BEFORE the strike, the Yankees were enjoying one of their best seasons in recent decades, but their good fortune can't account for the flurry of new Yankee-related books. Only an endless fascination with the team's lore, legend, and famous personalities, plus the provincial tendencies of New York publishing houses, can explain that.
Several of the new releases seem archaeological in the way they turn back the decades. Mickey Herskowitz, for example, assists Mickey Mantle in writing ``All My Octobers: My Memories of 12 World Series When the Yankees Ruled Baseball.'' Phil Rizzuto, a teammate of Mantle's, the team's TV announcer for the last 35 years, and a newly elected member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, waxes equally nostalgic. The ``Skooter'' joins Tom Horton in penning ``The October Twelve: Five Years of New York Yankee Glory, 1949-1953.''
Those curious about what transpired after the Mantle-Rizzuto years have only to turn to Philip Bashe's ``Dog Days: The New York Yankees' Fall From Grace and Return to Glory, 1964-1976.''
Finally, Peter Golenbeck puts the late Billy Martin, the former Yankee second baseman and the team's oft-fired-and-rehired manager, under the microscope in ``Wild, High, and Tight: The Life and Death of Billy Martin.''
Martin was killed in a 1989 auto crash, while driving drunk. Martin and Mantle had been drinking buddies as Yankee teammates, and for both, alcoholism increasingly darkened their daily lives. Mantle only recently made a break from his alcoholic past, a development briefly addressed in the epilogue of his book and grippingly recounted in a recent Sports Illustrated cover story.
Following several tragic events in his own life, Mantle ended a run of destructive behavior and what he calls ``42 years of alcohol abuse'' by checking into the Betty Ford Center. His current plans include working for the Baseball Assistance Team, which helps former ballplayers in need, and talking to young people about drug and alcohol abuse.
In Sports Illustrated, Mantle talks of the opportunity he now has to serve as a true role model and to help more people than he ever has as a famous athlete.
``I feel more important as Mickey Mantle now than I did when I was playing for the Yankees'' he says. Veteran tennis observer shares his opinions
BECAUSE CBS and the USA Network carry the US Open tennis tournament, which began yesterday in New York, commentator Bud Collins is not the visual presence he is during NBC's ``Breakfast at Wimbledon'' telecasts. Rest assured, however, that Collins will be pecking away at his laptop during the next two weeks from the National Tennis Center in New York's Flushing Meadow, filing reports for the Boston Globe.
At his July induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., Collins said very few players even realize he's a newspaper man. They associate him exclusively with television. Regardless of how he is known, Collins has ``been there,'' so to speak, during more than four decades covering tennis. In a wide-ranging interview with the Monitor, he shared these insights:
* Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King have been the two most important figures in tennis. Ashe ``taught us to care more about the world.''
* ``We need more blacks in the game.'' Collins adds that the United States Tennis Association, of which he is a member, ``is failing in its responsibility to American youth.'' He says the USTA ``throws away'' money by lavishing so much money (more than $9 million in prizes) on the two-week US Open, which he contends could be better spent on existing inner-city youth programs through the creation of Arthur Ashe grants (Collins's own idea).
* ``There's too much tennis on television. Television, right now, is detrimental to the sport and I never thought I'd say that.''
* ``Everybody's got to pull together - the Women's Tennis Association, the International Tennis Federation, and the ATP [men's tour]. Nobody talks to each other. It's not that big a game.''
* ``The tennis season should end the first week in October.''
* ``Right now the United States has the finest crop of men players it's ever had.'' (Among them: Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, and Jim Courier.)
* ``I hate indoor tournaments; tennis should be an outdoors game.''
* ``I'd much rather be at a sporting event than watch it on television. And I feel that way strongly about tennis because somehow the medium does not quite capture the speed of the ball.'' Touching other bases
Asia's domination of the Little League World Series is history, and now California's attempt to put together a small championship run of its own has ended. Maracaibo, Venezuela, scored a 4-3 victory in Saturday's Little League title game against Northridge, Calif., which was looking to extend a California winning streak begun when Long Beach prevailed at Williamsport, Pa., the last two years. The boys from Maracaibo gave Latin America its first Little League title since Monterrey, Mexico, won in 1957 and 1958. The team from Northridge, meanwhile, helped to lift the spirits of a community devastated by last January's earthquake. When the ``Earthquake Kids'' arrived home Sunday, stretch limos met them at the airport.
The arrival of stock car racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier this month brought the Indy car vs. stock car comparisons out of the garage. Steering is one main difference. Stock cars have power steering, Indy cars don't, which may be one reason Mario Andretti was quoted in Auto Racing Digest as saying Indy cars are much more physically demanding to drive. ``A stock car, by race-car standards, is fairly easy to drive...,'' he says. ``If you watch on TV, you never see those guys really gripping the steering wheel too hard, and that's why they're able to endure all those 500-mile races. Otherwise, it would kill them.''