The New York Times is arguably the most reputable name in journalism. But with the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal, the Judith Miller trial, the introduction and shuttering – all of which took place over the course of two years — of the quarterly sports magazine PLAY, and the recent public display of the media conglomerate trying to jettison one of its major holdings, the Boston Globe, it’s been a rough stretch for the institution formerly known as the Paper of Record. Now the Book Review — still a staple of its kind and a section I’d look forward to when I was a subscriber – is under fire, and rightfully so.
The July 26 edition of the NYTBR featured a story from a writer named Toure entitled “Damn Yankees,” which touched upon the three major books released about the team this year: Selena Roberts’ “The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez;” Tom Verducci and Joe Torre’s collaboration, “The Yankee Years;” and “American Icon: The Fall of Roger Clemens and the Rise of Steroids in America’s Pastime,” by NY Daily News investigative reporters Teri Thompson, Nathaniel Vinton, Michael O’Keeffe and Christian Red.
I stumbled upon the review online during my Sunday morning scouring and this question immediately sprung to mind: “Did anyone on the NYTBR editorial staff sound the dead horse alert?” I clicked on the link and read it anyway, to see if the synopsis would contain any new information or analysis. It did not. When a colleague told me that Toure was a pop culture writer for the Times, everything started to make sense.
It didn’t have to, though. Many writers have crossed platforms and been successful. The best parallel here would be Chuck Klosterman, primarily a music writer and author, penning certain sports works for Esquire, ESPN.com and the aforementioned, defunct PLAY. His writing style lends itself to an easy transition into sports.
I saw a real opportunity here for Toure to write a good story, even if the theme was not germane to the news of the day regarding the Yankees. But he failed. There is no fan reaction anywhere in this piece, which begins with a sweeping generalization and a question that immediately undercuts his credibility and – rightly or wrongly – gives the perception that he knows little about being a fan.
“Why do Yankee fans still love the Yankees? The team has embarrassed its supporters by leading the league in steroid scandals – thanks, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez. It’s also made them cringe by strong-arming New York City into giving the team public funds to subsidize its new $1.5 billion stadium while simultaneously flexing its herculean financial muscle to grab expensive free agents like a spoiled heir stockpiling rare sports cars.”
Did the steroids scandal embarrass you as a fan? And how could you mention the steroids scandal and leave out Jason Grimsley? Because he’s not a name player? He was arguably the worst offender of all the Yankees involved with steroids and PEDs through the years.
“Rodriguez consistently fails in the clutch in the regular season. That doesn’t move the turnstiles.”
He’s wrong on both points, but so off-base on Point two he’s in foul territory. The Yankees have averaged 4.2 million fans four years running. Turnstiles aren’t moving as much this year due to pricing, which has been well-documented and reported here.
Re: Point One on A-Rod, consider this rebuttal from the inimitable Rob Neyer:
“Not for nothing, when games are close and late, he’s batting .278/.378/.539 (and in those spots he’s often faced tough relief pitchers). … Ah, but of course there is October postseason games, Rodriguez has indeed struggled, relative to his regular-season performance: .279/.361/.483.
You might argue that 167 plate appearances isn’t enough to prove — or even suggest — anything. I don’t think I would argue much with you. But let’s assume that those numbers mean something. Should we now scurry to expert witnesses to explain why Willie Mays hit just one home run in 99 postseason plate appearances? Have you seen Joe DiMaggio’s postseason numbers? They’re significantly worse than A-Rod’s and DiMaggio finished with 220 World Series plate appearances. Has anyone resorted to pop psychology to explain DiMaggio’s October struggles?”
Pop psychology. That’s the term Neyer used to describe Toure’s portrayal of A-Rod. Toure theorizes that Rodriguez embodies the gluttonous, greedy bullies from his opening paragraph, and that he is now the national face of the Yankees when fans both rabid and casual see the team. He tells us that the Jeterian side makes us proud of the team. When he lists dignified players with character and class, he rightfully includes Bernie Williams, Thurman Munson, DiMaggio and Gehrig, but includes Whitey Ford, who was repeatedly accused of scuffing the baseball and was part of the 1950s and ’60s wild bunch that included Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle? Where was Don Mattingly in the list of classy Yankees? Willie Randolph? Yogi Berra? Phil Rizzuto?
Right there, I was ready to stop reading, and I should have. The story delved more into A-Rod’s insecurities – stuff we already knew – and lauded the “meticulously reported” effort of Selena Roberts, whose book was universally panned. Not once did Toure take Roberts to task on the pitch-tipping components of the book. There was a clear agenda here to paint A-Rod as the new face of the Yankees in the role of disgraced star. To that end, three pages of steroid discussion followed the Roberts compliments. Pages that included a note suggesting that Chuck Knoblauch’s throwing yips, per the Daily News’s book, may have been caused by his use of GHB. That was the first I’d ever heard of Knoblauch’s throwing problems being linked to drugs of any kind. Like many including Joe Torre, per the Verducci book, it appeared that he just cracked under the pressure of New York. He couldn’t get out of his own way.
The finale read like a public service announcement against the dangers of steroid use, highlighting notable deaths like Lyle Alzado, Ken Caminiti, and former high school star Taylor Hooton, whose father flanked A-Rod at the bizarre press conference when he admitted to his steroid usage.
There were some good points in the article pertaining to the Yankees’ streaky nature and their 0-for-8 performance against the Red Sox this season, but any good point made fell flat.
Neyer questioned the NYTBR’s timing of this article, given that the Yankees are in first place and rightfully conceded that when the story was likely submitted, the situation was much different.
There are a number of things to question here. Why was this story deemed relevant now? Why is the New York Times playing in the tabloid realm? What is the purpose of reviewing three books that have been reviewed, pored over and analyzed ad nauseam, particularly on the local level? What was the goal of this story? What audience was being served? If you know, please send a lifeline.
I’m glad I cancelled my subscription to the Times already, because if I saw this piece in hard copy after paying for it, I’d be an angry customer.