Sox fans will love Torre's tell-all
Even among the legions of baseball fans who think the New York Yankees are the devil incarnate, there is often a soft spot for the team's former manager Joe Torre.
Owner George Steinbrenner may have bought championships for the Bronx Bombers during a period when the Red Sox were relegated to lovable runners-up. Torre, however, has always been known as a likable guy who represents a human face on a team that Boston fans love to loathe.
Since leaving the Yankees at the end of the 2007 season, following the team's third consecutive loss in the first round of postseason play, Torre has said little about his tenure in New York. His new book, "The Yankee Years," features not only his recollections of that period, but a broader history of what happened throughout baseball from 1996 to 2007.
Because Torre co-authored the book with Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci and wrote it in the third person, his voice is one of many in the narrative, and "The Yankee Years" often reads like a book-length magazine article rather than a typical memoir.
Torre comes across as an inspiring though not always hands-on leader who managed an often dysfunctional team to the postseason in each of his 12 seasons at the helm and won four World Series. While the Yankees had a lot of high-priced talent, their success was never a sure thing, and Torre had just the gentle but firm approach for the team.
Most baseball fans, however, aren't looking for a treatise about Torre's management techniques; they want the dirt from the dugout. On this count the book doesn't disappoint, and there is plenty of score settling against the likes of Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez and general manager Brian Cashman.
Rodriguez gets the harshest criticism. "Alex monopolized all the attention," Torre said. "I don't think that's important. We never really had anybody who craved the attention. I think when Alex came over he certainly changed the feel of the club."
Rodriguez was a symptom of a larger problem that the Yankees have faced since 2002. The owners replaced a team made up of scrappy, hard-working players who had a real esprit de corps with one populated by mercenaries, many of whom failed to live up to their potential. In 2004, Rodriguez's first year in New York, it was the Red Sox, not the Yankees, who won the World Series, thus ending an 86-year drought.
When the Yankees blew a 3-games-to-0 lead in that year's Championship Series against Boston, that marked the beginning of the end of Torre's "Teflon" status in New York.
Torre and Verducci spend much of the book chronicling the rise of the Red Sox and fall of the Yankees, and note that "Athens would prevail over Sparta at last." The authors rightly contend that the shift in the balance of power between the teams was the result of bad decisions by Cashman and extraordinarily sound ones by Red Sox GM Theo Epstein.
The player-evaluation methods that prevailed in baseball during that period, characterized by a heavy emphasis on mathematical modeling and other analytical techniques, helped the Red Sox, who readily embraced that approach. In contrast, the Yankees all too often went star shopping. While the discussion is revelatory and thought-provoking, it goes on too long.
Those not deterred by its length will find "The Yankee Years" an insightful and non-hagiographic look at a legendary manager and team during one of baseball's most transformational eras.
Claude R. Marx is the author of a chapter on media and politics in "The Sixth-Year Itch," edited by Larry J. Sabato.