02 September 2009

"The Yankee Years" by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci

The Yankee Years
Joe Torre and Tom Verducci
Date of Publication: 3 February 2009
Cover price: $26.95
512 pages

Publicizing The Yankee Years as a Joe Torre book is misleading. This is Tom Verducci's work all the way, from start to finish. He chronicles Torre's twelve years as manager of the New York Yankees, telling Torre's story for him. To be fair, Verducci obviously collaborated with Torre and in fact quotes from interviews with the esteemed manager throughout to give a semblance of involvement. The third person perspective alone makes clear that this is not, in fact, coming from the pen of Joe Torre.

Despite his admittedly impressive resume (including a co-author credit on Torre's earlier memoirs, Chasing the Dream), Verducci's work here is underwhelming. Each chapter reads as little more than an expanded version of an article Verducci might composed for Sports Illustrated and longtime fans are not likely to walk away with any more insight into the era than they already had. Then there's his tendency to namedrop players only by their surnames, so newer fans might not know--or care--who's being discussed throughout various passages. (If you're frustrated by not being able to remember a player, you'll be surprised how much more frustrating it is to be given his last name and not be sure what his first name is without doing external research.) Lastly, Verducci occasionally employs a metaphor for humor's sake that likely serves him well in magazine articles, but is out of place in a book. I meant to record it verbatim, but the gist of the worst offender is a remark early on about how a disgruntled player was best approached wearing a hazardous material suit. Really?

Still, even a broken clock is right twice a day and where Verducci succeeds is telling the story of the relationship between the New York Yankees and the rest of Major League Baseball from 1995-2007. Especially well-researched is the chapter on the rise of steroids culture (and no wonder; performance-enhancing substances is a favorite subject of Verducci's). Indeed, the most illuminating passages step outside Yankee Stadium altogether and explore the changing landscape of player behavior, fan expectations and the revolution among owners to overhaul the very nature of the front office and how it meets its objective of finding and fielding a less costly, yet competitive, team.

Ultimately, there are no new insights shared in The Yankee Years, and history will not be restricted to its documentation of the era covered. Fans of Verducci's writing are much likelier to be pleased than are fans of Torre's.

An earlier draft of this review was originally published by me on iLike.

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