There are few individuals who can be called “lifers” in the transient world of sports, but Rey Negron is one of them. An insider’s insider, Negron has worked in and around the New York Yankees organization for over 40 years, starting as a bat boy when owner George Steinbrenner caught him spray painting graffiti on the outside of Yankee Stadium and rising through the ranks as a community activist and close confidante of both the Yanks’ legendary owner and some of its biggest stars.
Along the way the Queens, new York native spent time as a minor league ballplayer, worked advising the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers organizations and became a best selling author of children’s books. His latest work, “Yankee Miracles” takes fans behind the scenes in the business of the Yankees through the eyes of a man who has been there from the days of Reggie and Thurman to today’s biggest stars. The book begins a busy fall season for Negron, who will see another of his works, “Henry and Me,” make it to the big screen as an animated film later this year. All his works can be found at http://www.batboyhelps.com/author-ray-negron-2.html
We caught up with Ray to talk about life in the Yankees Front Office:
You have spent probably more time than anyone inside the Yankees organization the past 40 years, what is the biggest change you have seen?
In the 70s we were more fan friendly. The fans had better relationships, the players were more accessible to the fans and I miss that very much. Our guys then probably had more in common with the fans, and we were just starting to win so maybe the bond was a little closer than it is now. Success does have a way of changing things, and sport is a much bigger business today than ever. The Yankees have always been big, now we are global.
From a brand perspective what sets the Yankees apart from everyone else in sport?
George Steinbrenner took an already fabled brand and made it almost godly. He understood the greatness of Ruth and Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle and made the Murcers and Mattinglys believe that they were just as good. Today you have Mariano, ARod and Jeter carrying on that same incredible tradition. We also do things right and take the time to make sure that the brand is never damaged publicly. It is the little things that make a big difference and keep you ahead of the competition.
In the book you touch on many Yankees legends you worked with, from Jackson and Munson to Murcer and Mantle. Who is the player not in the book who you think about the most?
Don Mattingly and what a sweet person he was, always treated me with respect and was very very nice to my youngest son, Ricky who was always hanging out in the batting cage with Mattingly. I am very happy to see the success he is having with the Dodgers and only wish his career would not have been shortened as it was by injury.
What made George Steinbrenner a successful owner in your opinion?
He went after what he wanted with a vengeance and wouldn’t stop until he got it. This included players, and whatever would help improve the Yankee organization. The Boss also knew how to treat the fans –like they were special and this went a long way. Mr. Steinbrenner did more away from the camera to help fans than he ever did in front of the media. That is a big part of his legacy.
How did the other organizations you worked around, the Rangers and the Indians, differ in their business approach from the Yankees?
Very simple, they didn’t have a George Steinbrenner to take them to the promise land which explains why I don’t have a World Series ring from Cleveland or Texas but both were good organizations to work for. They treated me great and they helped show me the sports and business world from a perspective away from New York. Coming back to the Yankees after those experiences helped me get better in what I do.
How did you start writing kids books, what was your inspiration?
It was just a way I was able to share my experiences in a novel form and when I spoke to the Boss about it he told me to go for it and that if it is one of your dreams then just do it. Telling those stories is a great passion of mine, and it is one that he encouraged. I am very happy that those stories are a way for me to help other people now.
Is there another organization in sport anywhere in the world who you think approaches the business side of the game as well as the Yankees, and if so who would it be?
It’s a tough question to answer because from a business perspective I was able to watch George Steinbrenner perform his magic. Since he is no longer here I am not in that side of the business today.
If Mr. Steinbrenner had not found you spray-painting the Stadium that day, where would you be today?
I will only say that I would not be a NY Times bestselling author and I would never possibly have reached the many dreams that I have been fortunate enough to conquer. We never know where life will lead us, but that day put me in a position to give back to others down the road. That is what I am most proud of, the ability to use my experience with the Yankees to make a difference in the lives of others.
You spend a great amount of your time helping the brand give back. Why is community so important to the Yankees brand?
I once saw the movie The Pride of the Yankees and loved how Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig encouraged that little boy to believe he could get better. Through the magic of the Yankees, I believe that the players can help kids do anything if they try hard enough.
There is a movie close to completion, Henry & Me, based on one of your kids’ books. Tell us about the way that came about?
Creative Group producer, Joe Avallone had read my children’s books and asked me if I was interested in turning the books into an animated film. When I asked Mr. Steinbrenner about the idea he thought that it would be great, there would be a whole new audience of young kids learning about the magic of the Yankees. My only regret is that the Boss will not be here to see it but in his own way he will. We are now nearing completion, and everyone who participated in the process, from the players to stars like Richard Gere and Cindy Lauper, all gave their time to make it work. We are hoping it reaches millions of people with a story of hope and friendship and faith, three elements which I hold very dear to me and I believe are at the core of the Yankees brand. That sense of passion and overcoming ones problems are really key to what has made the Yankees successful not just on the field but as a business, and I’m proud to be a part of that tradition.