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The Skinny


Over at SI.com I talk to Tom Verducci about his new book with Joe Torre:

Question: One of my favorite parts of the book is David Cone winding George Steinbrenner up and making him crazy just to get a laugh. That wasn’t something you could imagine a player doing back in the Bronx Zoo days. How influential was Cone on those teams?

Verducci: We all have known how important Cone was to the success of the Yankees. But in reporting the book I gained an even greater appreciation for his role. He was the de facto captain before Derek Jeter. At every turn — whether it was keeping David Wells in check, counseling Chuck Knoblauch on his playoff gaffe against the Indians, stepping up during the key 1998 clubhouse meeting, knowing how to push the buttons of everybody from George Steinbrenner to Paul O’Neill — Cone was the single most influential player in that clubhouse. I was fascinated when Mussina talked so often about how much those teams missed Cone — and Mussina didn’t even play with Cone. But Cone was so important to those teams that Mussina understood it just by his absence. In fact, I view and structured Cone and Mussina as parallel characters in the book. Each emerges as a voice of the distinct micro-eras within the era: when the Yankees won and when they didn’t. Each has a profound ability to see beyond himself and understand team dynamics and the human condition. They also have the ability to smartly share such observations. That Mussina moved into Cone’s locker and place in the rotation immediately upon Cone leaving the Yankees only reinforces the sort of shared role they have in the book. I like to think of it as Cone and Mussina playing the Greek chorus — only not together, but Cone taking you through 2000, then leaving the stage and handing the role over to Mussina.

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1 thelarmis   ~  Jan 30, 2009 11:28 pm

i wonder how Moose will be viewed now that he's gone. i hope folks start to realize how great of a pitcher, teammate and guy he is/was and how great of a free agent signing he was for the Yanks. i would've loved to see him continue to pitch and i hope he ends up in C'Town one day. i wonder if he'll end up accepting some type of role(s) with the organization in coming years, perhaps after his kids are grown a bit more and outta the house...

2 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Jan 30, 2009 11:40 pm

Interesting..funny how they played similar roles while being such drastically different people..Can't imagine Moose choking the bishop (alleged) in the bullpen for laughs...

out of here into the sunshine, finally. thelarmis, let me know if/when you make it cross the ocean! you still got my email somewhere?

3 thelarmis   ~  Jan 30, 2009 11:52 pm

[2] hey, how'd you find me here?! i hope Shaun P. finds a post i replied to on one of the older threads from today... yeah man, i've got it - i need to email you regardless of if i tour the far east or not...

enjoy the sunshine! i'm a-gonna read Alex's SI article and enjoy the darkness at the pub! : )

4 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Jan 31, 2009 12:00 am

Alex, I'm confused about the part about putting Mo in in the eighth in Game 7 instead of Mendoza.

Mo was put in in the bottom of the inning, having acquired a lead after Sori teed off, no?

5 thelarmis   ~  Jan 31, 2009 12:01 am

don't know if it's been mentioned, but the Yanks signed Bruney for $1.25 mil. me likey!

6 thelarmis   ~  Jan 31, 2009 12:07 am

[4] i haven't read it yet, so i apologize if i'm speaking out of context, but if you're talking about '01, we were in the desert, so it was an away game and Mo would be pitching in the top half of the inning...

bet you're glad Andy's back, huh weeping?! : )

7 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Jan 31, 2009 12:17 am

Sorry, thelarmis, but on the road, you're in the field in the bottom of the inning. Sori homered off Schilling (concluding a great postseason for him that everyone forgets about) in the top of the 8th. Mo pitched the bottom of the 8th and 9th with a lead. Weeping, the debate was who to pitch if the game had remained tied going into the bottom of the eighth. Zimmer said Mo (following a philosophy I've often espoused about using your best reliever in a tie game on the road to give your offense a better chance to win the game) and Torre said Mendoza (following his career-long pattern in which he'd save his closer until he got the lead, which of course he rarely did because the lesser pitchers would lose the game before his offense had a chance to score). Of course Soriano's homer made that all moot and they went to Mo with the lead in the 8th.

Regarding that game I did find Verducci's recollection of Jeter's physical condition to be revelatory. Another instance of Jeter believing that playing hurt is a benefit to his team, when it's actually quite the opposite.

8 thelarmis   ~  Jan 31, 2009 12:23 am

ah, yes, i knew i'd kick myself in the ass speaking out of context whilst imbibing a beer! thanks for the correction! : ) i've also tried to block that endgame out of my memory banks. it makes me shudder and gives me nightmares!

damn woe-mack. damn gracey. damn non-double play. damn dave roberts and 3 feeble pickoff attempts. oh wait. damn bob brenly's mustache. damn gonzo's steroid-aided bloop single. damn my downstairs neighbor who complained his house was shaking 'coz i was beating on a drumpad on my coffee table uncontrollably. man, was i nervous. after everything that happened around that time in '01, i was a mess about us not winning that game. oh, and damn that 15-2 loss and pettitte stinker in Game 6!

i'll be in touch soon to solidify next weekend!

9 Rich   ~  Jan 31, 2009 1:01 am

Cone is/was an extrovert; Mussina is/was an introvert. That personality difference probably explains why Cone was a far more effective clubhouse leader.

10 williamnyy23   ~  Jan 31, 2009 1:22 am

Verducci and Torre have both seemed to adopt the same party line. Basically, if you are critical of the book, it’s because you haven’t read it and do not understand the context. Quite frankly, I find this very disingenuous. Not only have those who read the book been critical, but there are enough excerpts with enough context to draw legitimate conclusions.

Another theme from the Larry King interview involved Torre insisting that he didn’t say anything bad about anyone. Even passages calling Arod selfish and Steinbrenner a tyrant were brushed off as a kind of endearing commentary on both men. Heck, Torre even stated that his goal wasn’t to criticize, but to provide a human touch. Give me a break…that’s about as believable as Torre suggesting he was only listed above Verducci on the cover because “T comes before V”.

As for the Verducci interview, following are a few comments.

It's an historical account. I dare say the first-person voice of Joe Torre would have no authenticity with the reader if the former manager of the Yankees is reporting in detail on how enhanced revenue sharing helped competitive balance or how the Red Sox closed the competitive gap on his team with state-of-the art statistical analysis.

I just don’t get this…Verducci keeps making it sound like they are cracking some kind of codes with the book, but most of these themes have been widely discussed. I just don’t see why the context of the Yankee years would bring them more to light. Besides, where is the evidence that the Sox have benefited from a state of the art statistical analysis. If anything, the Red Sox have been particularly good at drafting, but otherwise, there model is very similar to the Yankees.

I sensed the frustration of the Yankees and, in some cases, the media that cover them, about why the Yankees were no longer winning world titles, but they weren't willing or able to see how much baseball changed in that time.

I found this to be rather ridiculous. After 2001, the Yankees did make the World Series, come within a hair of another in 2004 and win a bunch of divisions. Once could cite a litany of events that constitute either bad luck or poor game management in figuring out why the team didn’t win another World title. Placing the blame at the Yankees unwillingness to adapt to the changing landscape of baseball is baseless…unless that blame lands at the feet of Torre, who laments in the book that Cashman had changed, even going so far as thinking lineups should be constructed based on stats. If anyone was rigid, it was Torre. Talk about disingenuous.

I would guess when the Yankees won world championships probably only five or six other clubs had true shots at winning the title. In recent years I would guess that number of legitimate world championship contenders has doubled or tripled. The path is much more rigorous, and I wanted to explore the reasons why that changed.

This is also a silly statement. When 8 teams make the playoffs, it makes no sense to suggest only 5-6 clubs had a chance to win the title. Also, Verducci disparages the Texas teams the Yankees beat, but those teams were good hitting clubs. You can’t convince me that the recent vintage playoff teams (like the 2006 champion Cardinals for instance) are that much better.

the Red Sox, on almost every level, improved on the Yankee model when the John Henry group took over. Can you talk about how the Yankees seemed to lose their way in terms of making trades and signings while the Red Sox got smarter, bolder and more efficient?

Again, was signing Julio Lugo smarter, bolder and more efficient? How about Clement and Renteria? Or, trades for the likes of Coco Crisp? Also, was spending $100mn on Dice-K smarter? When the Yankees spend that kind of money, is it considered smarts? Also, was getting guys like Lowell and Schilling in salary dumps really genius? When the Yankees make those moves it’s evidence of their fiscal dominance, not efficient smart boldness. Give me a break.

In some ways, 2001 Game 7 presaged the Jeff Weaver game in the 2003 World Series, in which Zimmer's worst fear came true: The Yankees lost without using Rivera. But Torre has no second-guesses whatsoever about using Weaver.

He really doesn’t second guess using Weaver in that spot? I think that speaks for itself.

Giambi is a different story. He had to subvert his frat-boy personality a little bit in the Jeter clubhouse (though they got along well), but the biggest thing was that he never remained healthy enough long enough to become the fixture that he could have been in that time.

This is simply inaccurate. In four of his first five years, Giambi played in 155, 156, 139 and 139 games. How is that not healthy enough to become a fixture?

11 OldYanksFan   ~  Jan 31, 2009 2:59 am

I don't know William. George was a tyrant, and at times worse, and this was well known. Calling ARod selfish? After everthing that has been said about ARod... selfish is not groundshaking.

I think MLB is more competative/balanced then 5 years ago. These changes don't come overnight and are a slow process, but it is a bit different then in the dynasty days.

Sure, like all teams, the Sox have had aquisitions that didn't work out, but they have gotten a good bang for the buck many times. Meanwhile we paid big dollars for Giambi, Brown, Clemens and RJ, and did not get a full return on our dollar. Are you saying the Sox franchise hasn't vastly improved under J.Henry/Theo?

And while the Yankees still had excellent teams in 2002-2007, they did ignor the farm. A team needs to develop 2-3 kids a year to replace themselves. How many MLBers did we develop from 1996-2005? Yes, I know, you can buy some players, ya don't have to develop them all... but you get my drift. The Sox were not great at this either, but righted their ship a few years before Cashman made the farm a priority.

And while I might be the biggest Giambi fan here, he did not really give us as much as well had hoped. You said 4 of 5 years he was healthy. What about the other 2? Do they count? Look, a .925 OPS (albeit with poor D) is nothing to sneeze at, but it might have been better. But I'll never forget him hitting 2 HRs off of Pedro from the 7 hole.

People, or Yankee fans, are overreacting to this book. It's FOR SALE. Even 'historical' books want good sales. There's gotta be some dirt when talking about 12 years of Steinbrenner/Yankee baseball. All-in-all, the personal stuff is not only relatively tame, but most of it was well known.

I know we get defensive when someone trashes our boys, but really... Torre could have dished out LOTS more dirt if that was really his intent.

Would it have been nice if Torre didn't write this book... or at least wait 3 years? Yes. Am I somewhat disappointed in Joe? Yes.. a bit. Is it a hanging offense? No.It will blow over quickly.

12 joejoejoe   ~  Jan 31, 2009 6:27 am

Tom Verducci reminds me a little bit of Bud Selig. You ask Selig a baseball question, he gives you a business answer. You ask him a business question, you get a baseball answer. You ask Verducci a baseball question, you get a writing answer. You ask him a writing question, you get a baseball answer.

The names on the book say Joe Torre and Tom Verducci. Nobody goes around asking Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who wrote what in 'All the President's Men'. It's like Joe Torre is his own Deep Throat in this book and somehow expects people not to figure it out. Thanks for treating the world like we are all C students in remedial English. I never knew there were different narrative devices! If Verducci's third-person narrative was so special he should have put Joe Torre OR Tom Verducci on the cover instead of treating the world of readers like a bunch of rubes.

I'm sure the book is a good read and I wish both Verducci AND Torre all the success they can stand but come on. You can't simultaneously knock Torre's ability to speak on complex issues like biomechanics and then defend Torre's inability to see the value of Mariano in a tie ballgame. That's having it both ways...like hiding behind the third person narrative whenever anything sensitive could rebound to hurt Torre's reputation. It's just very weak from an accountability standpoint, however brilliant it may be as a literary device.

13 ny2ca2dc   ~  Jan 31, 2009 7:57 am

If I can be crass for a moment, this whole book brouhaha is a big deal, and Our Man Alex did the interview for the home publication of one of the authors. I think that's a big deal. Sky's the limit for our boys here! Bring on the Belth/Cliff SI cover story!

14 Simone   ~  Jan 31, 2009 8:17 am

Saw Joe on Larry King last night. He was great. I have tons of affection for whatever his contribution was as Yankees manager during the championship years.

The more I hear about Joe's book, the more all this outrage seems contrived and ridiculous. Of course, it is just an excuse for the Joe-obsessors to obsess about him some more. I can't wait to read the book.

[13] It is great to see Alex's writing talent being recognized and that he is doing bigger and better things.

Congrats, Alex! Don't forget us little blog people after you conquer the sports' world. :)

15 Bum Rush   ~  Jan 31, 2009 8:51 am

What kills me about the Weaver explanation is that it's completely contradictory from one breath to the next. Torre knew the guy couldn't handle NY. He says so (through the Verducci prism). But then he put him in during a crucial point of the World Series? If there are no regrets, what about some logical consistency? Doesn't Verducci have a duty to question his "sources" and not just transcribe them?

One question for Alex: Why not a question about "The Lonely Yankee" and Torre as a source? To me, that was much more of a betrayal coming in the middle of the season then released just as Arod got hot before the playoffs. Following that up by jerking him around the lineup was clearly an effort to run the guy out of town. Somehow, I don't think that story is told in the book.

16 Raf   ~  Jan 31, 2009 9:33 am

The Sox were not great at this either, but righted their ship a few years before Cashman made the farm a priority.

I dunno, the Sox have always had prospects, even when Duq was there. They have been competitive, ever since Pedro showed up on the scene in 1997

How many MLBers did we develop from 1996-2005?

Quite a few, most of them were traded away.

17 Raf   ~  Jan 31, 2009 9:36 am

[16] Read "the Sox have always had prospects" to mean they promoted from within.

18 The Hawk   ~  Jan 31, 2009 10:41 am

[10]I know I've said it a million times already, but since you brought up ... How in the world is it disingenuous think people should not base their opinion on a 477 page book on less than two pages of excerpts? Judge away on the excerpts, but I'm sure there's a reason those other 475 pages. I know if I went to the trouble of writing that much it would sure chap my ass if people trashed the book without reading at least half of it ...

Of course, reading the book may be pointless if you've already made up your mind based on the excerpts. No doubt there will be some strong prejudice at play.

I'd like to be pointed in the direction of someone critical of the book who's read it, btw. I haven't seen those and am curious what they say.

Anyway - great interview.

19 monkeypants   ~  Jan 31, 2009 3:40 pm


"Regarding that game I did find Verducci’s recollection of Jeter’s physical condition to be revelatory. Another instance of Jeter believing that playing hurt is a benefit to his team, when it’s actually quite the opposite."

Come on Cliff, you can do better than that. Verducci's memory--for all we know, after-the-fact and self-serving "I noticed that but never said anything at the time--doesn't *prove* that this was "another instance" of Jeter hurting the team by playing hurt. Let's not condemn the man with hearsay, indeed worse: speculative hearsay.

20 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Feb 1, 2009 1:32 am

[5] Of course, I'm ecstatic that Andy's back, larmis! I jumped up and down and excitedly reported the news to my kid.

[7] Cheers, Cliff.

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