Steinbrenner at 80: Painting a different portrait
George Steinbrenner turns 80 on Saturday. We've been looking at some events during his tenure. Ray Negron, a longtime assistant to Steinbrenner, recently spoke with the E-Boland and the Bombers blog about his oft-told but interesting encounter with the then-little known new boss in 1973.
Negron was 16 that year and had a paint can in his hand when a man approached him outside Yankee Stadium.
``I was outside the park, me and my cousins,’’ Negron, 54, said. ``We used to hang outside the stadium, watch the players come and go was a big thing for us.’’ He mentioned Bobby Murcer and Graig Nettles.
``My cousins were always notorious for the whole aspect of spray painting between Brooklyn and the Bronx.’’ Was it art or vandalism? ``All of the above,’’ Negron said. ``You were famous in the neighborhood and the gangs, that was it.’’
Negron had painted the interlocking Yankee insignia on the stadium. ``To me Yankee stadium was sacred ground, it was a simple NY,’’ he said. ``In the process, the next thing I know my cousins screamed `watch out.’ They were halfway down the block. I’m caught. I’m caught by this man with this really nice hairdo and some security guards. Next thing you know I’m being put in a holding cell. I had no idea of who he was. It was 1973 and he had just bought the team. It wasn’t like he said ``I’m George Steinbrenner'. He said I defaced Yankee Stadium and who did I think I was.’’
Negron was brought to a holding cell in the basement of the old stadium. ``Fifteen, 20 minutes later that man came an got me and said to the cops, `Give me the kid.’ To him I was the kid until I was 40.’’
They walked me to Yankee locker room, gave me to [clubhouse man] Pete Sheehy and he told him to give me a uniform. He wanted me to work off damages, next thing I know, I’m a Yankee batboy. Bobby Murcer was sitting there with this grin on his face. I had to clean up the storage room. He [Steinbrenner] wanted to make sure I had earned it. He gave me money for transportation. He didn’t have me rat out my cousins, he made me talk to them. He said `I don't want to hear any BS, this is my house now. You don't see me going to your house and painting it.’ ‘’
A few years later, Negron was drafted by the Pirates, released after one season and came back to the Yankees as a batting practice pitcher. That lasted until he hit Willie Randolph with a pitch. Steinbrenner handed him a video camera. ``He said `This is something I did when I coached football, let’s try it in baseball.’ The Yankees became the first team to have video equipment.’’
Negron later became Steinbrenner's personal assistant. That brought him into contact with some of Steinbrenner's well-educated friends, including some from Williams College. ``I don't have a college education,’’ Negron said. ``But he’d say to me `Don't worry about that, you went to the university of Steinbrenner. You can’t get a better education than that.’ ‘’
Negron continues to have access to Steinbrenner. ``When I see him I talk to him about the club, just nice conversation,’’ he said. ``He totally with it. He still goes to work, not as often he used to. Naturally, he has the pains in his knees, it's very uncomfortable for him. He sits at his desk. He’s always great. When I go and speak to him, he’s great. I say that proudly.''