I'm not sure if I'm the right audience to judge whether Joe Torre sold his soul for publishing gold in The Yankee Years, because, well, stirring up clubhouse dissension in the new Yankee Stadium? I might sell my soul for that. I've been a Red Sox fan for longer than my friend Chris has been alive, most likely (and for a lot longer than they've been the smart-and-successful Red Sox Nation juggernaut that I can hardly recognize now), so I opened my advance copy of The Yankee Years looking forward to the second half of the book (the "sad decline" years, if making the playoffs every year can be considered a sad decline), and to an inside look at a team that I had watched intensely from the other side of the diamond for years.
And I got it. Despite all the attention given so far to the various Yanks Torre is supposed to have slammed in the book, The Yankee Years doesn't come across as bitter score-settling (well, except for the very end), but rather a warts-and-all story about the delicate job of managing--and sustaining--success at the very top. (And how thin the line is between fame and infamy at that level: if Jorge Posada had thrown out Dave Roberts at second in 2004, or if one of a thousand other things had happened that could have derailed that miraculous (though now inevitable-seeming) handover of AL East power, I'm sure I wouldn't have read the book with the same pleasure.)
As Chris and others have mentioned, the way the book is written, as a third-person story with Torre often treated as one of many quoted sources, and with long reported digressions onto subjects--like steroids and the rise of the Red Sox--that Torre didn't have a close view of, makes it something other than your average sports memoir: it's more like a mix between The Bronx Zoo, Moneyball, Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, and the Mitchell Report, all rolled into one. But whoever's telling the story, it's one in which personality is paramount, and Torre and the other sources (especially the brainy pitchers David Cone and Mike Mussina) make perfectly clear what they thought of the many people who spent time in pinstripes, and in management's luxury box, in those years.
For those other Sox fans considering getting their own copies of The Yankee Years when it comes out next Tuesday (and I'm sure all the A-Rod disses quoted in the media have raised that number immeasurably), here's a short preview of some of my favorite moments from the book, a top-ten list of Yankee hater's highlights (although some are just great baseball moments, with no Yankee hating required):
- Roger Clemens's standard pregame ritual, starting with a super-hot whirlpool bath, then an ankles-to-wrists rubdown with hot liniment, with the "hottest possible liniment" applied by the trainer to, well, the one of the most sensitive parts of his body. "'He'd start snorting like a bull,' the trainer said. 'That's when he was ready to pitch.'" In case I needed reminding why I don't want to be a major league trainer.
- Yanks owner George Steinbrenner was so--I don't know--cheap, or petty, or spoiled by victory that his scouts had to wait a full year to get their World Series rings after the 1999 season, and never got rings for the last year they won, in 2000, even though Steinbrenner pals like Billy Crystal did.
- After the Yanks came back to tie game 7 of the 2003 series against the Sox, closer Mariano Rivera ran off the bullpun mound to cry in the bathroom, from the sheer emotion of the game. Not a Yankee-hater moment, particularly, just a great window into what a crazy game it was, when even the iciest closer in baseball history was overcome. As Chris said, there's a whole lot of crying in the book, almost all of it by Yankees pitchers: by my count Rivera, John Habyan, Kevin Brown, Clemens, and Kyle Farnsworth were all reduced to tears at one point or another. Tom Gordon, on the other hand, just threw up.
- Torre and Sox manager Terry Francona giving each other a call after every one of the tense, hyped series between the teams: Torre: "Are you sick of this yet?" Francona: "I'm glad it's over." Torre: "You and me both, pal. See you in about six weeks."
- Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, after Kevin Brown breaks his hand punching a concrete pillar in the clubhouse: "Tell me that wasn't your right hand." Brown, sour and broken down after a brilliant career, haunts the book like the dad in a Eugene O'Neill play. Later, when Torre has to start Brown in a pivotal game in the series the Sox finally won, Verducci writes, "The Yankees' season, and the possibility of warding off the greatest collapse of all time, had come down to this: they were giving the ball to Kevin Brown, a guy with a bad back, and a guy his teammates did not particularly trust, understand or like."
- The treatment that Alex Rodriguez gets in the book is already well-documented and pretty relentless, but for a Sox fan this might be the most enjoyable line (italics from the original): "It would be the last time Rodriguez drove in a baserunner in the postseason in this series and the next three postseason series combined, a span of 59 at-bats overall in which he batted .136, including 0-for-27 with 38 total runners on base."
- After the Sox come back to win that improbable series in 2004, Torre calls over to the Sox clubhouse and asks to speak to Tim Wakefield, the pitcher who had given up the series-losing home run to the Yankees the year before: "After he hung up the phone, Wakefield said out loud, to no one in particular, 'I'll never forget that phone call. That shows so much class.'" That made me want to cry like a Yankees pitcher.
- The greatest comic relief throughout is the Carl Pavano saga: The Pitcher Who Didn't Want to Pitch, which peaks either with Mike Mussina's offhand comment that the disabled list is now called the "15-Day Pavano," or with Pavano's girlfriend's line, when she calls to say Pavano can't make an offseason banquet: "Carl's not going to be able to make it. He wants me to tell you that he's sick, but he's not. But that's what he told me to say."
- The newest addition to the Yankees' family-focused management team: Felix Lopez, the new son-in-law, who married one of Steinbrenner's daughters--and thereby became a baseball expert--after he met her while landscaping her yard.
- Bullpen catcher Mike Borzello, giving his assessment of the first throwing session for Kei Igawa, the Japanese import the Yankees brought in for $46 million to compete with the Sox' signing of Dice-K Matsuzaka: "I hope he's either seriously hurt or badly hung over, so there's an explanation for throwing like that."
Oh, good, good stuff. And if you think I've squeezed out all the best parts in the book, there's plenty more: I had a list more than twice as long that I pared down for this final ten. Torre may lose his sainted reputation around baseball as a result of this book, but you, dear readers--Yankee fans and haters alike--will be the beneficiaries. It comes out next Tuesday. --Tom