"THE BOY OF STEEL"
mix of fact
and fiction in new book
By MAURY ALLEN
of The Columnists.com
The 1923 original
Yankee Stadium wooden chair sits in a corner of a Stadium storage
room down from the clubhouse where the modern millionaire Yankees
prepare for their games.
Ray Negron, 46, an adviser to Yankee owner George Steinbrenner,
showed me the chair as he talked about his new childrens
book "The Boy of Steel" (Regan Books, $19.95), published
recently with much attention.
I used to escort all the celebrities to their seats as
guests of George, he recalled. I would see that they
were comfortable, had their drinks and seat cushions and new
yearbooks. One day I escorted Eleanor Gehrig, Lous widow.
Mrs. Gehrig told Negron a touching story about her late husband,
one of the games greatest stars and most emotional stories
with his tragic retirement in 1939 and his death in 1941 at age
Lou was already diagnosed with ALS and was failing. One
day Joe DiMaggio, by then already the team star, asked him how
he was feeling. Lou couldnt answer. He hobbled out of the
clubhouse and walked to the storage room and sat down on that
old chair under the stands and just cried his eyes out,
The chair sat in the Stadium storage room all this time until
Negron discovered it recently. Pete Hoda, in charge of maintenance,
put a couple of new wooden frames on the seat and cleaned up
some of the paint. An artist, James Fiorentino, captured in a
painting on a storage wall the three famous Yankee captains,
Gehrig, in tears in the chair, the late Thurman Munson in his
catching gear and current captain Derek Jeter taking a swing.
Earlier this year Nergron, who has helped save the lives of former
Yankees Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry with counseling (Gooden
is finishing a jail term for drugs and Strawberry is clean at
present), visited a local hospital.
He had gone there with young Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano.
They visited the cancer wing of pediatric patients. One youngster
caught their eyes and their hearts.
Negron decided to capture the plight and the experiences of this
six year old boy with a fictional childrens book called
"The Boy of Steel."
The tale tells the story of a cancer-stricken youngster who is
roused out of his bed by the arrival and warmth of the big league
star, Cano, and the warmth and wonders Negron was capable of
doing for him. He brings the youngster to Yankee Stadium, meets
all the players, works as a bat boy for the regular bat boy and
in his fantasy at the legendary ball park meets the great Lou
Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.
All of these wonders are captured in delightful, emotional, inspiring
prose, connected with the marvelous drawings of artist Laura
The cover of the book, a warm, wonderful drawing of the youngster
in his full Yankee uniform with the legendary Gehrig, is enough
of a thrill without any other addition. The other drawings of
other Yankee greats and classic Stadium scenes only add to the
wonders of this precious collection.
Negron was a Bronx kid headed for the tragic heap of lost causes
when he was rescued and saved by the Yankee owner 30 years ago.
I was spraying graffiti on the side of the Stadium when
Mr. Steinbrenner spotted us. He asked me if I would rather do
some work for the Yankees, cleaning things up instead of doing
damage to the ball park. I was soon inside the Stadium running
errands for the Boss, he said.
Every large organization has chores that no one on the work charts
seem to fill. Those were the jobs Negron filled. He was soon
helping Reggie Jackson adjust to his New York apartment. He ran
errands for manager Billy Martin. He consoled visitors at the
1979 funeral of captain Thurman Munson, killed in the a private
plane crash near his Ohio home. He worked with drug-addicted
players such as the late Steve Howe, Strawberry and Gooden.
He worked as a bat boy for the Yankees, played in their minor
league system, worked in the front office and stayed close as
an adviser to Steinbrenner for the last 30 years.
Steinbrenner is one of three persons the book is dedicated to,
along with the stricken boy and another close friend named on
the dedication page.
All proceeds from the book will be contributed to the Yankee
Foundation, an organization that aids needy, underprivileged
families in the New York area.
I wanted to tell this story to inspire others to keep fighting
when they might be ill, Negron said. I tried to capture
this through the story of this little boy and through the stories
of these great courageous Yankees such as Gehrig, Ruth, DiMaggio,
Mantle, Maris and the rest.
The Yankees will have a new stadium opening across the street
from the present site in 2009. Ground has finally been broken
and the work is moving ahead for the 21st century Yankee stadium.
We will keep the Gehrig chair covered all through these
work years and then unveil it again in the new Stadium in a very
special spot, Negron said.
Fans in the new Stadium will get to see the chair that Lou Gehrig
sat on in those last, trying days of his life. That chair and
a copy of "The Boy of Steel" will bring tears to the
hardiest of Yankee fans.
©2006 by Maury Allen. The Maury Allen caricature is ©2001
by Jim Hummel. The book cover illustration is courtesy of Regan
Books. This column first posted Sept. 25, 2006.
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