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Yankee Panky: Book Review

Posted By Will Weiss On July 14, 2009 @ 9:04 am In Bronx Banter,Will Weiss,Yankee Panky | Comments Disabled

Tom Verducci’s “The Yankee Years” caused a tremendous stir in spring training, when the tabloids got hold of it and railed Joe Torre for allegedly violating the cardinal rule of keeping clubhouse events in the clubhouse. YES Network fired Verducci from “Yankees Hot Stove” for the way he portrayed the Yankees’ front office in the book, and he was put on the spot by numerous outlets, including our own Alex Belth in an SI.com Q&A [1].

I finally got around to reading the book, and I wholly disagree with the negative criticism heaped upon Torre, Verducci and the book earlier in the year. It’s not an “as told to” story, as Alex points out. It reads like a well-researched textbook on the Yankees from 1995 to 2007, with notes and observations by a reporter who had been there through all of it. The anecdotes from the Yankee manager of the time, as well as former players, coaches and staffers enrich the context of the story.

As a Yankee fan, I almost think you have to read this book to gain an understanding of the teams of the YES Network era and just how tough a job Joe Torre had, and how difficult it was to pull those 2005, ’06 and ’07 teams into the playoffs after what they went through those years.

Was there information I knew already? Certainly. The details of Bernie Williams’ near move to the Red Sox and Andy Pettitte’s near trade in 1998, the Roger Clemens trade in 1999 and the components of the dynasty breaking up following the Game 7 loss of the 2001 World Series have been recounted in numerous books this decade, most notably in Buster Olney’s “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty.” Moreover, covering the team from 2002 through ’06, Torre would tell the local press corps some of the anecdotes Verducci recalled in the book, like the fan in Tampa during Spring Training of 2002 telling him, “Don’t worry Joe. We’ll get ‘em this year,” and his fondness for Pettitte, given the way he stepped up in Game 5 of the ’96 World Series, out-dueling John Smoltz. I got to see the best and worst of David Wells’ second tour of duty, Jeff Weaver (Torre said the day of Weaver’s introductory press conference: “That kid will be leading the parade here some day.”), Gary Sheffield, Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, and of course, Carl Pavano, and Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and A-Rod’s brain cramps in the clutch and Chien-Ming Wang’s inability to handle being the ace of the staff.

For me, the most revealing quotes came from bullpen catcher Mike Borzello, who was the key source on the “A-Fraud” items, and Mike Mussina, who was great because he presented the point of view as an outsider to those championship Yankee teams. He acknowledged the greatness of Mariano Rivera but looked back on three games: Game 7 of ’01, and Games 4 and 5 in Boston in ’04, and wondered why and how he blows those three games? It sounded selfish at first, but if you were in the same spot, how would you have answered? I came away from this with a different level of respect for Moose. His insight helped shape the book.

The stories of the emotional toll dealing with Management took on Torre over the last three years of his tenure got me thinking about his current situation in Los Angeles. He has a similar makeup to what he had in 1996 and ’97. A good mix of veteran free agents like Manny Ramirez, Orlando Hudson and Rafael Furcal, and young players like Russell Martin, James Loney, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, and an even younger pitching staff figuring out how to win. But beyond that, the loyalty of the coaches he brought with him shifted as well. The way Verducci portrays Larry Bowa and Don Mattingly and their places in the coaching hierarchy during Torre’s last few years on the job, it’s easy to see why they followed him to L.A.

Why bring this up at this juncture of the season? The Yankees clawed back to sniff first place and had a chance to hold or share first place and had a chance to sweep the Angels in Anaheim. The makeup of the team, particularly Joba Chamberlain’s place on it, is under heavy scrutiny. It’s looking like a repeat of the last four years, only with a greater sense of impending doom because the Yankees’ run of 13 consecutive playoff appearances ended, while Torre’s didn’t.

If it happens again, Verducci might want to consider a similar book for Mr. Girardi.

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[1] SI.com Q&A: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/tom_verducci/01/30/torre.book/

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