Further Reading on “The Yankee Years”

Thanks to Mike F. for steering me toward a few articles in The New York Times about The Yankee Years.  First, Michael J. Schmidt has a good article focusing on the book’s comments about A-Rod.  Schmidt locates quotes from Torre, who is quoted extensively and written about in third person in The Yankee Years, and former Yankee bullpen catcher Mike Borzello.  Torre apparently said that A-Rod is too often concerned with “how it looks” than getting the job done in the clutch, and Borzello described A-Rod as demanding a lot from clubhouse attendants as well as attention from players on and others with the team.  Importantly, according to Schmidt, the “A-Fraud” quote is not directly attributed to Torre.

Michiko Kakutani has quite a good book review praising the book but also critiquing aspects of it. First of value for me, Kakutani points out that Torre collaborated with Verducci for Torre’s 1997 memoir Chasing the Dream, which helps explain the rapport that Torre and Verducci have had well before Verducci’s 2006 “A-Rod Agonistes” article in SI.com.  I tend to prefer broader histories to more personal memoirs, but I didn’t look much into Torre’s background for such a connection and should have.  Kakutani characterizes The Yankee Years as a fuller, insider’s account of the decline of the 1996-2001 Yankees’ dynasty than has yet been proffered.  Torre confirms what many of us already knew, that “Steinbrenner began to indulge his taste for what Torre calls “big boppers” like Jason Giambi who the manager felt “wasn’t part of what we prided ourselves on: playing well defensively.”

Kakutani provides a fine insight into the book, contending that it often lacks Torre’s historical perspective on what his role was in myriad personnel moves that helped undo the team.

This book often fails to detail Torre’s role in the decisions made over these years. His reactions to the signing of Giambi and management’s refusal to grant Williams a guaranteed contract in 2007 are duly noted, but in other instances, it’s unclear to what degree he protested specific choices made by the front office or its lack of a long-term rebuilding strategy.

Ultimately, Kakutani seems to agree with the authors about remembering Torre’s legacy–not just the team successes to which he led the team, but also whom he led and what challenges they provided.

“There exists a mythology that the championship Yankees teams under Torre operated on autopilot, blissfully riding their talent and their will to preordained titles,” the authors write. “No team requires no care.” They continue: “The championship teams required their own maintenance, from, among others, the insecurities of Chuck Knoblauch, to the immaturity of David Wells, to the self-critical nature of Tino Martinez, to the overflow intensity of Paul O’Neill, to the neediness of Roger Clemens, and to the overbearing intrusion and influence of George Steinbrenner. Greatness is the ability to mask the difficulty of a task — to make the difficult appear easy. Those Yankees teams epitomized greatness.”

For Yankees fans growing impatient for another World Series title, this is worth remembering.  A good deal is required to achieve success.  Torre was essential to the Yankees’ recent success as a good manager of the game, but as a great manager of its players.

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Published in: on January 26, 2009 at 11:24 am  Leave a Comment  

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