The Yankee Years by Joe Torre & Tom Verducci

March 1, 2009

Started: February 15th, 2009
Finished: March 1st, 2009

First off, let me state the fact that I’ve never reviewed a book in my life, but considering that I’m a writing major and have some professional writing experience under my belt, I don’t feel that I’m unqualified to express an educated opinion.

The Yankee Years first caught my attention because it was making headlines on ESPN due to stirring up some dirt in the Yankees organization. I don’t even remember what the headline was, but it probably had something to do with Alex Rodriguez, since that guy attracts controversy like he gets a bonus for it in his contract. I wasn’t particularly intrigued by the fact that Joe Torre had written a book about his time with the Yankees, but when I saw that Tom Verducci, a reputed baseball writer for Sports Illustrated, was the co-author I figured it was worth my time.

Make no mistake, this book is Verducci’s baby. Despite first billing and an authoring credit, Torre’s involvement is limited to extensive interviewing and vocal contributions, but has nothing to do with the writing as far as I was able to tell. Though this book wouldn’t have been possible without Torre’s involvement, I think his name on it is mostly a sales strategy. Verducci puts together a well-structured and chronological book with sharp prose that keeps the reader interested. Some of the writing does get repetitive at times and some of the quotes used don’t contribute much, but overall, I found the book to be a quick and interesting read.

I consider myself to be somewhat of a baseball fanatic, but The Yankee Years made me realize that I completely lose touch with the game come playoff time. I’m sure this is due to the fact that baseball, despite being a great sport, is kind of boring to watch and also because I don’t have a vested interest when the Mariners miss the playoffs or get knocked out. This has caused me to miss out on some incredible games. Think what you want to about the Yankees, but over the past 15 years or so, they’ve been involved in some of the best postseason series and games of all-time. If there weren’t box scores and footage to prove the results, you’d think that some of these accounts were fictitiously written for the movies. From Aaron Boone’s game-winning homerun in extra innings, to Curt Schilling’s bloody sock, to the Yankees coming back from a sub-.500 record as late as July to make the playoffs in 2007, there definitely was a story to be told here.

The thing that surprised me the most about the book is how it made me feel about the Yankees. Without a doubt, in my lifetime, the Yankees are my most hated team in any sport. I’ve always felt like they’ve been able to buy their way into the playoffs due to a ridiculous revenue stream and payroll flexibility, and with 12 straight postseason appearances, six league championships and four World Series Rings, that might be hard to argue. However, after reading this book, I feel like I may have been a bit ignorant. The most amazing thing happened as I was reading the first half of this book: I found myself liking the Yankees for the first time in my life. No, not the Yankees as we know them now, but the team that won four World Series titles in five years from 1996-2000. It’s easy to learn to hate a team that constantly wins, but I think a lot of my hatred was misguided. I’ve always despised the Yankees because of their huge payroll and ability to buy their roster rather than develop it, but those teams that won the championships were built of gritty, hard-nosed and reasonably priced veterans that had a will to win (Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, David Cone) and young, upcoming future superstars produced from the Yankees own farm system (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte). When Joe Torre was hired before the 1996 season, the Yankees had a modest (in comparison to now) payroll and their attendance was merely average compared to the rest of the league. It was due to this run of championships and success that the Yankees have become the colossal revenue-building monster that it is now. It wasn’t until the 2000s (after the Yankees last championship) that they seemingly started signing every big free agent that went on the market. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate the Yankees, but I think you have to respect what they accomplished in the late 90s. Those championships were earned, not bought, and they put together an incredible run that deserves all the accolades it receives.

With that said, the last half of the book made me hate the Yankees even more than I did before. Not only has revenue sharing and an increased ability by other teams to exploit inefficiencies cut into the Yankees advantage, but the Yankees front office hasn’t been able to make intelligent decisions (especially regarding starting pitching) and has wasted a staggering amount of money on the free agent market. The list of failures is vast: Carl Pavano, Javier Vasquez, Jaret Wright, Jeff Weaver and Randy Johnson are just the beginning. On top of that, it took the Yankees 11 years (from Andy Pettitte in 1996 to Joba Chamberlain in 2007) to develop a quality starting pitcher out of their own minor league system. The book describes all these misguided decisions in detail and explores how the Yankees bought a team of superstars that lacked the will to win that the late 90s Yankees possessed. Also, these superstars didn’t mesh as a team and there were often clashes of personality in the dugout and on the field.

After reading this book, I realized that the Yankee championships were legitimate and hard-earned, Joe Torre is a remarkable manager (he got them to 12 straight postseasons, including six years when the team was clearly in decline despite an increasing payroll), and that my current hatred of the team is valid. Alex Rodriguez is still a piece of shit and may arguably be the most unlikable player in all of sports. This book didn’t help his image any; his own manager thought of him as a self-centered, whiny, attention-whore.

Without a doubt, this is an absolute must read for any fan of baseball.

One comment

  1. First blog I read after wakeup from sleep today!

    You Must Learn To Break The Fear Of Having Another Panic Attack Or You Will Never Experience Complete Freedom From Anxiety

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