[Ed.: Joe Torre's upcoming book on his incredibly successful run as the Yankees manager, The Yankee Years, comes out next Tuesday, February 3, but, thanks to some copies that found their way to the media ahead of time, it's been the source of headlines, tabloid and otherwise, across the sports world this week (and it's spent the past few days in our top 10 bestsellers). The other people who have written about the book so far have all been sportswriters or New York Times book reviewers, but we were lucky enough to get to see an advance copy here, and thought we'd give you the fan's perspective on the book before it came out. Or, rather, two fans' perspectives: one, a lifelong Yankee fan, my Amazon colleague Chris Brucia, here, and the other, a lifelong Yankee hater, me, in a separate post. Enjoy.]
When Tom asked me if I wanted to read The Yankee Years and write a reaction from the perspective of a Yankee fan, my answer was an immediate "yes." One of my favorite sports books this decade was Buster Olney's Last Night of the Yankees Dynasty and this seemed to have the potential to serve as a perfect bookend to Torre's long managerial rein in the Bronx. I was not disappointed.
If you're a sports fan, by now you've heard endless amounts of coverage and "expert analysis" of what is supposedly featured in the book. Don't believe the hype. Almost all of the people talking about it on TV and radio haven't read anything more than a few strategically selected excerpts to build hype and sell more copies. Is Torre honest and sometimes brutally so? Yes. Does he "rip" his former players and front office co-workers? I wouldn't go that far. Sure, there are a few selections that feel like sour grapes and maybe he goes a little too far with the criticism of sensitive superstar Alex Rodriguez, but it's nowhere near as nasty as what's being portrayed by the talking heads right now.
First, the book is really more "by" Tom Verducci than it is Torre. Verducci is the storyteller here, with major contributions from Torre, but this is not a tell-all, first-person account. For his part Verducci writes a very compelling story, taking readers from Torre's beginnings in New York as "Clueless Joe," to the top of the world as he won championship after championship, to the almost tragic way his employers more or less forced him from the job.
Although the Yankees are known for internal drama, what wasn't expected is how extensive the real-life soap opera was. Tom Hanks may have famously said "There's no crying in baseball," but that rule clearly does not apply to the most storied franchise in sports. You can't read 10 pages of this book without another account of some tough-guy player breaking down from the pressure of playing in New York and/or playing for owner George Steinbrenner and his merry band of mischievous and sleazy underlings. Some of these revelations were pretty startling to read about:
- Former All-Star pitcher Kevin Brown, he of the stone-faced intensity and $100 million contract? Found curled up in the equipment room of the clubhouse half-naked and bawling during a game he was still pitching!
- Serial tough man Roger Clemens? Uncontrollable sobbing in the clubhouse during a game he was pitching in the World Series! This after his got all macho and threw a shard of bat in the direction of nemesis Mike Piazza.
And these are just two examples. For someone who has passionately followed the Yankees over the last 25 years or so, reading about these emotional breakdowns is both surprising and fascinating. After all, these athletes are idolized and get paid millions, but they are apparently not immune from the pressures of the big stage.
Yankees fans will enjoy Torre and Verducci taking them into the clubhouse during both the good and bad times. Predictably, Torre wears a huge set of rose-colored glasses for the 1996-2000 seasons, when he guided the team to four World Series titles in five years, doing so with an astounding 16-3 record in the Fall Classic against the National League's best. Much of the commentary about the players he managed in future years (surprise! He liked many of them less) is done in comparison to his beloved warriors like Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera.
Although the Yankees continued to make the playoffs for the rest of Torre's time in the Bronx, the second half of the book details how--as Olney points out in his book--the 2001 World Series was a turning point for the franchise as they lost several cornerstone players (and personalities) and started turning more toward overhyped and high-maintenance players. Verducci's reporting here is most excellent, as he also weaves in the story of how other teams--most notably the rival Boston Red Sox--embraced a revolution of statistical analysis and over the course of the next few years overtook the Yankees as the pre-eminent team in the game.
While Torre is taking the heat in this initial wave of media coverage, it's really Verducci who, with surgical precision, exposes the franchise's failures over the past 6 years. In fact, he lays out the facts that the assembled roster each season was getting worse and worse but Torre managed to get them into the playoffs every time. No, they didn't win a whole lot in the postseason (never making the World Series again after 2003), but only in New York is that considered an utter failure. Once fans get to read this book, it will be interesting to see how they react to Verducci's candid criticisms of GM Brian Cashman, who many assume is the glue holding the Yankees together. Verducci puts together some analysis on Cashman's record of player development and free agent signings that might turn some heads. --Chris