Yanks official quoted calling Bronx youngsters 'monkeys'

July 19, 1994|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees offered an unequivocal apology, the team official involved issued a categorical denial, and Bronx politicians and residents expressed outrage yesterday over a magazine article in which the official reportedly used the terms "monkeys" and "colored boy" in referring to youths in the South Bronx neighborhood around Yankee Stadium.

Bronx officials said the remarks, which New York magazine attributed to Richard Kraft, the team's longtime vice president for community relations, suggested that racism was the real reason for the club's undisguised interest in moving to Manhattan or New Jersey.

"Mr. Kraft's remarks reveal to me the reason: bigotry," said Fernando Ferrer, the Bronx borough president. "He's demonstrated his contempt for the city's fans and especially its fans of color."

Kraft, who was said by club officials to be vacationing, denied ever making the remarks. In a statement issued through a spokesman, Kraft, a college classmate of the club's owner, George Steinbrenner, said: "I categorically deny ever having said what was attributed to me. Anyone who knows me knows I would never say that."

The Yankees, who have blamed concerns about crime and limited parking in the largely minority neighborhood for what the team sees as disappointing attendance figures, had issued their own statement earlier in the afternoon apologizing for the remarks.

"The New York Yankees offer an unequivocal apology for the statements attributed to Mr. Kraft," the club said through its spokesman, Howard J. Rubenstein. "His comments in no way reflect the opinion of the Yankees. He was not authorized to make statements on behalf of the team."

The disputed statements are included in an article published this week and based on an interview with Kraft last January. In it, Kraft is quoted as saying he did not believe the Yankees could have "a fan base here in the Bronx."

"I don't know what happens to the little colored boy who goes through school here, and goes to Kennedy High School, and goes to a Catholic college. I don't know if he loses his roots here."

Referring to young people who play basketball on the adjacent courts of Macombs Dam Park, the magazine quotes Kraft as saying: "It's like monkeys. Those guys can all go up and hang on the rim and crack the rim and bend the hoops. It's a continuous maintenance problem."

Kurt Andersen, the editor of New York, said the magazine "sticks by our story, which was based on the voluminous notes of the reporter."

Ferrer called for the club to dismiss Kraft, who he said had "always expressed those opinions privately."

"For George Steinbrenner to have Dick Kraft as his vice president of community relations is, by itself, an eloquent statement of bigotry," the borough president said. "It is akin to having Attila the Hun on your community's Welcome Wagon."

Kraft is not considered either a major organization figure or one of Steinbrenner's top policy officials, other baseball executives say. To the club's critics, though, the very fact that a lightly regarded executive runs the community relations program suggests a lack of interest on the part of the Yankees in truly cultivating a constructive relationship with the neighborhood's residents.

"If they don't want to be here, fine," said Grace Nickens, a social worker at nearby St. Margaret's Episcopal Church. "But don't slander us."

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