Though the majority of the pre-release buzz surrounding The Yankee Years has been about the way Yankee ex-manager Joe Torre criticizes former players, the book itself is no Ball Four-like exposé. Sports Illustrated reporter Tom Verducci has written an anecdotal history of Torre’s 11 years at the helm of baseball’s most storied (and problematic) franchise, to which Torre has contributed extensive, juiceless quotes. Given that Torre isn’t the most introspective guy in the world—and given that Verducci gets more insight and cooperation from other ex-Yankees, like pitcher David Cone—calling Torre the co-author of The Yankee Years is a little misleading. Even Torre’s “takedowns” of high-maintenance players like David Wells and Kevin Brown have been blown out of proportion. The skipper is more blandly complimentary of his team than ruthlessly critical.
But maybe The Yankee Years needs two authors because it’s really two books: one a loose recounting of the Bronx Bombers’ rise and (relative) fall from 1996 to 2007, and the other a fairly cogent analysis of the dramatic changes in major-league baseball over the past decade. The problem with The Yankee Years is that one book largely contradicts the other. It’s hard to take Torre and Verducci’s rosy recollections of the Yankees’ late-’90s dominance seriously when they’re interspersed with chapters on steroid use, collective bargaining, and the revolutionary new metrics for player evaluation—all of which cast the Yankees’ accomplishments in a somewhat paler light. (While Torre’s teams were reaping the benefit of illegal drug use and obscene overspending, brighter baseball minds were finding cleverer ways to win.)
Nevertheless, even though much of the Yankee collapse has been documented elsewhere—most notably in Buster Olney’s The Last Night Of The Yankee Dynasty—the personal details in The Yankee Years should make it interesting to dedicated ball fans. Whether it’s Roger Clemens applying a stinging liniment to his testicles before taking the mound or George Steinbrenner refusing to buy World Series rings for his scouts, Verducci captures how a culture of professionalism curdled into decadence and waste. Really, the title The Yankee Years doesn’t just apply to Torre; it covers what happened to the culture at large over the course of one tumultuous decade.