By Ray Negron
If life were a television show then I would be on Mission Impossible. The voice in the tape recorder would be that of George Steinbrenner and I would be Mr. Phelps. The Voice would say, “Your assignment, if you decide to take it, (however in the world of George Steinbrenner there is no such thing as “IF”- It would be “Your assignment IS”
Every spring training, in the seventies, I wouldn’t report to camp until I would get a call from the traveling secretary, Bill Kane. Bill would tell me to pick up my airline ticket at LaGuardia airport and when I arrived in Fort Lauderdale I was to report to Mr Steinbrenner. When I did report to the Boss he would immediately give me my assignment. Usually it would be that his kids, Jennifer, Jessica and Hal, would be coming in on “so and so” dates and I was to pick them up at the airport (at that time of year Hank was away at school) Once they got settled in, I would have his youngest son, Hal, accompany me to the ball park. Back then it was known as Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Hal always enjoyed being with the players, shagging fly balls and just being in the clubhouse.
In the spring of 1978, the Boss gave me my orders but there was an additional assignment. He told me that I was going to be rooming with Mickey Rivers, our great and beloved center fielder. Mickey could be, let me say a little flamboyant. To me he was just one wild and crazy guy. He was also very very funny. Mickey could have charged the players an entertainment fee for the best seats on the team bus. Like Oscar Gamble, Mickey knew how to put on a show and he was not afraid to “get on anybody.” Thurman Munson, Lou Piniella even Reggie was a target. If you were breathing you were fair game to Mickey. That spring, my orders were to stay with Mickey and make sure that he didn’t get into any trouble. The Boss even gave me extra meal money because he said that I would need it for when Mickey lost money at the horse track. Boy was he ever right. One night, I had to get money from Thurman, who happened to be at the track with Piniella, just so we could get back to the hotel. However, other than little things like that we had a very uneventful spring. I think Mickey was better at looking out for me than I was for him- he always had MY best interest at heart. To this day, we still look out for each other.
The following spring, once again, I would meet with the boss and this time he wanted me to room with Bucky Dent. That past October, Bucky had hit maybe the most famous home run in Yankee history and went on to become the most valuable player in the 1978 World Series. That past winter he did a lot of commercials and was in a movie called “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.” I rehearsed lines with Bucky and he was actually a pretty good actor. I teased him that whole next season about his big line in the film “But baby you know that I love you.” I would stand up in the back of the team bus and in front of everybody I would yell out that line and everyone would scream with laughter.
On my first day at camp I walked into his hotel room and Bucky said, “What the hec are you doing here?” I told him that I was his roomie and he said, “Did Steinbrenner send you here?” I didn’t say anything. He stared at me and I just stared back at him and then we started to laugh. He said, “What does he expect you to find?” I told Bucky that I hope that what the Boss expects to happen actually does happen and I just won’t say anything. We laughed like crazy because Bucky knew that I would never betray a player and I think the Boss knew that too. The Boss never really asked me about what we did. One time Mr. Steinbrenner ran into Bucky and I at a fancy restaurant with some of Bucky’s friends. The next day the Boss said that I looked like I was having too much fun. The Boss didn’t realize that one of the people with us was Bucky’s priest, Father Joe. Even though he had become such a big star, Bucky was a wonderful roommate- even to the so called Batboy, me!
Bucky used to keep his money in an attaché case under the bed. Before we went out he would pull out the money that he needed and he would always ask me. “Do you need any money?” I always said, “No.” But I loved the fact that he asked me.
Mickey and Bucky were great roomies in an era when every team had assigned roommates. This doesn’t happen any more because the salaries are too big and most players get their own apartments in the spring. I think this is a big reason why the teams were much “closer” back then than they are now.
I find it ironic that on opening day today, at Yankee Stadium, my roommates, Bucky Dent and Mickey Rivers, are throwing out the first pitch and being honored at the Welcome Home Dinner. It is a wonderful and well deserved honor for both of these two great individuals. I have been so blessed to be associated with people like these men from the 77 & 78 World Champions. It’s wonderful that the Yankee Organization does not forget the great men that won those championships for New York.
To this day, Bucky, Mickey and I still refer to each other as “roomie” and I am proud of that.
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Additionally, Ray can be heard on weekends on IMPACT on ESPN Radio 1050am talking baseball and entertainment. His writes a weekly column for NY Sports Day, Newsmax And Baseball America. A powerful and inspirational speaker, he passionately shares his amazing journey, revealing his experience with the Bronx Bombers, special relationship with Steinbrenner and what it was like to hang around some of baseball’s greats. For more information about Ray please check out his website batboyhelps.com