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The Yankee Years

An insider's look at Torre's years with the N.Y. Yankees.

By Erik Spanberg / March 21, 2009



Kevin Brown was a $130 million big-league pitcher in 2005 when he stormed off the field, walked into the locker room, and crawled into the fetal position after giving up six runs. He then threatened to take his glove and go home – in the bottom of the first inning.

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George Steinbrenner, presiding over one of the sports world’s most valuable and lucrative franchises, rewarded his scouts and other members of the organization by neglecting to provide them with World Series rings after a third straight championship season in 2000. To make matters worse, Steinbrenner did give a ring to comedian Billy Crystal, who loves the New York Yankees but has yet, as far as we know, to assist the team with scouting, coaching, or anything beyond genuflection.
And Alex Rodriguez, baseball’s current steroid villain, brushed off repeated post-season failures and a chilly reception from teammates by fixating on his individual statistics. Rodriguez may be a feared slugger, but he’s also a fearsome diva, rivaling Madonna and Elton John in his demands for personal attendants.
He is, in other words, the polar opposite of teammate Derek Jeter, who embodied the selfless, late-’90s teams Yankees manager Joe Torre led to championship seasons.
These are just a few of the combustible personalities and interesting anecdotes related in The Yankee Years. The book is an unusual hybrid of insider reporting, autobiography, and synopsis, spanning the 12 years that Torre managed the Yankees. During Torre’s managerial stint in New York, the Yankees won four World Series, and six American League pennants, and never missed the playoffs.
It’s easy to forget, but Torre was the team’s fourth choice when he was hired. Torre, then 55, carried the dubious distinction of compiling the longest combined résumé as a player and manager without a single World Series appearance. Combined with the Yankees’ failure to win a championship since 1978, the marriage seemed bound for heartache.
Instead, Torre, Jeter, and Steinbrenner’s indomitable spirit spurred a modern-day dynasty, likely the last of its kind in baseball for many years to come.
This era of Yankees players and teams reflects the best and worst of baseball, from model teammates (Jeter, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Mariano Rivera, and David Cone) to reputedly petulant prima donnas and head cases (Brown, Carl Pavano, and Randy Johnson). They won big, later splintered and, finally, floundered.
After a 2007 first-round playoff loss to Cleveland, Torre and the Yankees parted ways after the team forced him out. He was quickly snapped up by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who reached the National League Championship Series last season. In other words, Torre is an impeccable manager.
And, after reading “The Yankee Years,” he might well be considered a master psychologist and therapist, as well.
Torre coauthored the book with Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, a tough-minded reporter with an eye for detail.
Early buzz on the book emphasized Torre’s assessment of A-Rod’s penchant for me-first ethos, but “The Yankee Years” is most compelling in its explanation of how the Torre-era Bronx dynasty began – and how it ended. The latter occurred as baseball was transformed by computer analysis, revenue-sharing, and other increasingly astute business techniques.
Reading these accounts during the current economic calamities, a picture emerges of baseball teams using more rigorous analysis than your average Wall Street firm.
Baseball, it turns out, has laissez-faire abominations of a different kind. “The Yankee Years” offers a damning portrait of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs, replete with mistakes-were-made mea culpas reminiscent of Washington pols and, yes, Wall Street masters of the universal cop-out.
First, though, readers must make their peace with the Torre-Verducci pairing. Looking at the cover image, a lonely photo of Torre walking the tunnel to the dugout above his name and Verducci’s, the natural inclination is to think of the book as a standard autobiography. It’s not.

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