taught me that I was somebody,” said Negron, 54, who lives in Babylon.

Over time Negron’s responsibilities grew within the Yankee world. Some days he would do Steinbrenner’s laundry, wash his car, even baby-sit his kids. He was wherever Steinbrenner needed him to be.

“I remember one time after he got into an argument with Billy Martin, he came out and said, ‘Let’s take a ride.’ This was not an uncommon occurrence. We rode around the Bronx and I remember him stopping maybe three times. I distinctly remember him talking to a black guy with a family and a Latino guy with his son. He handed them a 50-dollar bill and said, ‘Have dinner on me.’

“That’s the George Steinbrenner I know and loved.”

These days Negron’s title is “community relations consultant.” Within that job he sets up outreach programs and appearances by the players. He’s also had three children’s books about the Yankees published, one of which is currently being turned into an animated motion picture titled, “Henry and Me.”

Negron believes Steinbrenner gave him a chance to be somebody, and he views his work in the community as doing the same for countless other kids.

“One of the last times I saw The Boss, I told him how if he had not been there I would have gone down the same road as my so-called friends and would probably be in jail,” Negron said. “But he told me you were never going in that direction. I knew that from the first day I met you.”

The Boss saved his house

After Bill Stimers’ mother died seven years ago, he started having trouble paying off the mortgage of his Brentwood home.

Then George Steinbrenner caught word of it, and, Stimers said, his famous friend fixed everything.

The first time he saw Steinbrenner at a Yankees game after his mother’s death, he said Steinbrenner told him, “Don’t worry, Bill. We’re going to take care of your house for you.”

Stimers, 63, said Steinbrenner paid off the house — and gave him a new kitchen and bathroom, too.

The two formed the unlikeliest of friendships on May 28, 1974. Stimers remembers the exact date because, well, he remembers the date of just about anything that happens in his life.

That day Stimers was just another Yankees fan in the Shea Stadium restaurant before a game — the Yankees played home games there that season while Yankee Stadium was being refurbished — and there was a hubbub among the crowd because Steinbrenner was there, too.

“A lot of people were afraid to talk to George because George was so strict and everything,” Stimers recalled yesterday, “but I said I’m not afraid to talk to him.”

The Yankees had lost 12 of their previous 16 games, so Stimers said he approached Steinbrenner and told the Yankees owner, “Let’s hope the Yankees win tonight.”

He said Steinbrenner responded, “Why don’t you go out and give them hell?”

They talked about the Yankees some more, Stimers said, and Steinbrenner then invited him to take part in a birthday party for The Boss’ secretary.

The Yankees went on to beat the White Sox in 10 innings, 3-2.

“From that day on, we became good friends,” Stimers said.

Known around Yankee Stadium as “Bill the Baker” because he worked for Entenmann’s in Bay Shore, Stimers estimated that he watched 1,000 games over the years with Steinbrenner from the owner’s box.

“I was George Steinbrenner’s lucky charm to win the ballgame,” Stimers said. “He depended on me. He used to yell at me all the time, ‘Come on Bill, get it going!’ I would say, ‘Don’t worry, George, we’ll win the ballgame.’ And nine times out of 10 someone would come up and hit the home run.”

Though technically Stimers was not a baker — he spent 32 years employed as a machine operator — he said he used to bring Steinbrenner chocolate-chip cookies from work because those were The Boss’ favorite.

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