Michiko Kakutani (NY Times) has an excellent review out on the new Verducci-Torre book, The Yankee Years. In the book it seems that Verducci, with Torre’s insider knowledge and expertise, has crafted an insightful text about an evolving franchise and one that experienced (and some could argue is still experiencing) an “identity crisis.”
Torre and Verducci note that as the core of the old guard from the championship years dwindled — Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, Chuck Knoblauch and Paul O’Neill were all history by 2002 — the front office tended to turn to imported All-Stars, who failed to congeal into an effective ensemble. The farm system, which had produced the likes of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams and Rivera, was increasingly neglected, and Steinbrenner began to indulge his taste for what Torre calls “big boppers” like Jason Giambi, who the manager felt “wasn’t part of what we prided ourselves on: playing well defensively.”
This decision, Torre and Verducci write, “made for a whole different dynamic in the Yankees’ clubhouse.” A-Rod’s arrival in 2004 would cement this metamorphosis, and the authors say he became fairly or unfairly “the unmistakable shorthand symbol for why the Yankees no longer were champions and suffered at the rise of the Red Sox”: “Whether hitting 450-foot home runs or sunbathing shirtless in Central Park or squiring strippers, Rodriguez was like nothing ever seen before on the championship teams of the Torre Era: an ambitious superstar impressed and motivated by stature and status, particularly when those qualities pertained to himself.”
With each year’s failure to win a world title, Yankees management grew increasingly desperate, going for the quick fix instead of a long-term plan, bringing to the stadium a succession of aging hitters and what the authors of this book call a “collection of expensive pitchers” — including Kevin Brown, Jeff Weaver, José Contreras, Javier Vázquez, Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano — who “were ill suited for New York, either because they were too emotionally fragile or broken down.” Meanwhile, the team made only lukewarm efforts in 2003 to keep the clutch left-handed pitcher Andy Pettitte, who left for his hometown Houston Astros.
While the Yankees were going through an identity crisis, the dynamics of baseball had begun to change, with other teams embracing new cost-effective business practices based on statistical analysis. No one excelled more at this new number crunching and player development than the Yankees’ archenemies, the Boston Red Sox, who in 2004 would deal the once-mighty Evil Empire a crushing blow, coming back to win the American League championship after the Bombers were ahead by three games to none and a mere three outs away from the World Series. It was a devastating loss that only accelerated the Yankees’ dysfunction, the authors observe, resulting in more organizational backbiting and a team made up of “a slapdash collection of parts that didn’t fit or work.”
This is some intriguing stuff. This team-centric to player-centric transition is especially fascinating and, I agree, A-Rod is a symbol of what the team is and will continue to be in the future (we are forever linked as one). Notice the subtle yet scathing way in which Torre, in one of the book’s passages, describes Alex as selfish and “motivated by stature and status” (Tyler Kepner makes note of it, here).
It’s not like we, the fans, haven’t discussed these issues ad nauseum, but it will be interesting to see what Verducci and Torre, in particular, have to say about them.