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Joe Torre: The Yankee Years

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Joe Torre The Yankee Years

Wandering through my local library on a recent visit, I stumbled upon “The Yankee Years” by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci.  A lifelong Phillies’ fan with an anti-New York sports team bias, I am probably among the least likely candidates to read a book like this one.  Yet, as an enthusiastic baseball fan (it is my favorite sport) who has admired Joe Torre as well as Derek Jeter and some of the other Yankee players, I felt a strange compulsion to peruse it.

 

With Torre as their field manager, the Yankees won four World Series in his first five years with the club and made the playoffs 12 years in a row.  If this fate were to befall my beloved Phillies, I would certainly want to read any book written about such a golden era.   Taking the book from its shelf, I sat down to browse through the 704 pages (large print edition) and see if I considered it worthy of taking home with me.  Then, I spied these two paragraphs on Page 270:

 

“That’s why the role of research in baseball is not to get the pitcher to throw faster,”  Flesig said, ”but to lower the risk of injury.”

 

Said Beane (Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A’s), ”At some point what’s really going to happen is we are all going to employ actuaries, like insurance companies.  In some ways we have now become pseudo actuaries.  You may hire actuaries in your office to figure out the probability of injuries occurring, given the amount of money you’re putting in.  Biomechanics is certainly a fascinating area to explore.  One pitcher can be both the riskiest and the best investment we make.  It makes sense to explore why.” 

 

An actuary myself beginning my 36th year in the profession, I was now hooked and, even more intriguingly, experienced an epiphany:  Could the paragraph above be the reason Billy Beane was the Keynote Speaker at the Society of Actuaries Convention in October of 2008?  These thoughts and my borrowing of the book were the commencement of what turned out to be five enjoyable evenings of sports reading.

 

When this book was first published, controversy swirled about several items relating to Yankee players’ perceptions regarding the acquisition of superstar Alex Rodriguez.  Nicknamed A-Rod, Rodriguez was allegedly referred to in a mocking manner as “A-Fraud” by some of his new Yankee teammates.  Additionally, the book indicates that it was a widely reiterated clubhouse joke that A-Rod’s preoccupation with perennial Yankee team leader and fan favorite Derek Jeter was similar to the obsession of one female for her roommate in the movie “Single White Female.” 

 

With those exceptions, there is very little to foment controversy in the book.  It does, however, provide an interesting perspective on the Yankees organization during those years from Torre’s point of view.  Co-author Tom Verducci does a nice job expanding upon various subjects, including the use of steroids and human growth hormone in baseball.

 

Some of the highlights of this book were as follows:

 

The outstanding overview that Tom Verducci provides on the subject of steroids in baseball.  It begins with the courage of Texas Ranger pitcher and player representative Rick Helling.  At the 1998 winter meeting of the Executive Board of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Mr. Helling told the attendees that “steroid use by ballplayers had grown rampant and was corrupting the game.”  Unfortunately, Rick was “swimming against the tide” and he was basically ignored.  The blatant disregard by the Players Association of Helling’s claims, however, did not end the controversy, as it rages on to this day.

 

A well-publicized incident between David Wells and a fan.   On Saturday, September 7, 2002, at approximately 5:30 AM, a heckling fan punched Yankee pitcher David Wells in the mouth at a local diner, knocking out two front teeth.  When Torre asked Wells about the time of the incident Wells lied, apparently forgetting about the 911 call (the details of which are a matter of public record) he made at 5:49 AM.  Torre said, “I always want to believe my players, but he just out and out lied.”  Wells was a very good pitcher who continually pushed the boundaries of what it meant to be a Yankee. 

 

The Yankees 2007 first round play-off series (best of five) with the Cleveland Indians.  Torre would usually give a motivational speech to the players before the start of a big series.  After a conversation with Bill Belichick, Super Bowl Championship Head Coach of the New England Patriots, Torre decided to heed Belichick’s advice and do something to loosen up his players instead.  He asked his good friend, Billy Crystal (a big Yankee fan) to put a bit together to show the team.  The DVD was played for the team on the workout day before Game One.  The players loved it, but General Manager Brian Cashman didn’t think it was funny.  Torre said, “Cash would have liked a motivational video.  I’ve been in the postseason so often that I can’t see the point in bringing up expectations.  You don’t have to remind guys.  I think I got to the point, whether it was because of my own situation and being criticized, or whether I felt there was a lot of tension in the playoffs anyway based on the expectations, we should keep it light and airy.”  The Yankees ended up losing this series and it was the end of the Torre era.

 

Torre’s accusation that Yankee officials secretly waged a media campaign against him.  Torre indicated that Yankee team officials were giving questions to Yes network reporter Kim Jones “designed to corner Torre or put him in an unfavorable light.” This is a claim that I personally find hard to believe.  Kim Jones is an excellent reporter who can clearly develop her own questions.  It is, moreover, a reporter’s job to ask probing questions.  In this instance, Torre’s accusations appear a bit paranoid to this reader.

 

All things considered, I think that this book, while not a classic, is good sports reading for any baseball fan, especially Yankee fans.  So, accept this as a strong recommendation to read this book from a Phillies’ fan who enjoyed both Joe Torre’s opinions and the excellent writing of Tom Verducci. 

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