"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Yankee Panky: Toure de Farce

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.

Toure continues:

“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.

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1 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 30, 2009 8:54 am

I've read and enjoyed some of Toure's writing about music and pop culutre. But this piece shows him to be a hopeless dilettante when it comes to baseball. I think the Times should be embarrassed. Not so much because I don't agree with his take but because he was stating outright falsehooods like, “Rodriguez consistently fails in the clutch in the regular season. That doesn’t move the turnstiles.” I mean really, was there nobody at the Times that saw fit to do anything about a mistake that obvious?

Jeez. And the timing is bad too, as Will mentions. As Griff once said, "Get a late pass."

2 Sliced Bread   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:07 am

"The New York Times is arguably the most reputable name in journalism."

Yeah, Will, it's right up there with Geraldo.

3 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:09 am

I read Neyer's critique of the same pieces and figured it was simply a story assigned earlier in the year that just made the paper. As for the NYT, I think its position as the paper of record has long ago passed it by...first because of its political bias and then because of its declining professional standards.

4 monkeypants   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:18 am

[0] Will, I have two quibbles with your piece. First, others have beat me to it, but let's just say the first line -- The New York Times is arguably the most reputable name in journalism. -- is, um, unfortunate.

Second, yes, as a Yankees fan I was embarrassed by the steroid scandal. It bothered me that the Yankees seemed to lead the league in steroid users, admitted and rumored. I think that it diminishes somewhat the aura of the late 90s dynasty. But then again, I seem to be one of the only ones around here bothered by the whole steroids issue.

5 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:19 am

I still have a high regard for the Times but I think this article was way off base and didn't reflect well on anyone--the author or the paper.

6 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:20 am

4) You aren't the only one bothered by the steroid era but I don't think the Yankees are especially different from anyone else. Every team from the Bash Bros in the late 80s to the present are suspect, tainted or however you want to call it, to me.

7 Paul   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:22 am

I think Neyer was actually taking down Roberts and Tourre was just the vehicle to do so. Agreed that it read like something assigned in April. But the editors should have killed it when it arrived. Then again, I doubt there's much overlap between the sports dept and the book review, and certainly not enough to fact check clutch splits this season.

I, too, was embarrassed they would print such drivel. But I knew if I wrote a note saying so I'd just come off like a diehard Yankees fan who didn't like the conclusions rather than them seeing how wrong the conclusions actually are.

How many copies has Roberts sold? Karma again.

8 Sliced Bread   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:24 am

speaking of tabloids, the Daily News put a story about a guy who's been busted twice for having sex with the same horse -- on page 2.

Page 2, so we wouldn't miss it.

While I applaud the News for getting the word "buggery" onto page 2, I think they missed a few opportunities with their tepid headline "He's a repeat horse rapist."

I'da gone with "Man's Best Friend Is A Two Trick Pony."

9 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:26 am

As far as The Times being the most reputable name in (print) journalism, I think people's political biases might be coloring their reaction to that point just a bit. We all know the troubles newspapers face, but you'd be pretty hard pressed to find a more respected paper than The Times, the only ones that come close are WaPo and the Journal.

I think Toure is a legitimately talented writer, but he is so far off base here it is laughable. There is really no need to rehash every asinine thing he wrote in here, but suffice it to say that calling Selena Roberts' reporting efforts "meticulous" should immediately raise red flags.

10 mrm1970   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:28 am

Every Times article about the Yankees, their fans, their ballpark and their players should note that the Times owns part of the Boston Red Sox.

11 monkeypants   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:28 am

[6] Yes, every team is suspect. But the Yankees dynasty of the 90s was the best--arguably one of the greatest of the last century--so its virtues and vices are magnified. If people question how much of a boost the Bash Bros got in the 1980s, then so much more will they question how much extra help the Yankees got in winning four WS in six years, employing the likes of Roger Clemens to help them.

12 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:29 am

[4] I definitely diagree with your point about the steroid scandals diminishing the 1990s because all of the incidents took place AFTER that period. Regardless, steroids were not only rampant, but tacitly accepted in the game. The fact that several Yankees just happened to be among the selective names exposed means very little to me.

13 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:32 am

[11] Fair enough, but shouldn't we also be questioning the impact of substances like HGH? For some reason, everyone prefers to ignore the studies that suggest no PE impact. Even the Clemens hearing featured a panel of scientists saying the very same thing, but I guess everyone mis-remembered.

14 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:35 am

[12] That should be most, not all. Clemens' alleged use started in Toronto, so that would place him in the cross hairs.

15 Paul   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:41 am

The NY Times is the most respected brand, but I've given it up for The Economist.

16 Rich   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:41 am

To paraphrase Churchill, the NYT is the worst newspaper except for all the others. although I think the sports section is their worst section.

Anyway, its disappointing, although probably unsurprising, that so many critics of the PED era ignore what Paxton Crawford said about the RS.

17 Paul   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:45 am

And yet Fred Hiatt kills the WaPo with the constant backing of neocon drivel while the publisher tries to charge lobbyists for access.

The WSJ is fine for business but their international reporting is barely adequate.

P.s. The Times is selling their Sox stake.

18 Will Weiss   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:53 am

[2] et al ... Hence the word "arguably." There are still many, like myself, who read the Times and prefer it over many other papers. Is it the best? No. Is it still among the most reputable in terms of journalism? Yes.

19 RIYank   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:57 am

Daily News:

"You're asking way too much," Posada said. "You're asking to give up the whole minor leagues and some of the guys here. He's worth the price, but I don't think what they're asking is fair."

I'm a little surprised -- commenting so plainly on a potential trade is more Schilling than Posada, I would have thought.
I like it, though (despite the fact that "He's worth the price" and "don't think what they're asking is fair" is kind of a strange conjunction, I think I see what he means). I wonder if Jorge would be suited for the front office post-retirement.

20 Mattpat11   ~  Jul 30, 2009 9:59 am

Its amazing that we can list a substantial list of the Times misdeeds without even mentioning that the paper flat out made something up about a major Presidential candidate in the middle of primary season last year.

21 monkeypants   ~  Jul 30, 2009 10:15 am

[20] All the news that's fit...

22 Raf   ~  Jul 30, 2009 10:16 am

Anyway, its disappointing, although probably unsurprising, that so many critics of the PED era ignore what Paxton Crawford said about the RS.

Not as disappointing/unsurprising as them ignoring what Tom House had to say.

23 Will Weiss   ~  Jul 30, 2009 10:23 am

[20] You just mentioned it ... ;-)

24 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 30, 2009 10:31 am

[22] And not as disappointing/unsurprising as so many ignoring the science of "PEDs".

25 monkeypants   ~  Jul 30, 2009 11:38 am

Woo-hoo...I get the Yankees again tonight! Blue Jays' off days are like Christmas in summertime!

26 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Jul 30, 2009 12:43 pm

My name is Horace and I am backsliding ...

Moving this discussion from Cliff's earlier thread, I find it is usually better to shift to the top thread here!

I'm back with JobaPhil. I know I said I wouldn't 2nd guess the team on this. I'm not 2nd guessing, I'm ... worrying.

Here's the rub ... Joba is just terrific now, three in a row, top of line starting. All jokes about the innings watch aside there IS an innings watch and the Yankees would be idiots to ignore it, just as they were idiots to pl;ay A Rod every day after his doc said rest the man.

So we can kibbitz about it, and be funny, but he will have to step down or risk messing up an arm that already has some red flags. This is a painful note in a terrific month. The mirror image is Phil being utterly lights out in the 8th (with Bruney scary shaky). Phil will be nowhere close to boosting his innings enough to start for 150+ innings next year UNLESS he migrates to the rotation, where he was, essentially mediocre-with-flashes.

Does anyone see a way around these two truths? (Other than saying 'innings caps are for wusses'.)

If not, then we ARE going to have to see the two of them flip, at a time when both are excelling in current roles. Not only that, but Joba needs to be in the pen in about 20-30 innings (three-four good starts!) to have some innings in reserve for September and, we hope, a deep playoff run with him in the 8th inning! And Phil needs to start shifting gears about ... Now!

I don't like this, at all, I like them right where they are ... but unless we keep both in the pen (Washburn, whither art thou?) which does not help Phil for next year, though may be sensational for us this year ... I don't see how to dodge this bullet.

27 The Mick536   ~  Jul 30, 2009 12:56 pm

I am so happy that you, in your professional and thorough manner, responded to this piece. I thought it was cheeky. Now, knowing who wrote it, I understand it better. While I collect and read books about the Yankess, good and bad, I have not picked up Robert's or Verducci's tomes.

Billy Martin was one of the Yankee gentlemen? How about Richardson and Gil? Heinrich. Bobby Brown. Some gentlemen in the 60s and 70s too. I loved Dave Winfield, in case there is any question. So many good guys I used to cheer.

Is this Knobloch stuff on the level?

Moreover, how about his Papi news?

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