The Yankee Years Summary

Joe Torre

The Yankee Years

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The Yankee Years Summary

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The Yankee Years (2009) mixes the biography and journalism genres to create a detailed portrait of the New York Yankees while Joe Torre managed them. The book is written primarily by sportswriter Tom Verducci, who fills his account with both his own independent reporting and with quotations from his lengthy, full-access interviews with Joe Torre. The book is a third-person account, with Verducci giving overviews and his perspective on a variety of championship teams, and then exploring his analysis through the lens of Torre and the Yankees.

The chronicle starts when Torre takes over the management of the Yankees in 1996, coming into a situation where the storied Major League franchise hadn’t won a World Series title in eighteen years. The Yankees’ owner, the harsh and unforgiving George Steinbrenner hired Torre as manager number eighteen in as many years. The story ends twelve years later, in 2007, when Torre had become a beloved fixture in New York, leading the team to a string of successes: making the playoffs in each of his years as manager, six World Series appearances, and four World Series wins. Despite this triumphant career, Torre left on a bitter note, as the team was slowly sliding into another trough after a victorious high.

The book’s reception mostly focused on some of the unflattering things Torre has to say about various Yankees players and his disagreements with the management. Criticized for revealing too much behind the scenes information, Torre has denied that his comments were out of line.

Much of the book focuses on individual players and Torre’s opinion of their strengths and weaknesses. A quick summary of the most impactful revelations:

  • Torre loved managing Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, who were easy-going company men who didn’t need special unnecessary attention and were generally professional.
  • Despite his extraordinary talent, pitcher Randy Johnson was sometimes a nervous wreck who couldn’t muster the necessary toughness. As Torre puts it, “He never took the ball and said: ‘All right, guys. Follow me.’” Nevertheless, Torre expects to see Johnson inducted into the Hall of Fame.
  • Several players were hard to manage and created weird team dynamics because of a variety of personality issues. Chuck Knoblauch grew into a weaker player as his mood swings and fragility grew more pronounced. Kevin Brown and David Wells were unpredictable and impossible to control. Jeff Weaver was emotionally destroyed with long-term consequences when he allowed a game-ending homer in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series. Carl Pavano was just very disliked by his teammates for being unreliable.

The player who receives the longest amount of discussion is Alex Rodriguez. One of the book’s revelations is that A-Rod was already using steroids when he was still playing with the Texas Rangers. According to Torre, when A-Rod first joined the Yankees, he put on such a show of glad-handing everyone that his teammates dubbed him “A-Fraud” because of how fake his demeanor seemed. Still, many of his teammates reached out to Rodriguez to help him acculturate to the team: the book mentions the efforts of Gary Sheffield, Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi, and Derek Jeter to do so. This approach sometimes backfired. For example, A-Rod developed a somewhat odd fascination with Jeter, whose easy popularity with New Yorkers was unmatchable. Overall, though, Torre feels mostly empathy for Rodriguez, whose sense of self-worth is so driven by his gameplay: “Alex is all about the game. He needs the game. He needs all of those statistics. He needs every record imaginable. And he needs people to make a fuss over him. And he’s always going to put up numbers because he’s too good. It means a lot to him, and good for him.”[TT1]

The book also delves into Torre’s complicated and often antagonistic relationship with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and owner Steinbrenner. In general, Torre complains that the team suffered from endless meddling by Yankee executives, who were jealous of Torres popularity and success. Although during his time with the Yankees, Torre and Cashman put up a united front indicating that their relationship was solid, Torre reports that behind the scenes it wasn’t so rosy.

One particular area of friction is the 2007 negotiation of Torre’s position with the Yankees. Torre feels “betrayed” that Cashman didn’t support him in the talks, and didn’t argue when Steinbrenner brought up downsides to continuing Torre’s tenure. In the end, the Yankees offered Torre a one-year contract worth $5 million plus $3 million in performance incentives instead of the two-year deal he expected. Torre calls his offer an “insult” because his record should have made it clear that he didn’t need incentives. Instead, he signed a three-year, $13 million contract to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Finally, the book examines why the Yankees didn’t win a World Series from 2000-2007 despite having the biggest payroll in baseball. According to Verducci, this was the fault of the back office, i.e. Cashman and Steinbrenner, who failed to develop talent in the Yankee farm system. Also to blame was Cashman and Steinbrenner’s visionary failure. Instead of spending money on the statistics-based free agent acquisitions championed by Bill James and his “moneyball” system, the team invested in somewhat over the hill, expensive players that didn’t cohere into a team. The team simply didn’t have the foresight to institute the in-depth statistical-based approach centered on base-percentage and strikeouts-to-innings pitched.


 [TT1]Needs attribution