Some fathers dream about a boy to carry on their legacy, to live vicariously through as they push him into becoming a lefty specialist who switch hits.

At the very least, they want a chip off the old block to take to the ballpark or spend a lazy Sunday afternoon with watching the boys of summer.

Me, I have two girls, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.

The eldest (seen in the video around the age of 2 during the home stretch of the MLB  2010 season), knows that Sundays are daddy’s for football and that we root for the Phillies in the summer (although this past week in the lead-up to Father’s Day, school had her asking me about my favorite things.  When I asked her about hers, she responded that her favorite sport was gymnastics and that her favorite sport to watch is “the Trenton Thunder”).

When I received a copy of Jon Lindenblatt’s Trolley Dodgers, Pinstriped Yankees, and Wearing Red Sox: How MLB Teams Got Their Names, it was the perfect companion for us.  

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While the factoids (which went well beyond how the teams got their names) kept me entertained, the abundance of mascots alone was enough to keep her glued.

The Phillie Phanatic was easily recognizable to her (she’s known him as the “Natic” for abut 3 years), but she insisted on peppering me with questions about the other costumed sideshows, and even - God help me - started choosing which teams she would root for based upon those she deemed most awesome.  For some reason, Orbit of Houston Astros was a big hit.  Though this IS the same girl that told me this week the two of us should head to outer space when she’s a “little bit older.”   

She’s at the stage where she’s been read to most nights for her entire life and it’s tough to get her excited over anything not princess related.  

But we found this book - while not telling a story - both entertained her and feed her thirst for knowledge.  It makes her ask a lot of questions, and not just about the sport, but about the relevant history, geography and culture that it touches.

More importantly, it’s another way for us to connect.  And baseball, like it was with me and my father, is something I can spend years enjoying with my pride and joy.

"Nailed" (or "Lenny Dykstra is a Horrible Human Being"): Interview with Author Christopher Frankie

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Like any other mulleted Little Leaguer in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was little I didn’t love about gritty Lenny Dykstra.  Over the past few years when he went to being touted as a financial savant and then ultimately a white colar fraud who was munching on Twizzlers and being splattered on Deadspin, it was as amusing as seeing him crashing into the centerfield wall at the Vet.  It was just another whimsical thing that the Dude was going to come out on top of and show his doubters how tough and resilient he was.

However, while amusing, the Lenny Dykstra Wall Street sideshow was weird…shoulder shrugging in a “good for him, I guess” kind of way, but weird.

It got weirder when the world learned of his attempted jail break of Doc Gooden from Dr. Drew’s made-for-TV rehab clinic.

With the Mitchell report verified what everyone already knew and what his giant head solidified, well, whatever happened next would be less than shocking.

Probably inevitably, Dykstra was convicted and locked up on, of all things GTA.  It’s the lead-up to that incarceration that Nails’ one-time ghostwriter and confidant Chris Frankie outlines in Nailed!: The Improbable Rise and Spectacular Fall of Lenny Dykstra.

I got to speak with Frankie and somehow try to wrap my head around this insane C-F of a downfall of one of my childhood idols.  After reading the book, there is no doubt I loath Lenny Dyskstra.  He is a selfish, misogynistic, delusional racist.  But damn, I can’t get enough of him.

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Hugging Harold Reynolds:  Does Lenny Dykstra have a single redeemable quality that isn’t negated by his very being?

Christopher Frankie:  I write in the book about how Dykstra lost his soul and I think that’s an important point for people to take away from reading Nailed. There was an evolution - or devolution - to Lenny Dykstra. Readers will see some very dark times for Dykstra’s victims - and Dykstra himself — toward the end of the book But, he wasn’t always the raging criminal that is now in jail blaming everyone else for his predicament.

I am certainly not a Dykstra apologist by any means, but I do think it’s important to tell this story as accurately as possible and in a balanced way. When I worked for Dykstra in 2008, I saw manic behavior and a man struggling with serious demons. He could be a total jerk to people, but I also saw some positive qualities - at least early on. As several friends, family, teammates and even some employees I spoke to for the book note, Dykstra could be very decent and kind at times, especially to kids.

In the last few years, I think those qualities got buried beneath out-of-control toxic paranoia, greed and rampant drug and alcohol abuse.  That in no way excuses his behavior, but I do think it makes it really  difficult to assess who he really is.

HHR:  How is it that seemingly intelligent people like Ron Darling and Jim Cramer actually somewhat defend (or defended Dykstra)? How does his reputation reflect on them? I even came away losing respect for former teammates who wished him well or felt sorry for him. Like the fact that they felt pity for Dykstra was somehow a bad thing and that their judgment should be questioned.

CF:  There are a bunch of questions/ topics in here, so let me break them up.

First, let’s start with Cramer. Cramer didn’t defend Dykstra once things  fell apart. That’s a major storyline in this book. However, Cramer bears a decent amount of responsibility for the rise of Dykstra as a stock picking savant. Even though, as I detail in Nailed, Dykstra made his own stock picks, the way he was promoted was reckless. Cramer gave Dykstra a column on his website and told HBO Real Sports reporter Bernard Goldberg that Lenny was “one of the great ones” in the stock-picking world. He also told Ben McGrath of the New Yorker that if he had still been running his hedge fund in 2008, he would have hired Dykstra to work there. Cramer has taken a lot of heat for these proclamations since Dykstra’s implosion, but has mostly chosen to keep mum on the subject.  Cramer ultimately misjudged Dykstra, but because of his platform and influence, he should have known better. He had a duty to be more thorough, more responsible.

As for Ron Darling, I had a very different take than you did. He said this of Dykstra:  ”He’s a complicated man who somehow lost his soul. Let’s hope when Lenny pays his debts to society that we judge him hopefully on his future good acts, not his lost years.” Darling has a personal relationship with Dykstra that stretches back more than 25 years, so for him to hope his friend can find redemption doesn’t seem unreasonable. I also hope that when Dykstra gets out of prison he chooses to do good rather than return to his evil ways.

HHR:  Throughout the book I was led to wonder what your personal motives were to stick around. Warning signs were abound, no one was immune from the wrath, you weren’t being paid. What made you believe that he had the ability to successfully turn things around given the havoc that was being reeked around you?

CF:  When I took the job I had no illusion that Dykstra was an organized guy.  However, I thought the chaos would be temporary until we put the proper  business infrastructure in place. After all, Dykstra was the media darling at the time.

The day of my first meeting with Dykstra he was being filmed for what turned out to be an overwhelmingly positive HBO Real Sports segment. He was receiving a ton of glowing press at the time. He was living in a mansion he bought from Wayne Gretzky for $18 million and had a private jet. On the business side of things, he had reportedly sold his carwashes for $55 million, had the endorsement of Wall Street heavy hitter Jim Cramer and had been writing for Cramer’s website for three years. So, all these things gave Dykstra credibility that made it easy to believe him when he would explain away a red flag that might have otherwise caused me to hit the road.

As for my motives, they were straightforward. I had quit a good job to work with Dykstra, so I was invested in seeing the stock newsletter and The Players Club succeed. I didn’t want to quit prematurely. My paychecks came in fits and starts, but the newsletter brought in money immediately, making it easier to think success was around the corner.

Of course, I later learned that the chaos introduced by Dykstra masked a lot of deeper problems that had yet to bubble to the surface. By the time I realized I needed to leave I was owed a lot of money, which I knew I would have no chance at recovering if I quit. But more importantly, I had brought a number of freelancers - friends and associates from previous jobs - into the mix and they were owed money. If I left, I knew they wouldn’t get paid and my professional reputation would be ruined.

When writing the book I knew my decision making would be subject to scrutiny and I certainly think its fair for people to decide whether my actions were reasonable. However, one thing to keep in mind is that I made a conscious decision while writing Nailed to delve into Dykstra’s backstory and provide multiple perspectives in order to fill in a number of gaps for readers. It was crucial to providing the balance I was seeking and in fully illustrating the arc of Lenny Dykstra. However, it also allows readers to know Dykstra is undoubtedly a bad dude at a time in the story when I was still trying to figure things out.

HHR:  Does Dykstra actually have a track record that can be attributed to his own personal, hands-on know how?

CF:  That’s a good question and I’m not sure I have a definitive answer for you.  If you’re referring to his stock picking, Dykstra openly admitted that he  initially knew nothing about stocks. He reached out to people he saw on TV, such as Jim Cramer and Richard Suttmeier, to get some tutoring in the world of stocks. So, it’s pretty clear he had help learning some metrics and likely in setting up his system. That doesn’t negate his record. He was still making the picks.

HHR:  Was the car wash “empire” a fraud - not his own doing, but of those around him and his seizing on favorable opportunities? When he got more steadily involved did he, in fact, drive them into the ground?

CF:  I don’t think it’s fair to characterize Dykstra’s success in the carwash business as fraudulent. He saw an opportunity, put some money behind it and knew how to use his name to give it visibility. I’m quite certain that if the carwashes didn’t have the Dykstra name on it, or his star power behind it, they would not have been nearly as successful. As owner, he deserves credit for that investment and those decisions.

The first carwash launched in 1993 when Dykstra was playing for the Phillies, so during the early years of that business, there was some distance between the business’ daily operations and Lenny. He hired his younger brother Kevin Dykstra, who was a minor league umpire at the time, to be the General Manager of the carwash and run the day to day operations. Lenny’s longtime friend and business manager Lindsay Jones ran the business side of things. Lenny was responsible for putting those pieces of the business in place. But, on a practical level, he was more of a figurehead.

That changed in 1998 after Lenny retired from baseball. He became much more involved and there was a lot of tumult during that timeframe. In 2003, Lindsay was either fired by Lenny or quit, depending on whose version of events you believe. The two sued each other. Kevin was subsequently fired.  Lenny fired his uncle Wayne, too. Lenny then sold the businesses for $55 million.

Lenny ultimately sold the carwashes for a hefty amount, so I would characterize the carwash business as a business success, although on a personal level, the venture took its toll on his family.

HHR:  How was he able to get away with what he got away with for so long?

CF:  This is a major part of this story and one of the more astounding aspects of it.  In 2008, the positive press - the HBO Real Sports Episode, Jim Cramer’s endorsement and the scores of newspaper and magazine articles- bought Dykstra cover when his finances started to go south.

However, in 2009 and beyond when Dykstra’s criminal behavior kicked into full swing, much of it played out in public. He was very brazen about it. He should have been stopped sooner by the authorities, but wasn’t. He openly defied the courts. He stole credit cards, damaged property, forged documents, threatened a woman with a knife, passed bogus checks, stole identities and took money from employees, etc. Many of his victims went to the police, including multiple women accusing Dykstra of sexual assault. His behavior was known to the authorities.

In fact, a hardworking member of the LAPD - Detective Juan Contreras - investigated, found nearly 20 victims in California alone, and built a wide-ranging case against Dykstra. Most of the victims were average folks.  Prosecutors repeatedly declined to take the case until Dykstra stepped on the shoes of a lawyer with ties to the top levels of the LAPD. That’s when he was brought to justice for a few of his crimes.

There are still a bunch of crimes that Dykstra has not been prosecuted for in California - including many against the victims Contreras uncovered. And, to date, and no charges have been brought by authorities in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania or any other state. Many people have been prosecuted for a lot less.

Safe at Home: Interview with Willie Mays Aikens

If you are looking for a last minute holiday gift for anyone, might I suggest you look at Gregory Jordan’s biography on former Kansas City Royals slugger (and poster boy for 80’s-war-on-drugs mandatory minimum sentencing), Willie Mays Aikens.  The bio, Safe at Home, is a remarkable story of a guy who, despite the demons that derailed a promising career, was able to find both God and himself while incarcerated, and has come out with a proverbial new lease on life. 

You may recall this incredible piece done by SB Nation’s Amy K. Nelson.

I was lucky enough to have become a pen pal of sorts with Willie, as a part of an email group which he frequently keeps updated on his life, happenings and family.

I was also fortunate to have been able to engage in a Q&A with him about Safe at Home.

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HHR:  How well do you think Gregory Jordan did in telling your story?

Willie Aikens: Gregory did an outstanding job portraying me just like I was. He portrayed me as a stutterer in my book and he bought great honestly with everything.

HHR: What has been the reaction since it’s come out?

WA: Everything has been positive so far. So many people telling me how my book has touch their lives. So many people going through the same problems as me. My book has given them hope that they can overcome their problems also.

HHR:  Your family life plays a large part in the book. How have they received it?

WA: Some people on both sides of my daughter’s families have had some anger toward what was written. They have come to accept what was written and we have moved on. Our relationships now are better than ever.

HHR:  What was it about George Brett that made you revere him the way you did and still do?

WA:  George Brett is an outstanding human being and hall of famer. We were good friends when we played together and our friendship is still intact. He was the main reason why I was hired by the Kansas City Royals. I have always admired the way George played the game of baseball and he is the best hitter I played with.

HHR:  Describe your relationship with Hal McRae.

WA:  Hal McRae tried to help me with my problems while we played together in KC. We stayed in contact throughout my period of incarceration. He was the reason why I got my first job coming out of prison. We still stay in contact and Hal is a great person also, just like George.

HHR:  Are you surprised that your old teammates, who in the grand scheme of things were a part of a special, but very small timeframe in your life (3-4 years?), are as loving and supportive as you’ve made them out to be.

WA: I am not surprised at all. We had a great relationship as teammates and off the field as well. These guys are true caring human beings and special to. My connection with them is real and our history together is well documented.

HHR:  While you were in with many who harmed others for much worse crimes, you concede that your incarceration essentially saved you. Can you elaborate?

WA:  Being taken out of that situation (getting arrested) saved my life. I was smoking cocaine everyday and drinking plenty of alcohol. I had no plans to quit what I was doing, so eventually I would have destroyed my life. Going to prison was a blessing in disguise, but it took me years to realize that. I gained my sobriety, gained a spiritual life and gained a relationship back with my family. Praise God.

HHR:  While you seem to have turned a page, is there much resentment left?

WA:  Forgiveness is the best weapon to use after being setup by somebody. The KC Police department in KC set me up. They did it for bad, but God meant good for me. No resentment against anybody. I have given all that back to the people who tried to screw me.

HHR:  Are you still in contact with anyone back in Seneca?

WA:  I will always be in contact with people in Seneca. Seneca is my hometown and I still have roots there. Nothing will ever separate me from Seneca, except death.

HHR:  How does it feel to be back in baseball?

WA:  Being back in baseball is a tremendous blessing for me. It is something I prayed for while in prison. I figured my chances of getting back into baseball were pretty slim and none, but God has touched many hearts and that is the reason why I am working in baseball again. I am thrilled to death to be a part of the KC Royals organization.

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HHR:  Your passion and love for the sport never seemed to be in question. Can you describe what the game itself means to you?

WA:  Baseball has meant everything to me. Baseball made my name what it is today. Baseball put me into money and fame early in my life. Baseball allowed me to meet many, many women and become a celebrity. Baseball with a spiritual life would have been a whole lot better, but it didn’t happen that way. Early in my life baseball and sports kept me busy, which allowed me to stay out of trouble.

HHR:  Does your faith continue to grow during this chapter in your life?

WA:  My faith will continue to grow as long as I glorify God and Praise his holy name. My faith will continue to grow as long as I read my bible and go to church. My faith will continue to grow as long as I continue to do speaking engagements and sharing my testimony. I wake each day thinking of things to do to help my faith continue to grow.

HHR:  What now is your ultimate goal in life? What do you aspire to?

WA:  My goal is to continue to do what I am doing. Praise God daily. Show other people how God has blessed my life. I do that by sharing my testimony and spreading the word about the good news of the gospel. My goal is to continue to be a good father to my kids and an obedient husband to my wife. My goal is to bring people into the family of accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. My goal is to have eternal life with God after I am finish doing his work on this planet. My goal is to stay clean and sober. My goal is to help the prisoners come home. I aspire to help the young people make better decisions in their young lives. There are many more goals we all can accomplish if we just try.

Breakaway: From Behind the Iron Curtain to the NHL—The Untold Story of Hockey’s Great Escapes

While the NHL is in the midst of yet aother work stoppage, Tal Pinchevsky’s Breakaway recalls a time in the not-too-distant past in which players were struggling to play in the NHL for reasons that far transcended the business implications and the league’s player-team relations.

In a game of high risk-high reward, players, from Petr Kilma to Alexander Mogilny, literally were given the choice between spending their prime years playing for the Soviet government-backed national team(s) or pursuing NHL superstardom and the freedoms that accompanied it in North America.

Getting there was no easy task. 

The players, while most adhered to a strong sense of nationalism, generally chose freedom over oppression despite their strong ties at home.

As you wallow in the reality that the season may very well be finished, be thankful this holiday for the blessings you are afforded as Americans.  And pick up Pinchevsky’s book and see how players struggled to get out from behind the Iron Curtain to be able to enjoy those blessings themselves.  

In the meantime, we caught up with the author to talk a little about the book and the episodes it chronicled.

HHR:  By NHL teams drafting an Eastern Bloc player, was there an inherent bullseye put on that player’s back in that it at the very least may have seeded the idea of defection with him? Were teams ultimately endangering their draftee?

Tal Pinchevsky:  What most endangered any player behind the Iron Curtain was the perception that they were thinking of leaving. There were any number of things a player could do to give that impression, especially meeting with NHL scouts or executives. Generally, just getting drafted wasn’t grounds to punish a player. But if a player who was drafted suddenly started conducting meetings with their NHL club or discussing plans to defect, that could get them in serious trouble, which could include being kicked off the national team.

HHR:  The process of extracting a player seemed right out of a movie, and sometime times the Westerners seemed to get a rush from it. Once the player landed on North American soil as a refugee, however, was it game over? I can’t imagine the Commies conceding they lost. Given the length and intensity of the Cold War, and the large profiles of the players, how was it not a bigger international issue?

TP:  The battle definitely did not end once a player arrived in North America. Behind the Iron Curtain, the media war would begin immediately. The media, which was controlled by the central government, would immediately start to portray any defector as a traitor who left their country and their countrymen for the decadent Western lifestyle. From there, the families of these players would then be targeted. Just being associated with a defector would make them a pariah in their towns and parents were known to be fired from their jobs while siblings were also kicked off their hockey clubs, all for being related to a defector.

HHR:  There was a point made by Nedved about defectors getting less than they possibly deserved because they would to paraphrase, “be happy getting whatever they got because of where they came from,” despite having the most on the line. Any truth to that?

TP:  These players came to North America with no familiarity with the language or culture. They hadn’t even had a credit card before coming to the West. So there was opportunity for exploitation of these players, which is a discussion that occasionally comes up in the book. But for the most part, I think the players who came over were grateful to be living a new life that afforded them the financial and political freedoms that they didn’t have back home.

HHR:  Players risked a lot especially when it came to their loved ones left behind who saw their livelihoods upended. The propaganda machines tried to paint the defectors as selfish and succumbing to Western riches. While their lives drastically improved from those they lived under the regimes, there can be something said that they threw their families under the proverbial bus to live their personal dreams. They really are lucky their families weren’t sent to Siberia.

TP:  From my research, it appears that the worst retribution families faced was government surveillance and demotion from their jobs, which is obviously incredibly difficult. But it doesn’t look like anyone’s family was thrown in prison or exiled to Siberia. Having said that, there is no doubt that the consequences family members faced weighed very heavily on the decisions these hockey players made. Without a doubt, one of the most difficult aspects of their transition to North American life was knowing that their families’ lives were affected by their decision to leave. For many of them, it’s a guilt that weighed on them for several years.

HHR:  Many of the events in the book were really not that long ago, many within the last 20-25 years. Do you feel that fans today truly understand the impact these players had?

TP:  These events aren’t exactly ancient history, but there is no questioning how much the world has changed since the end of the Cold War. We have an entire generation of hockey fans and players who were born after the collapse of the Soviet Union, so it’s really hard for them to truly understand what life was like for people who lived behind the Iron Curtain during this time. I was a kid at that time and I really couldn’t truly appreciate it until I started doing intensive research for this book. Some of the players profiled in the book, most notably Petr Svoboda, are now agents representing players from Czech Republic and Russia born after the end of the Cold War. And they all confirmed that their younger clients from Eastern Europe have no idea how different the world was back then.

Football’s Greatest

In this digital age where information is consumed at such a rapid pace and often on-the-go, online publishers can easily slip into a world of top-ten lists and *gasp* slideshows.  Hey, they work for the medium and for the audience.

But if the rise of outlets like Grantland, The Classical and, lately, SB Nation’s long-form program, as well as the longevity and respectability maintained by Sport Illustrated are any indication, the quality and strength of in-depth, well-written pieces are not lost on the public.

When it comes to sports, one thing will always ring true:  debate.

This month, Sports Illustrated released Football’s Greatest, and the beautiful hardcover collection has all of the above.

This is the book to end all arguments-and to start many others. Who’s the greatest quarterback of all time, Joe Montana or Tom Brady? Brett Favre? Who was the most dominate linebacker, Lawrence Taylor or Dick Butkus? Was Deion Sanders better than Ronnie Lott? Are the Packers of Steelers the greatest franchise ever? Sports Illustrated has polled its pro football experts to determine the Top 10 in more than 20 categories. The rankings appear alongside stirring photography and classic stories from SI’s archives. 

SPOILER ALERT: The 1985 Bears edge out the 1972 Dolphins as the greatest single season team. While not shocking to most even-mannered and objective football fans, Mercury Morris was said to have been seen in Manhattan screaming nonsensically and throwing eggs at the Time Life Building.

Don’t let the actions of one elderly madman deter you from checking out the book yourself.

You can grab a copy on Amazon for you or someone you love this holiday season.

Interview with Ray Nergon: Batboy, Yankee Confidant, Author

When Ray Negron was 17, he was caught doing the unthinkable, by the person you’d least like to be caught doing it by:  he was caught tagging Yankee Stadium by team owner and notoriously temperamental George Steinbrenner

That youthful, albeit delinquent, indiscretion, however, turned out to be arguably the greatest one ever perpetrated by a baseball fan.

The Queens resident was held in the little-known drunk tank in the bowels of the House that Ruth Built (and you thought those were only worthy of Philadelphia ruffians), until his disappointed parents could retrieve him. 

But rather than throw the book at him, Steinbrenner decided to put the kid to work to pay off the damages, and, in turn, changed Ray Negron’s life into one of a fairy tale:  one that took him from a bat boy for one of the most storied franchises in sports to a Yankee legend in his own right.

Lucky for us, Negron has decided to tell of his experiences in which he became a friend, confidant and mentor to the likes of Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Doc Gooden and countless others; being an integral part of some of the teams’ most vibrant as well as volatile eras.  And, hey, not many can boast about being told to piss off by the Mick on Old-Timers Day.

Negron’s Yankee Miracles, while restrained from really calling out some a-holes as he certainly could have (that’s the class act he is), is a fantastic read even for a non-Yankee fan like me.

I was lucky to catch up with the author for a quick Q&A.

HHR:  After the initial shock and anger, in those early days, how did your mother take to your new employment responsibilities to the Yankees?

Ray Negron:  She was happy that I was so serious with my responsibilities with the  Yankees and my interest in something so concrete.  It was a time of great change and uncertainty in the City and I think any mother at that time would have been relieved that her son had some opportunity.

HHR:  Your role as a bat boy went beyond what many would think (running to retrieve lumber between at-bats).  In addition to running errands for guys in and out of the club house, in many ways you were a friend and confidant.  Was this a normal relationship?

Negron:  It was not a “normal” relationship between batboy and player.  I became like a little brother to the players and because i loved baseball so much I had the mentality of a baseball player.  they understood who I was and I understood who they were.  And they always included me in things on and off the field. I was close to their wives and families and babysat their kids.  This made me more of a confidant because they could trust me.

HHR:  You were close with three equally legendary and publicly perceived volatile Yankees:  Martin, Jackson and Steinbrenner.  Besides the proverbial “love of the game,” what commonalities did the three share?  What major characteristic, in a word or two, was unique to each?

Negron:  All three had a very strong ego and all three could be extremely charming.  I once said to each of them about the other—you guys are alike in many ways and they each said the same thing,” Am I supposed to take that as a compliment?” —-with a laugh

Differences…
Reggie - flamboyance
George - aggressiveness
Billy - temper


HHR:  You articulate at the end of the book your reasons for writing it.  Given the normally private nature of a club house, were you hesitant to include any particular anecdotes?  Similarly do you think any of its subjects would express a lack of privacy in anything you did include?

Negron:  I think that Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Thurman Munson and George Steinbrenner would have all felt good about what I have said.  George Steinbrenner saw my initial draft of this book and he really felt good about it.  My only regret is that he didn’t get to see the finished product.  I feel that he would have been very proud of it.  This book is my proudest accomplishment because I feel it makes baseball more human and shows the beauty of what a baseball player is supposed to be all about in the eyes of the fans of the world. 



HHR:  Was the pressure put on you from Steinbrenner justified in keeping “your guys” in line, whether guys during those Bronx Zoo years or the likes of Doc Gooden?

Negron:  He was the Boss and knowing him I was in a position to help the team win because of those responsibilities that he put on me and I welcomed the assignment and the fact that he believed in me that much to put me in that spot many times throughout the years.

HHR:  You served in a few roles away from the club in the mid-to-late 80’s and early 90’s.  During those struggling years, as an outsider was there something about those teams’ make-ups that you felt off from the previous and future championship years?

Negron:  They just didn’t have the incredible personal chemistry of the Bronx Zoo Yankees who knew how to put on the finishing touches when it came to winning—-or the Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera Yankees of the mid-later 90’s that had the same type of chemistry.

HHR:  You worked with other teams, how did they compare with the Yankees?

Negron:  The Indians and Rangers were truly class organizations and I had a terrific time there but nothing -absolutely nothing will compare to the NY Yankees especially thenSteinbrenner NY Yankees.  The excitement is everyday—the intensity of absolutely having to win all the time was always in the air especially when George was in the ballpark.  That’s just something that I never felt with other teams and it made it for an exciting time whenever you walked into Yankee Stadium.

HHR:  Were you ever put in any uncomfortable situations or asked to do things that you just refused?

Negron:  The most uncomfortable situation that I had ever gone through was when the Boss and Billy Martin asked me to pick up Thurman’s car after he was killed.  It was an assignment that I didn’t want to do but the Boss explained why it had to be done and why it had to be me who had to do it so I reluctantly did it even though I knew that for the 25!miles that it would take to drive from Teterboro Airport to Yankee Stadium I would cry every step of the way because I missed him so much.

HHR:  You are always the one of the prime examples of the “good side” of the Boss, whenever someone looks to counterbalance all the horror stories the public hears about him.  How do you think he will be remembered in future generations?  As the kindhearted friend or win-at-all-costs owner or a hybrid?

Negron:  I think he will be remembered as the greatest owner because he revolutionized the game of baseball in so many ways and helped sports become an even bigger business when he bought the Yankees —all sports.  He will be remembered as a very tough and difficult man who was also there for the less privileged of the world.

HHR:  You talk a lot about people you liked in the organization, but not much about those you didn’t.  Any real jerks?

Negron:  There were many —too many to mention and if I start talking about them It will only depress me to the point of hyperventilation.  These people that I didn’t and don’t like do not understand at all how blessed they are to be working in such a wonderful arena called baseball.  It is a privilege to work for the Yankees.  It is a privilege to be working in front of the incredible fans that support this business that we are so blessed to be receiving a paycheck for doing what we do and these people do not understand that.

Many times throughout the season even at my advancing age, I get very sad because I see the nastiness of people who work in the game and don’t appreciate how many people in the world that would love to be in their position.  Maybe someday those people will wake up and understand what “For the love of the game” really means.

HHR:  You’re an author and dabbled in TV and movies.  But your real passion is baseball.  How do YOU want to be remembered?

Negron:  Like Lou Gehrig, I always consider myself ” the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”  I would like to be remembered as someone who was a true friend of the Yankees-someone who loved the Yankees with all his heart and understood the magic of a player when he puts on that uniform and steps out into the field and makes kids and adults alike very happy. I would like to be remembered as someone who loved Munson, and Murcer and Billy, Reggie and The Boss south that it hurt.

After I am gone people naturally will forget because I never had a major league hit or hit a home run but while I am here I will appreciate every single day with all my heart.

HHR:  If I want to get some of your books for my 1 and 4 year olds, where can I go?

Negron:  My children’s books,  The Boy of Steel, the Greatest Story Never Told: The Babe and Jackie, and One Last Time: Goodbye to Yankee Stadium can all be found on EBay.

(Mural Image:  Daily News)

I’ve always liked John Smoltz.  It seemed while Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were collecting hardware and headlines, Smoltzy was persisting, workmanlike, and standing out with his own postseason swagger during the Braves’ legendary division dominance throughout the 90’s and into the new millennium.
His (abbreviated) autobiography, Starting and Closing:  Perseverance, Faith and One More Year, reflects much of how I preceived the pitcher himself - not very flashy, but able to get the job done…well.  I’ve read plenty of sports books.  About half I put down a few chapters in for one reason or another.  But this one, while not sensational or overly revealing, was solid.
Smoltz comes out the gate with a few points he wanted to emphasize:  All he ever wanted to do was win, he’s not afraid to fail, and he never did anything in his baseball career just to set a record.
And while those things carry throughout the piece, a few things are also heavily emphasized.
The first is the fact that, despite every list you’ve read it on, he did not injure himself ironing a shirt he was wearing.  He is very emphatic about this.  Not only is he still the butt of this ongoing, and as he describes it - inaccurate, portrayal of stupidity, but it also helped drive home another common theme:  his mistrust, and I sense hatred, of the media.  It’s ironic he seems to feel that way in that he easily transitioned into a broadcast career that he relishes as much as he did his playing career.
Smoltz also expresses his undying desire to have played his entire career in Atlanta.  While this may be true, I sense in many cases, particularly towards the end, that there was no love loss between the team and the player.  It’s easy to assume this desire was based not so much on his love for the organization, but on familiarity and the fact

I’ve always liked John Smoltz.  It seemed while Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were collecting hardware and headlines, Smoltzy was persisting, workmanlike, and standing out with his own postseason swagger during the Braves’ legendary division dominance throughout the 90’s and into the new millennium.

His (abbreviated) autobiography, Starting and Closing:  Perseverance, Faith and One More Yearreflects much of how I preceived the pitcher himself - not very flashy, but able to get the job done…well.  I’ve read plenty of sports books.  About half I put down a few chapters in for one reason or another.  But this one, while not sensational or overly revealing, was solid.

Smoltz comes out the gate with a few points he wanted to emphasize:  All he ever wanted to do was win, he’s not afraid to fail, and he never did anything in his baseball career just to set a record.

And while those things carry throughout the piece, a few things are also heavily emphasized.

The first is the fact that, despite every list you’ve read it on, he did not injure himself ironing a shirt he was wearing.  He is very emphatic about this.  Not only is he still the butt of this ongoing, and as he describes it - inaccurate, portrayal of stupidity, but it also helped drive home another common theme:  his mistrust, and I sense hatred, of the media.  It’s ironic he seems to feel that way in that he easily transitioned into a broadcast career that he relishes as much as he did his playing career.

Smoltz also expresses his undying desire to have played his entire career in Atlanta.  While this may be true, I sense in many cases, particularly towards the end, that there was no love loss between the team and the player.  It’s easy to assume this desire was based not so much on his love for the organization, but on familiarity and the fact

"Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions."  - Proverbs 18:2
If you are unfamiliar with the Willie Mays Aikens story, do yourself a favor and check out this piece from SB Nation’s Amy K. Nelson.

"Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions."  - Proverbs 18:2

If you are unfamiliar with the Willie Mays Aikens story, do yourself a favor and check out this piece from SB Nation’s Amy K. Nelson.

Review: R.A. Dickey’s Wherever I Wind Up

Every few chapters while reading R.A. Dickey’s 300+ page piece of therapy, Wherever I Wind Up, I would turn to my wife and express my pity for him.

I call it his “therapy” only half in jest.  Throughout the read, you feel him releasing his secrets, his demons, his fears, his doubts.

The author pulls no punches.  He comes out of the box and describes (his only now public) sexual abuse at the hands of a (female) babysitter as a child, and not long after he describes similar mistreatment at the hands of an older male child.  He talks about the struggles of growing up the child of divorced parents, his mother’s subsequent alcoholism and his yearning to salvage a close relationship with his father, with whom he looked up to and with fond memories.

As if his social upbringing wasn’t traumatic enough, the one thing offering him hope and a future - his athletic career - comes to a screeching halt as his professional signing bonus (and economic stability) is yanked from him, a proven All-American and Olympian.

Not surprisingly, suicidal thoughts enter the equation.

Throughout his adolescence and young adulthood, Dickey literally found a saving grace in Christ.  It is this foundation that enables him to push through, despite many professional and personal hardships.

A second blessing is his development of his knuckleball.

Ironically, neither relationship - that with Christ nor that with his knuckler - is a seamless one.  Though each is equally inspiring.

At the point when I turned to my wife with disappointment and relayed to her that Dickey had been unfaithful to his wife, she wondered aloud why I was still pulling for this guy.

The truth is, he seems generally sincere and remorseful and as hopeful as one could be at this stage in his life.  It’d be easy to blame his upbringing for any unsavory behavior in his adult life.  But his continual drive to be a better person, a better husband, a better father and a better Christian, while on the surface seems hypocritical, it really reflects the broader spiritual themes of forgiveness and redemption, which are the book’s real messages.

Dickey’s bouncing around the minors and flirting with the bigs is an integral part of his story, ones that are laid out by the author as well as his personal one.  And as a sports fan, it is fun and fascinating. 

But in the proverbial game of life, as Dickey comes to realize, all that is secondary.

[Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball]

The Last Great Game

I remember it vividly. I grew up in an ACC household. It didn’t matter that the single Duke fan in my family is outnumbered by two N.C. State fans - including yours truly - and a wayward Demon Deacon. It’s probably my first distinct basketball memory. Sure, I remember seeing ACC basketball on T.V. from the earliest points of my childhood. However, this is the first game I remember watching tip to buzzer. I remember celebrating when Laettner hit the shot. What I didn’t know was the great back-story, the drama that led to the second greatest moment in basketball history.

Editorial disclaimer: I’m a diehard N.C. State fan. In my humble opinion, the “greatest game” will always be the 1974 ACC Championship between Maryland and State. And the greatest shot will be Dereck Whittenburg to Lorenzo Charles in ‘83. I’m biased, and am not ashamed to argue my point over a few beers until I’m blue in the face.

But now, in The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 Seconds that Changed Basketball, ESPN senior columnist Gene Wojciechowski reveals the behind-the-scenes lead-up to, and legacy of, this incredible game: the discipline, strategy, gamesmanship, philosophy, group psychology and plain old luck that lifted team players and coaches to legendary status.

The book begins years before that Elite 8 game in 1992. For Duke it begins with the hiring of some young yankee with an impossible to pronounce last name to coach one of the storied tobacco road teams. Gene then takes us through the recruitment of two the biggest stars the ACC has ever seen, Christian Laettner, who we find out had quite the unflattering nickname among his teammates, and Bobby Hurley.

A few hundred miles to the west, a story unfolds of another yankee come south. This story speaks of shame, redemption, and fierce determination. Without the great overtime game in 1992, names like Woods, Feldhaus, Farmer, and Pelphrey might never have earned their place in Kentucky basketball lore. Let’s also not forget another name that started along side Kentucky’s now famous, “Unforgettables”, a kid by the name of Jamal Mashburn.

Gene may never fully tell us how this game changed basketball, but he sure weaves a great story about its importance. It’s a great page-turning history of everything related to that game, and a must-read for any basketball fan out there.