When “The Yankee Years” hit stores in early February, it quickly proved to be a book publicist’s dream. By simply releasing a few juicy tidbits about Alex Rodriguez’s overwhelming need to be loved and his difficulty fitting in, it turned into a New York tabloid feeding frenzy.
And like “Ball Four” many years before, “The Yankee Years” also quickly turned into a referendum on Torre, with many Yankees fans, and the YES Network quickly debating whether the book was a betrayal of the Yankees way.
There are some tantalizing tidbits throughout the book, though most of them are more comical and interesting than lurid. That’s a credit to Torre and Verducci, because while ex-players love to talk about “the code” of never revealing what happens in the clubhouse, that code is responsible for a lot of truly awful books.
“The Yankee Years” easily avoids that trap by telling the good, the bad and the ugly from Torre’s time in New York. It’s not a gossip book that reads like Page Six of the New York tabs, but it does go well beyond being a generic recitation of the facts of each season.
By being a hybrid autobiography (because Torre is an author) and biography (because Verducci reported many of the aspects of the book), “The Yankee Years” is in some ways the best of both worlds. Torre is able to give insights and point Verducci in directions that even the best reporter may have never known to turn otherwise. Because of Torre, we know about Roger Clemens’ extremely odd pregame rituals and his secret life as a mama’s boy.
But because Verducci had the freedom to take the book in his own directions, it also takes a broader view of why the Yankees’ dynasty eventually crumbled, giving explanations that might not necessarily agree with Torre’s viewpoint.
But that gentle tension between the two authors also leaves the book without a central thesis. While Torre was clearly bothered by the Yankees’ switch from a team of grinders and gamers in the late 1990s to a more stats and big stars oriented approach this decade, and blames that and George Steinbrenner’s slow decline for the team’s struggles, Verducci sees the Yankees’ decline being based more on the rest of the league getting smarter in recent years, helped by revenue sharing that allows teams to hang on to their stars for the first few years of free agency.
Whether you agree with either of their hypotheses. you’ll enjoy “The Yankee Years.” It’s a book that raises the bar on what a baseball book should be.