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Longtime adviser remembers Steinbrenner

NY Yankees legend George Steinbrenner died of a heart attack on Tuesday morning, July 13, in Tampa, Florida.

Steinbrenner had been in failing health for a few years, and as a result had been coming to New York rarely, though he did appear for the opening game in the new stadium in April 2009 and for the 2010 home opener, this past spring.

Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973 and quickly became the most well-known — and in many circles, infamous — owner in all of baseball. Under his leadership the club won 7 World Series championship titles and 11 American League pennants.

Steinbrenner also lived to see the Yanks win big in the 2009 World Series, their first championship since 2000.

A man who brought not only his immense wealth but also formidable stature and personality to the Bronx, Steinbrenner actually served as vice president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce in 1983.

He received a humanitarian award in 2007 from the Bronx Chamber, and according to current president Lenny Caro, “He was someone really beloved in the Bronx, and by the Chamber. He will be honored for a very long time.”

Steinbrenner often seemed larger-than-life in the eyes of fans and sports enthusiasts. But for Ray Negron, the man known as “The Boss” was a personal pal and mentor.

“My brain was spinning,” said Negron about learning early Tuesday morning that Steinbrenner had died. “I had to get it through my head that I won’t see him again. It was like the karate kid losing Mr. Miyagi.”

Negron said that of course, he had accepted the thought that his friend could pass away, but nonetheless was never prepared for the news.

The story of Negron’s relationship with Steinbrenner is a cinematic tale of kindness and luck.

In 1973, Steinbrenner caught Negron, a young kid at the time, doing graffiti outside Yankee Stadium, and he had police put the boy in a holding cell. About 20 minutes later, he came back and put Negron in a Yankee uniform instead, making him a team batboy.

“After the blessing of what I was given, how could I act out again? That was the promise I made to him,” said Negron, who mentioned that he never performed vandalism again, for fear of disappointing his mentor.

To understand what the relationship that developed over the next few years was like, Negron said, one need only look at the classic film ‘A Bronx Tale’ with Robert DeNiro. “Even though the boy had a father,” Negron said, “all of his true life lessons came from the man.”

Steinbrenner was that man for Negron, making him a sort of right-hand adviser for decisions, and allowing Negron to serve the team for 37 years, during which he became close with manager Billy Martin and catcher Thurman Munson, among others.

“I never stopped learning from Mr. Steinbrenner,” he said, still using a formal, polite title for his friend. “Whether he knew it or not, he was always teaching people.”

Negron has shared his Yankee stories and memories with the public in three different illustrated children’s books, all of which he dedicated to Steinbrenner. The most recent book, ‘One Last Time: Good-Bye to Yankee Stadium,’ was published in the wake of the old stadium being torn down, and featured Steinbrenner on the cover with his hand resting on the shoulder of a little boy.

Negron and the entire Yankee organization will be honoring and missing Big Stein for years to come.

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