Wednesday, March 11, 2009

joe torre "the yankee years" book review

when the first leaks about the contents of joe torre's "the yankee years" dribbled out in late january, i was dubious. would joe torre, "mr. trust" personified, crank out a "kiss and tell" book in the wake of his less than flattering departure as yankee manager in 2007? from the snippets that circulated, it seemed so. now, after i finished the book, all i can say is "oh how the mighty have fallen."

first, there is no doubt in my mind that this book would never have been written, much less actually published, if joe torre was still the manager of the ny yankees today. it may have been planned as a retirement project, but as an active manager - impossible. second, "written in the third" person seems like a lame canard to distract attention from torre's responsibility for the contents. while the book does rely on tom verducci's excellent reporting skills for the league-wide steroid use coverage, the bulk of the material is entirely within torre's purview. what, if any, is outside his personal knowledge could easily have been attributed as such.

while i have no problem with torre writing this book (any book for that matter), it troubles me that as an active manager he so flippantly ignores any notions of "trust" and it's connection to the player conversations and behaviors he witnessed first hand. amazingly, and utterly ironic in this context, the most overworked (and abused) word in the entire book is "trust." it's used so frequently that, at first, it's humorous then, finally, by the last chapter it became nauseating. imagine yourself a current member of the dodgers today - how would you go about your business this season (or any season) with torre as manager?

as a die hard yankee fan since the early 1970's - i found the relatively brief coverage of the rise of torres' late 90's yankees given far less attention than the post-01 years of inglorious decline. the short recap of the great years is quickly forgotten after pages, blow by blow, that described how the wheels fell off the yankee bus. the most painful part of the entire book (again, purely as a yankee fan) was reliving the agony of the yankee immolation in 2004 - losing the alcs to the red sox, after a 3-0 start, in 4 straight horrifying games!

settling old scores with difficult players and the yankee organization is predictable. the a-rod business in particular is old news to any new yorker mildly tuned in to yankee headlines. but the "a-fraud" crack, carefully scripted so as not to be uttered by torre in the retelling, is new grist for stadium fans. any guess what may be heard at the stadium from rowdy fans when a-rod is having a bad game? coincident? but that's hardly worth noting. what galled me in particular was the gratuitous cheap shot taken at bernie williams!

for a loyal yankee and torre solider his entire time on the team, joe somehow found it necessary to relate how bernie once forgot his kids at the stadium. embarrassing? how about a second go of it? bernie also forgot his wife at the stadium once! what on earth do either of those anecdotes (and whatever absentminded implication they imply) have to do with the yankee - or baseball in general?

to say this book is disappointing is the best praise i can muster up. the sole highlight was the discussion of "moneyball" - the rise of statistics and numbers crunchers. the low point (aside from the comments on bernie williams), was reading how joe felt "betrayed" by the yankees. interestingly, the actual word "betrayed" was never written. coy? cagey? skillful prose? diplomacy? "trust" was employed so frequently that its use in this context was almost offensive.

did torre think the buck for the long string of poor post-season performances would not stop with him? fairly or unfairly? whining about getting the ax those circumstances (however artfully framed) was just lame. and torre wasn't actually fired! he was, in fact, offered a one year contract (albeit with a pay cut). while the terms may have embarrassed him, the yankees nevertheless gave torre the option to manage the team for another season! he elected to walk away - right or wrong?!

yankee fans, joe comes not to praise caesar - but to bury him. so be forewarned. sadly, this is a more a book for red sox fans and erstwhile yankee haters. instead, a much happier read was last year's "the greatest game" which focused on the now historic (in yankee lore) 1978 playoff game against the red sox.

or check-out the baseball book i'm anxiously awaiting, the new thurman munson biography due out this summer.

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