Ray Negron, the former Yankees batboy, and long time history with the team, introduced yours truly to Hank Steinbrenner in early June of 2016. It was at the Ferry Point Golf course in the Bronx on an overcast day at the annual charity event for Hank’s Yanks.
Hank, 63 years old and older son of George, the patriarch, passed away Tuesday morning at his home in Clearwater, Florida. The Yankees announced his passing after a longstanding health issue and not from the Coronavirus.
Hank, co-owner of the Yankees, in the past few years was in the background of running the team with all, if not most of the decisions made by Hal, his younger sibling. He was in his 13th season as a General Partner and 11th as Co-Chairperson.
The Yankees, in a statement said, he was responsible for overseeing all areas of the club’s business and baseball operations which included contract negotiations and strategy.
Hank Steinbrenner may have been forced out by choice after the controversial signing of Alex Rodriguez. There are many accounts to that, and to this day believe what you want about that.
And the first item of business, discussed with Hank that day in June, wasn’t the overall direction of the Yankees, though, that was discussed and the answers were honest and to the point.
Hank’s Yanks, though, was his legacy and a major part of his concern was the kids and their goals of playing organized baseball. . Hank gave the power to Hal, after assuming ownership when George passed away in 2010.
But, he wanted the best for kids in the community and it all started in the vicinity of Yankee Stadium.
Thousands of kids over the years, over 100 or more, were able to play ball at major colleges and quite a few signed to contracts on the professional level. They will never forget the efforts of Hank Steinbrenner and Ray Negron because of Hank’s Yanks.
“Ray Negron started it years ago with one team,” said Steinbrenner then, about ‘Hank’s Yanks’ which has seen over a dozen of its players get drafted to play pro ball and attend college.
He said then, in that first meeting, “It was for kids in the area with different age groups for little leagues to present them in an opportunity especially in areas that don’t have a lot of little league action. It helped develop players, but mostly for fun.”
It became more than fun. The kids have lived their dream and it is owed to Hank Steinbrenner. They still play organized baseball with the assistance of this program in the tri-state area, and the golf outings over the years have been successful.
Current Yankees, the legends, and those from the corporate community who contribute to the cause have always been there for the kids and for Hank.
Doc Gooden, the former Mets and Yankees All-star pitcher, said Tuesday, Hank Steinbrenner was like a second father to him. Gooden, was granted a second opportunity from the Yankees and George Steinbrenner led him to Hank.
“He was a lot like his dad,” said Gooden Tuesday afternoon from his home in Piscataway, New Jersey. “He was an aggressive, great baseball guy, and had a tremendous heart. That was a great thing (Hank’s Yanks) he had. He reminded me a lot of his dad. Same type of guy. Tremendous heart.”
“Eventually when they get older, obviously they are not all going to play major league baseball, but it’s to help with college and give advice on colleges,” Hank said about his organization. “We have kids that we helped get into college and we have had players drafted. It’s just for the kids, real youngsters or high school age. It gives them an outlet to be associated with the Yankees. “
Negron, said Hank, gave him the idea to be associated with the youth. To this day, Negron, is still actively involved and continuing the legacy.
Then known as the T M Baseball Academy in the Bronx, now the Baseball Training Institute, Tony and Jessy Melendez were at that golf outing in 2016.
Negron was the clincher. Hank was informed about the efforts of Melendez, and that dedication to youngsters. Soon T M was the newest member of Hank’s Yanks and represented the Bronx.
“As some have heard me share in the past, I’m a huge Yankee fan mostly because of “The Boss” and the day I met Hank, I shared my admiration for the family.” Jessy said.
“I remember like it was yesterday. We were at the golf outing fundraiser for our newly formed Bronx Hank’s Yanks, I was in awe of how much he resembled his dad. He was so gracious and warm.”
And it was the Yankees, because Hal wanted to see the proper direction and continue a legacy of this new dynasty his dad built in the Bronx. He was concerned about long term contracts, and more so for the duration and stress of signing a good arm for the rotation.
We can’t dispute Hal. Years later, the rising amount of pitchers with long term contracts have been victims of Tommy John surgery. Hal was also conscious of the luxury tax and the financial structure of the game.
He sounded like his Dad for a moment. He had a cup in his hand and feet away from the quarters and the last to enter for the festivities. He wanted to be the last and after the golf games were concluded, Hank granted this writer some time.
It was about the Yankees and that direction.
Said Steinbrenner about the lack of wins, at a time when the Yankees needed more after a 2009 World Series championship, “It constantly bothers us. Wish we could do more like it used to be but revenue sharing is killing us. We didn’t have that in the 90’s. Next year we will have more money to spend.“
He mentioned how important pitching was for the minor league system. The Yankees said they had a few prospects almost ready to make the jump to the Bronx and Luis Severino was one of them.
“Cause pitching is everything,” Hank said. “Problem is when you pay a lot of money for a free agent pitcher there’s the injury risk. You get a lot more money for the pitcher obviously than the position player. Teams want pitching the most and they will pay for it. But the problem is you take that big risk. The more you can develop obviously your own pitchers in the minors, the better.”
Steinbrenner said then, the Yankees have committed to drafting more pitching over the next ten years. It has worked. The Yankees have one of the top minor league systems in baseball.
“Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t” he said. There were no hints of shakeups then and it was well known that the Yankees had to go to war the remainder of that season with the roster as constructed.
But it was this comment that clinched a deal here.
“I need to get up here and do more in the Bronx,” he said. “My dad always taught me that America is the Land of Milk and Honey but unfortunately it isn’t that way for everybody. We got to try and do and make it that way. That was a term he always used . We have to start and get it going.”
He got it going. Hank’s Yanks is that legacy and in the Bronx.
Rest In Peace Hank. Condolences to the Yankees and Steinbrenner family.
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