Wednesday May 26, 2010
“The Yankee Years” by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci: Special YANKEES SUCK Edition
The New York Daily News called it “One of the best books about baseball ever written,” while The New Yorker named it one of its BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR, but for the rest of us, “The Yankee Years,” by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci, seems awfully schizophrenic.
It's a mostly plodding hagiography of the 1996-2001 New York Yankees and their even-keeled manager, Joe Torre, but Verducci keeps pushing in directions that undercut the hagiography. He includes a chapter on steroid abuse, for example, that renders irrelevant the team's accomplishments. Clemens blew the Mariners away with one of the best performances in post-season history. (Yay!) But while he was on steroids. (Boo!) Oh, but don't worry, the steroids don't matter. (Huh?) He lists off the ways Michael Lewis' Moneyball changed the game—with teams like the Red Sox valuing previously undervalued stats, like On-Base-Percentage, and prospering as a result. But while Yankees' GM Brian Cashman became a quick if sloppy convert, Torre, the book's hero, never did, continuing to focus on less-measurable aspects of the game like personality and heart.
We're reminded, again and again, of the four titles Torre helped bring to New York, as if the book were written for the Steinbrenners and Cashman, who unceremoniously cut Torre loose after the 2007 season. We're reminded, again and again, of the grinding qualities those late '90s players, such as Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez, brought to the team, and how newer players, such as Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez, didn't have that same heart, and didn't care enough about the team, which is why, according to Torre, the Yankees stopped winning World Series. But this construct, which is Torre's construct, is later refuted by, of all people, Derek Jeter, who mostly blames lack of pitching for the non-title years. Verducci then backs up Jeter with stats. So which is it? Or which is it mostly? No attempt to clarify this apparent discrepancy is made.
As a result, the book is a fascinating mess. It's also annoying for anyone who hates the Yankees. That's most of us.
- “The  postseason became a 15-game version of their regular season. The Yankees capitalized on any opening...” (p. 15) ...particularly the opening of Jeffrey Maier's glove.
- “After five games, the 1998 Yankees were 1-4, in last place, already 3 1/2 games out of first, outscored 36-15, at risk of losing their manager and letting teams like the Mariners kick sand in their faces.” (p. 42) Teams like the Mariners? How awful. I'm reminded of that Charles Atlas ad. “That team is the worst nuissance on the beach!”
- “Like Torre, [David] Cone was angered by what he saw the previous night. He watched Seattle designated hitter Edgar Martinez, batting in the 8th inning with a 4-0 lead, take a huge hack on a 3-and-0 pitch from reliever Mike Buddie—five innings after Moyer had dusted [Paul] O'Neill with a pitch.” (p. 44) Wow, Moyer dusted someone? And apparently Edgar violated one of the unwritten rules of baseball: Swinging on a 3-0 pitch when up by four runs in a stadium where David Cone threw 148 pitches and walked in the tying run in the final game of the 1995 ALDS. Edgar should know better than that.
- “'You have to find something to hate about your opponent,' [Cone said in a pre-game speech to his teammates.] 'Look aross the way. These guys are real comfortable against us. Edgar is swinging from his heels on 3-and-0 when they're up by about 10 runs!'” (p. 44) Give or take six runs.
- “At some point over the 2000 and 2001 seasons, according to the Mitchell Report, Radomski provided drugs for [Yankees] Grimsley, Knoblauch, pitcher Denny Neagle, outfielders Glenallen Hill and David Justice, and later for pitcher Mike Stanton. In addition, the 2000 Yankees included three other players who later admitted their drug use (though not necessarily specific to that particular year): Jose Canseco, Jim Leyrtiz and Andy Pettitte. Most infamously, the 2000 Yankees had a tenth player who would be tied to reports of performance-enhacing drug use: Clemens.” (p. 105) We're back to the Charles Atlas ad. Mariners kick sand, Yankees beef up. “The INSULT that made steroids users out of 'Yankees'!”
- “'Andy [Pettitte] was great,” Torre said. 'I think he taught Roger how to pitch in New York. And Roger taught Andy how to be stronger.'“ (p. 77) ”Stronger.“
- ”Pettitte was a churchgoing, God-fearing Texan, known in the Yankees clubhouse for his integrity and earnestness. If Pettitte was going to cheat, who wouldn't?“ (p. 111) Atheist bastards from Massachusetts?
- ”'It's like Bob Gibson said: “To win a game you'd take anything,”' Torre said. 'We'd all sell our souls. Winning is something that was first and foremost and that's what we wanted to do. Unfortunately, now what stimulates the need to do this is individual performance and not winning.'“ (p. 113) Ah, for the days when players took illegal substances for the good of the team.
- ”There was so much going on, so much in his head, so much emotion coursing through his body, that Clemens could not process the inventory of what was happening at that moment [when Piazza's bat shattered during the 2000 World Series] quickly enough.“ (p. 134) ”...so many steroids coursing through his body...“
- ”The Steroid Era was baseball's Watergate, a colossal breach of trust for which the institution is forever tainted. It floats untethered to the rest of baseball history, like some great piece of space junk, disconnected from the moorings of the game's statistics.“ (p. 117) Including championships in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000?
- The [Fenway Park] crowd arrives with the meanness and edginess of a mob.” (p. 80) Yankee crowds, bless them, arrive with smiles and pic-a-nic baskets.
- “Intimidation, and the mere threat that he could go off at any time, was part of Steinbrenner's personal and leadership package.” (p. 122) “Leadership.”
- “No 2000 World Series rings were forthcoming for the scouts, numbering about two dozen. Morale worsened when they were instructed not to bring up the subject of World Series rings at organizational meetings. It worsened still when they saw Steinbrenner cronies such as actor Billy Crystal or singer Ronan Tynan wearing World Series rings.” (p. 143) “Leadership.”
- “[In Steinbrenner's office, there was] a picture of General George S. Patton, given to him by a member of Patton's staff. It was not your typical military portrait. Patton is seen pissing into the Rhine.” (p. 467) Patton: Rhine; Steinbrenner: Baseball.
- “When Jeter was 24 years old and after the Yankees won the 1998 World Series, George Steinbrenner gave a book to him as a present: Patton on Leadership: Strategic Lessons for Corporate Warfare.” (p. 159) No bastard ever got rich by going long on subprime CDOs. He got rich by making the other poor dumb bastard go long on subprime CDOs.
- “Jeter requires fierce, unqualified loyalty from friends and teammates.” (p. 245) Baby.
- “The Yankees [after 9/11] had become not just New York's team, but also America's hometown team.” (p. 148) Fuck you.
- “So it came down to this: Mariano Rivera on the mound with a one-run lead against the bottom of the Arizona lineup [in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series]. Steinbrenner was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, combing his hair, preparing to soon accept the Commissioner's Trophy for a fourth straight year.” (p. 157) Ha!
- “The [2003 World] Series could have gone either way. A sacrifice fly here, a hit there, a little back and core maintenance there, and who knows?” (p. 237) A roided-up pitcher here, a Jeffrey Maier catch there...
- “'They always play Yankeeography in New York on the videoboard. As a visiting player, you see that they get music to hit to and when we come up we get Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle all the time,' [said Kevin Millar]. Millar walked into the office of [manager Terry] Francona [before Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS]. 'We're not hitting [batting practice] on the field today, Skip,' Millar said. 'We're not falling for any of that Yankeeography crap.'” (p. 304) Ha!
- “The Yankees were saddled not only with the worst collapse in baseball history [in the 2004 ALCS], but also the insult of having the hated Red Sox spill champagne in their stadium.” (p. 311) Ha!
- “Cashman didn't want [Ted] Lilly. He preferred [Kei] Igawa, though Igawa would cost the Yankees more money over four years ($46 million, including the $26 million posting fee)...” (p. 376) Wait for it....
- “'I caught Kei Igawa,' [bullpen catcher Mike] Borzello said... 'He threw three strikes the whole time. His changeup goes about 40 feet. His slider is not a big league pitch. His command was terrible.'” (p. 377) Ha!
- “Just the memory of [the 2003 World Series] pained Pettitte...especially that last night when Beckettt beat Pettitte and the Yankees, 2-0, in what would be the last World Series game every played at Yankee Stadium.” (p. 386) “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest [Yankees] thought” —Percy Shelley (with help from Erik Lundegaard)
- “Damon's teammates grew so frustrated with him [in 2007] that several spoke to Torre out of concern that he was hurting the team. One of them visited Torre one day in the manager's office and was near tears talking about Damon. 'Let's get rid of him,' the player said. 'Guys can't stand him.'” (p. 395) Pssst...Jeter.
- “[Joba] Chamberlain, glistening from the spray and his heavy sweat, was a midge magnet. ... Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, New York's $43 million left side of the infield, were constantly waving their gloves and throwing hands at the little midges. Fighting for their playoff lives, the most expensive team in baseball had developed into a vaudeville act.” (p. 438) This game almost made me believe in God. Or at least plagues.
- “It was 11:38 p.m. when the end came. Jorge Posada swung and missed at a pitch from Cleveland closer Joe Borowski for the final out of a 6-4 Yankees loss. It was the last pitch of the last postseason game ever played at Yankee Stadium.” (p. 462) Jor-ge! Jor-ge! Jor-ge!
- “'Guys, you're playing for the best manager you could possibly play for,' [coach Larry] Bowa told the players. 'He never rips you. He sticks up for you whether you're right or wrong. He gives you the benefit of the doubt on anything...” (p. 405) Until this book, in which Torre basically rips, among others, David Wells, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Johnny Damon, Kevin Brown, Chuck Knoblauch, Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez.
- “In another era, the Yankees might have cherry-picked elite pitchers in their prime from organizations that could not longer afford them, in the same way they had plucked David Cone from the Blue Jays in 1995 and Mussina from the Orioles after playing out his contract in 2000. Instead, the Blue Jays locked up Roy Halladay, the Indians locked up CC Sabathia, the Brewers locked up Ben Sheets, the Astros locked up Roy Oswalt and the Twins locked up Johan Santana—all small-market teams who suddenly had the cash to keep their ace pitchers off the trade and free agent markets. The kicker for the Yankees was that under the revenue-sharing system they were financing some of the newfound solvency of those teams.” (p. 421) Has a more self-absorbed paragraph ever been written? The Yankees feel sorry for themselves because they can no longer treat the rest of the Major Leagues like its own farm system? Worse, it's all wrong. The true kicker, not Verducci's kicker, is that all of these pitchers, save one, are not only not “locked up” but now with other teams—including Sabathia with the Yankees. Only Oswalt is still with the Astros...and he wants out.
- “Cashman and the Yankees [in the offseason leading up to the 2009 season] only had just begun to change the story. In 12 days they spent $423.5 million on Sabathia, pitcher A.J. Burnett, who was 31 years old at the time, and first baseman Mark Teixeira, who was 28. ... All told, the Yankees spent $441 million on free agents in that one winter. The rest of the league combined spent $176 million.” (p. 486) The rigged game continues. Rooting for the New York Yankees is like rooting for Goldman Sachs.