Book review: ‘The Yankee Years’
Vail CO, Colorado
VAIL, Colorado “-The New York Yankees probably rate the highest on the ‘teams you love to hate’ scale, however, few baseball fans can help but love former manager Joe Torre.
Torre managed the Yankees to the 12 straight playoff appearances, six pennants, and four World Series, yet none of it ever seemed good enough for the fans, the media or the owner. The even keeled, soft spoken skipper comes clean on his tenuous tenure with the Yankees in his memoir “The Yankee Years,” co-written by longtime Sports Illustrated baseball beat writer Tom Verducci.
Much within these pages validates what many baseball fans already knew or suspected: Owner George Steinbrenner is a megalomaniac, general manager Brian Cashman may not have a spine, the media is exhausting, closer Mariano Rivera is awesome, captain Derek Jeter likes to party, and so on.
Under Torre’s leadership, the Yankees won four World Series in five years, an impressive feat that led to the team’s demise, at least by the media’s and fans’ perspective.
The World Series teams were built with a careful mix of young talent such as Jeter, Rivera, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte developed through the Yankee farm system and savvy, role-playing veterans such as David Justice, Scott Brosius, Paul O’Neil and Tino Martinez.
However, this philosophy was upended as the bombastic, meddlesome Steinbrenner, drunk with power and money, spent lavishly on marquee free agents such as declining pitcher Randy Johnson and Jason Giambi, federally indicted on steroid charges, and most notably Alex Rodriguez, whose skill set and contract were equally respected and resented.
The fine balance Torre had struck at the close of the century dissolved into a circus as Steinbrenner figured buying the best players would yield more glorious World Series banners. Upper management lost sight of the camaraderie that had made past teams so successful and underestimated the importance of a happy clubhouse.
Alex Rodriguez, or A-Rod, became to personify this philosophy rift. A-Rod would mash home runs in the season’s early going before disappearing during the crunch time months of September and October. Torre hoped a player with a $250 million contract and rarefied natural talent would be more than Mr. April.
Come playoff time A-Rod often looked intimidated and overmatched, leading veteran teammates to call him A-Fraud, sometimes openly in the locker room. This was a situation Torre tried hopelessly to quell, and ultimately, he admits he sided with the veterans.
After another A-Rod-induced flameout following the 2007 playoffs, Torre’s contract was up for renewal. Torre felt the Yankees’ low balled him and he instead accepted the manager position for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In 2008, the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1995 and proceeded to spend more than $300 million on free agents for the 2009 season. Torre’s Dodgers, comprised largely of emerging prospects, proven veterans and Manny Ramirez, lost to eventual champion Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series.
Torre’s memoir isn’t just revelatory in its inner workings of one of the world’s most recognizable, profitable and successful sports franchises. Torre also discusses his battle with prostate cancer during the 1999 season and the healing role baseball, particularly the Yankees’ and cross-town rival Mets, played in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11.
Co-author Verducci also deserves a pat on the back for his ability to not just relay baseball, but also personalities and life in general. Verducci is among the finest sports journalists of the past 25 or so years, and his semi-weekly features in Sports Illustrated should be required reading for any fan or lover of writing in general.
After “The Yankee Years” it’s hard not to come away with even more respect for Torre after realizing what the man faced on a day-to-day to basis, the results he produced, and his overall appreciation and devotion to the game. And that’s coming from a maniacal Red Sox fan.
Stephen Bedford works at The Bookworm and loves baseball. E-mail comments about this review to email@example.com.