Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Excuse me while I fangasm real quick

The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci
There was so much to think about even before throwing a pitch. Clemens lost himself in his usual pregame preparation, which typically began with cranking the whirpool up to its hottest possible temperature. “He’d come out looking like a lobster,” trainer Steve Donahue said. Donahue would then rub hot liniment (think intense Icy-Hot or BenGay) all over Clemens’ body, “from his ankles to his wrists,” Donahue said. Then Donahue would rub the hottest possible liniment on [Clemens’] testicles. “He’d start snorting like a bull,” the trainer said. “That’s when he was ready to pitch.”

I could read stories like that about ball players all day. Awesome.

If you follow the sports industry with any consistency, then you’ll have heard of Joe Torre’s Yankee memoirs. Back in March/April 2009 ESPN and its cohorts were abuzz with reports about certain passages of Torre’s book that bashed this player or that player (namely Alex Rodriguez). In the media circus that is New York, such is to be expected. I’ll start off by saying that those reports back in the spring made The Yankee Years sound a lot more vitriolic than it actually is.

I really enjoyed The Yankee Years for two reasons. Firstly, I’m a diehard Yankees fan and I love reading anything that has even the slightest bit to do with them. Secondly, I love baseball and baseball players. The Yankee Years is essentially a book of anecdotes about my favorite players and coaches both inside and out the Yankees clubhouse.

It would have been easy for this book to completely lionize the Yankees organization or to completely trash it. Torre and Verducci find a happy medium. The tone of the book fits the up-and-down nature of Torre's time in the pinstripes. If you know anything about Yankees history, you know that Torre took the job in 1996. The Bombers won the World Series that year, lost in the ALDS in 1997, and then won three World Series in a row from '98-'00, setting a record for total victories in 1998. All together, Torre’s Yankees made twelve straight post-season appearances and went to six World Series, winning four. Mirroring Torre's tenure, only the first half of the memoir covers the glory days before addressing the fall of the empire. That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. You start right out with the dominant Yankees of the late 90s with O’Neill, Coney, Boomer, Pettite, Tino, Bernie, Brosius, Mo, Jeter, Doc, and Straw. Then you hear about how the Old Guard eventually faded away through trades, free agency, and retirement. You read about how the rest of the league caught up using technology and smarter scouting techniques, and how the Yankees (through revenue sharing) were actually paying for most of these small-market teams to improve and beat them in the playoffs. It reads like a tragedy, and I enjoyed that.

In the end, I’d recommend The Yankee Years to anyone who enjoys baseball. Even if you hate the Yankees (Billy, Chris, everyone else out there who sucks) you’ll enjoy the read because you learn a lot about how the league became what it is today. You also get lots of great insight into the steroid era.

Highlights: 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, Coney’s perfect game, Boomer’s perfect game, Jeter’s flip to catch Giambi in the ALDS, Aaron. Fucking. Boone.,
Lowlights: 2004 ALCS, Mo blowing the 2001 WS, 2003 WS, Bernie’s departure, Moose’s perfecto getting broken by Winfield in the 9th.


A Team to Believe In by Tom Coughlin with Brian Curtis
I’ve got a lot less to say about A Team to Believe In. It’s really just not the kind of book that just anyone can get into. With The Yankee Years, you can tell Verducci talked to Torre, took notes, and then wrote the memoirs. In A Team of Believe In, you get the impression that Coughlin actually did a lot of the writing with some polishing done by Brian Curtis. It’s really a bunch of sentimental stuff and mantra about unity and team building. Don’t get me wrong, though. I loved every page of this freakin’ book. I love the NY Giants above all other sports organizations and Super Bowl XLII was one of the happiest nights of my life. Each page of Coughlin’s book gave me goosebumps. That’s how cheesy and melodramatic it is, and if you’re a big-time Giants fan I bet you’ll eat up every word.

I definitely would only recommend A Team to Believe In to fans of the New York Football Giants, as there’s not much to relate to unless you know the team. Unlike Torre’s book, there aren’t many memorable anecdotes or insights into the workings of the league as a whole. It’s very much focused on the events that befell one team in one year.

Although, I suppose the Plax Burress story has become a bit of a national story, so Coughlin's insights into Plax might be interesting to those non-Giants fans. I'll say that Coughlin makes Plax actually sound like a pretty decent guy. Sacrificing for the team, praying for guidance, honoring injured veterans, caring for his wife and child... I gotta say that it definitely humanized Plax a little bit. Now instead of looking at him as some young schmuck who carried a gun because he was reckless and thought he was a gangster, I look at him as some young schmuck who carried a gun because he wasn't thinking and made a huge mistake. Oh well, don't drop the soap, 17.

Highlights: Manning-Tyree, The chapter on 9/11, War hero and honorary co-captain Greg Gadson.
Lowlights: The writing is pretty mediocre, Coughlin’s a really sappy guy, apparently.

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