With all the dollars and sentiments expended each year on the newest shipment of Yankees-related and rebranded baseball books, how does one make educated purchases?
If you live in New York, apparently you buy ’em up.
In Southern California, it’s a cluster mess.
We liken it to walking into a Yankee Candle store. The nose knows which ones might be a little more spicy than the others, but mostly … old and musty.
As the Yankees hobble into Orange County tonight for the first of a four game series and practically everyone of importance on the injured list – they’ll be back in late August for a weekend series at Dodger Stadium, perhaps feeling better – here are the best, OK and worst of what’s out there this season when it comes to pride-fullness Yankeeness:
“Inside the Empire: The True Power Behind the New York Yankees”
The authors: Bob Klapish and Paul Solotaroff
The reviews in 90 feet or less: The book jacket promises this to be along the lines of an HBO “Hard Knocks” look at how the Yankees operate, behind the scenes, as Klapish and Solotaroff “pull back the curtain” on the completed 2018 season.
There are plenty of unnamed sources quoted, making this far more a journalistic endeavor that seems to be necessary in getting to some truths. Klapish, a longtime New York reporter at the Post and Daily News, and Solotaroff, a best-selling author, have one thing in common: Their work has appeared in Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal. The way this is written makes it something that is best suited for either publication, but there’s enough material to make it into a couple hundred pages of phrase-turning pleasure that you don’t often get in one of these kind of projects.
They even take the time to explain about why doing a book like this can’t really be trusted any long to Yankees’ beat writers, something we can learn here.
From page 34:
“For beat writers hoping to get a sense of the new Yankee, the rules of engagement have changed. Twenty years ago, players sat at their lockers chatting, or they bantered in groups playing spades or poker at a card table off to the side. Nowadays, no one’s at their lockers before games; they’re in the trainer’s room or the players’ lounge or taking extra swings in the cage. If you buttonhole a guy en route to the tunnel, you feel the stares of thirty writers on your neck: Hey, give someone else a shot, man. It’s been a catastrophe for beat writers and the people who read them, but neither party started this war. Instead, put the blame in the lap of talk radio, which hijacked the conversation about the game. In the mid- to late ‘90s, when sports-chat took off as a fast-and-dirty earner for AM stations, ballplayers dialed in on their drive to the park and heard themselves flamed by Bruce from Wantagh. The shows were loops of spit-flecked self-pity ad shut-ins, celibates and six-pack soliloquists pinned their unhappiness to, say, the tail of Carlos Beltran … These callers were egged on by their hosts; hot-take hucksters and CPAP breathers who often knew as little about the game as the listeners. Their job wasn’t to reflect and inform; it was to stir the pot. … So sensibly, New York athletes learned to zip it. …
“Thirty years ago, it was a brokered romance between the players and fans. The players played the game, then talked about it after, giving their candid takes to the writers … Now, thanks to Twitter, there’s less distance between the sides, but a mutual antipathy fills the space.”
A note of interest to Dodgers followers where it concerns new relief pitcher Joe Kelly, picked off the roster of the World Champion Boston Red Sox. In a review of the first Yankees-Red Sox series of the ’18 season, Kelly comes up as “the bespectacled, hard-throwing reliever who’s built like a kitchen match” and who twice tried to drill the Yankees first baseman and Georgia native Tyler Austin (who would eventually be traded to Minnesota at midseason).
“Austin slammed his bat down and went for Kelly, who ducked and threw a punch as bodies swarmed them. A lucky thing for Kelly: Austin is country strong, the country in question being Bulgaria. He’s shorter than (Aaron) Judge and (Giancarlo) Stanton but thicker than both combined, with a trunk and neck framed of poured cement. … If Austin had connected, said (one Yankee player), ‘Kelly would’ve been in the hospital now.’ Instead Kelly found himself pinned against his dugout with the rest of his overmatched squad. … In the scrum, Judge had Kelly in a fierce half nelson and walked him from the mound as you would a child.”
That was on April 11. Imagine how the rest of the season goes with GM Brian Cashman feeling that he’s finally in charge of this whole world-watched mess while Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine watch his every move.
How it goes down in the scorebook: This was one of our favorites to soak in and mention in a recent L.A. Times list of best baseball books this spring, and other lists have rightfully included this one (but not the Washington Post?). The Yankees’ failure to make the World Series in ’18 makes it all the more better than a Hollywood ending. The approach to this topic could have benefited the 2015 puff-piece on the Dodgers, “The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse.” Maybe it will inspire someone else more adept to try it.
More Yankee books (plus one NYY/NYM)
The book: “Chumps to Champs: How the Worst Teams in Yankees History Led to the ‘90s Dynasty,” by Bill Pennington
The info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books, $28, 368 pages, due out May 7
The quick review: The New York Times writer focuses on the franchise from 1989 to ’92, when it was floundering and saw its owner banned from the game, an says that with the access he still to those principal players — Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill and ANdy Pettitte — he decided to reconstruct “an unobserved phenomenon that forever altered baseball’s twentieth-century narrative.” If it was done by almost any other New York writer, we’d have discouraged such discourse into something that might only otherwise resonate from those who lived (and seemingly died) through it all.
The book: “Almost Yankees: The Summer of ’81 and the Greatest Baseball Team You’ve Never Heard Of,” by J. David Herman
The info: University of Nebraska Press, $29.95, 344 pages, released April 1
The quick review: The Columbus Clippers, Triple-A feeders of the Yankees, had their day in the sun during the MLB players strike. Steve Balboni played first base, Dave Raghetti was the Nuke LaRoosh-like lefty trying to find himself, and Buck Showtalter had a future in the show, but only as a future manager. For those like author Glenn Stout who remembered that time, it’s interesting to revisit and wonder what happened to everyone else.
The book: “Mantle: The Best There Ever Was,” by Tony Castro
The info: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing, $24.95, 280 pages, released April 12
The quick review: Not sure at this juncture how another Mantle book is going to change, enlighten or enrich any opinions of him almost 25 years after his death. Especially since Castro already did “Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son” in 2002 as well as “DiMag & Mick: Sibling Rivals, Yankee Blood Brothers” in 2016. Castro reveals the first interview he once did with Mantle in 1970: “I was immediately blown away. Not because I was finally meeting my boyhood hero, face to face, but because as I saw him –slightly red-eyed, smiling crookedly, slurring some of his words — I thought to myself, my God, it’s like meeting my father. They both were heroes, and they both were drinkers. And not happy drunks either.”
The book: “My Dad, Yogi: A Memoir of Family and Baseball” by Dale Berra
The info: Hachette Books, $27, 256 pages, due out May 7
The quick review: Dale, the youngest of the three Berra sons and the only one with a big-league career (10 seasons with the Pirates, Yankees and Astros), talks for the first time about his drug issues and how his father interviened, crediting him with being clean and sober as a 62-year-old in charge now of protecting the brand image of Yogi Berra. Later this fall, “Yogi: A Life” by Jon Pessah is due. Wait for that, even if you’ve already had a fill of Berra from Allen Barra’s “Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee” in 2009 or “Yogi: The Life and Times of an American Original” by Carlo DeVito in 2008. We’ve also just read in the Sports Business Daily that two movie options have been signed this year for Berra productions: one for a feature film and one for a documentary. Each now has around two years to complete scripts and fund their projects.
“The film options are the latest examples of the remarkable endurance of Berra as a commercial icon,” writes Terry Lefton. “Amazon already lists dozens of books by and about Berra. Yogi’s son, Dale, will join that group with the release of his book next month.
” ‘Dad’s story is still meaningful today because he’s a rags-to-riches story, because he had such a record of accomplishment on the field, and he was just one of a kind,’ Dale Berra said.”
The book: “The New York Yankees in Popular Culture: Critical Essays,” by David Krell
The info: McFarland Books, $39.95, 200 pages, due June 6.
The quick review: The publisher contends that “the team’s broader impact on popular culture has been largely overlooked–until now.” Not really buying into that premise.
The book: “The 1932 New York Yankees: The Story of a Legendary Team, a Remarkable Season and a Wild World Series,” by Ronald A. Mayer
The info: Sunbury Press Inc., $19.95, 240 pages, released Nov. 4, 2018
The quick review: Ruth, Gehrig, Dickey, Combs, Lazzeri, Crosetti, Sewell, Gomez, Ruffing … and the World Series against the Cubs. Any takers?
The book: “Mission 27: A New Boss, A New Ballpark and One Last Ring for the Yankees’ Core Four,” by Mark Feinsand and Bryan Hoch
The info: Triumph Books, $27.95, 304 pages, due out June 4.
The quick review: For those who need their re-fix on the 2009 season by a couple of MLB.com writers who’ve also produced “The New York Yankees Fans’ Bucket List” and “The Baby Bombers: The Inside Story of the Next Yankees Dynasty.”
The book: “The New York Yankees of the 1950s: Mantle, Stengel, Berra and a Decade of Dominance,” by David Fischer
The info: Lyons Press, $26.95, 280 pages, released April 1.
The quick review: Fischer has done work for The New York Times and Sports Illustrated and pounded out his share of Yankee books as well. And here’s another.
The book: “Red Sox vs. Yankees: Hometown Experts Analyze, Debate and Illuminate Baseball’s Ultimate Rivalry,” by Bill Nowlin and David Fischer
The info: Sports Publishing, $16.99, 312 pages, due out May 14.
The quick review: It’s listed already among the best-sellers on Amazon in the “Teen & Young Adult Baseball & Softball” category and in the publishers’ “Classic Sports Rivalries” series.
The book: “My Life in Yankee Stadium: 40 Years as a Vendor and Other Tales of Growing up Somewhat Sane in the Bronx,” by Stewart J. Zully
The info: CreateSpace Independent Publishing, $14.99, 251 pages, released December, 2018
The quick review: Zully, an actor, writer, producer and teacher living in L.A. with his wife, has stories to tell about his time at Yankee Stadium starting as a vendor in 1970. The self-published account reads a lot as if he acted upon someone telling him once, “You oughtta write a book about your life.” So he did. As well as a website.
The book: “Doc, Donnie, the Kid, and Billy Brawl: How the 1985 Mets and Yankees Fought for New York’s Baseball Soul” by Chris Donnelly
The info: University of Nebraska Press, $29.95, release April 1
The quick review: From our friend who has a much deeper knowledge of all this –Ron Kaplan at RonKaplansBaseballBookshelf.com, and writing for BookReporter.com — this one comes from the author of “How The Yankees Explain New York” in 2014. Here Donnelly explains how “New York was trying to get out of the doldrums financially, culturally and socially. And since baseball frequently has been a common denominator, it’s an apt subject to reflect the times, with (Yankees owner George) Steinbrenner playing Gordon Gekko with his philosophy that ‘greed is good’ when it came to dominating the sports pages over their crosstown rivals. In that regard, Donnelly’s latest is a bit more spot on when it comes to including the local climate.” Here, Kaplan does an interview with Donnelly.