The Yankee in Hendrick’s Court
Following a lifetime in baseball, Gene Monahan begins again in the sport of his youth.
By Mike Savicki
After nearly five decades in pinstripes, a career that included 19 post seasons, 11 World Series appearances and seven wins, you might think Gene Monahan has done more than enough as head athletic trainer of the New York Yankees to justify an easy retirement.
To a working man, the options seem limitless. He could return to his native Florida, build a man cave, wax his car whenever he wants and walk his dog on the beach at every sunrise. Or maybe he could bring a folding chair to a local ballpark, talk with other retirees and smile contently as he watches the stars of tomorrow struggle to hit a split fingered fastball or cutter.
After all, that’s what retired guys do, right?
Not Gene Monahan. He’s never been one to sit still and stare at walls. And he definitely isn’t the type who looks forward to sitting down with a big stack of books to help pass the days. Retirement, Monahan has always believed, is an opportunity to start anew.
When Gene Monahan learned he had cancer, and the treatments would force him into retirement a year or two before he hoped, he looked at it as an opportunity. He wasn’t done quite yet. So Gene Monahan turned to the only other sport he knew and loved, the sport he grew up watching as a child, and he thought about how he could get involved as a second career.
The decision was a logical one.
“You see, I became a racing fan in the middle fifties,” Gene Monahan shares. “My Dad liked it and he’d take me to the Friday night races. Because we were kind of poor, we’d wait until later in the evening when the gates were open and walk in to see the feature races. I’ve been following it ever since, and when I learned I’d have to leave baseball, I thought it was time I gave racing a try.”
Following the conclusion of the 2011 season, Gene Monahan relocated to Mooresville to be closer to the heartbeat of racing. A job with Hendrick Motorsports soon followed. He was hired as a training consultant with the primary focus of working with each of the athletes who comprise the pit crews of the top four Sprint Cup teams.
His love – his life – began again.
“What I knew going in is that these guys have the same needs as baseball players,” Monahan shares. “They get the same backs, lower backs, shoulders and elbows as the big leaguers. You see the same knee injuries. Their bodies and minds fatigue as the season progresses.”
He continues, “And because Mr. Hendrick really saw these parallels and recognized the need to take care of his athletes, I now have a place helping with the physical, psychological and emotional strains that occur.
“You can call me a part time sports medicine guy,” he jokes. “But when it all comes down to it, with new pit guys coming in every season and fighting the veterans for spots on the teams, some making it and some getting farmed out, what I’m doing here is close to what I did when I was running a big league training room.”
Does he miss baseball?
“I miss baseball terribly, horribly,” Monahan, now 68, and two years cancer free, exclaims. “It was all I knew since age seventeen, so leaving the big leagues before I was ready really snuck up on me. It hit me hard. Especially that first year.”
He loves his new job and admits that returning to baseball, even as a spring training observer, is still too difficult, but he’s not sure baseball is totally out of his system. Former Yankee manager Joe Torre has reached out to him with an invitation to work the upcoming World Baseball Classic. He has a standing invitation to speak to the Yankees junior trainers.
His legacy in New York remains. To Monahan’s surprise, the new athletic training room of the new $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium was named in his honor.
“I have been very fortunate to have had a life in baseball and I consider myself blessed now that I’m again around a great group of guys doing what I love,” he concludes. “I look back over these last months and this opportunity saved me.”
This article was originally published in Currents Magazine.