Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Late Night Baseball Musings
I just read Roger Angell's New Yorker review of the recently released book by Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci and former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, The Yankee Years. I know Angell is a legend, and deservedly so--more on that in a minute--and he's 88 years old. Maybe he's aged out of having to submit article drafts to an editor; I'm not sure how else to explain these two sentences.

Torre’s calm and presence aren’t perfect throughout “The Yankee Years” (Doubleday; $26.95), a capacious fresh account of his great run in the Bronx, which he co-wrote with the Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci—there’s a nice moment when he tells a Yankee president to shut the fuck up, on the phone—but trust or its poisonous absence are recurrent chords in this narrative of the Steinbrenner empire during the Yankees’ four World Championships between 1996 and 2000, and their ensuing misses or near-misses from 2001 to 2007, when Torre was cut loose in humiliating fashion. Although “The Yankee Years” can be read as urban opera, with scenes taken from the Subway Series against the Mets in 2000 and the emotional resumption of play after 9/11, plus fabulous late (sometimes late, late) post-season duets with the Red Sox, it’s also a case history of the sad physical and mental decline of Emperor George, or an M.B.A. class in radical corporate thinking and its absence in a baseball time of unimaginable financial expansion, or a further take on high-salaried egos and frail character in the steroid era of sports.

That's 185 words right there, with one breath in the middle.

But that aside, it's a wonderful piece that actually made me want to read the book, my general distaste for the Yankees and relative lack of interest in Torre notwithstanding. Or maybe it's just making me want to read Angell's books. Either way, I found this one of the more insightful bursts of prose I've read about my favorite hobby:

Yankee fans love to look back on the good stuff and keep it on permanent replay, but there’s never enough of it, because these losing nights, the killers, keep coming back and take over in our minds. In the book, it’s a rush when you reach those latter-nineties or millennial late-inning Yankee explosions and Stadium-shaking endings, like the successive-night home runs against the same pitcher, Diamondback closer Byung-Hyun Kim, in the fourth and fifth games of the World Series of 2001. Two years along, Aaron Boone eliminates the Red Sox once again in the Championship Series, with his eleventh-inning lead-off homer into the lower left-field stands. Hold it right there—only you can’t. The two biggest games in the book by far are Yankee defeats: the D-backs’ seventh-game World Series effort in 2001, when Arizona rallies with a pair of ninth-inning runs against the untouchable Mariano Rivera to win their first and only championship; and the Red Sox’ tying rally (again against Mo) in the ninth inning of that 2004 A.L.C.S. fourth game—they’ve trailed in this series, remember, three games to none, and face elimination here—and then the twelfth-inning, two-run home run by David Ortiz that wins the game and begins the tectonic shift away from the Bronx and toward Boston.

"Hold it right there--only you can't." That's just perfect. This has been the strangest baseball off-season I can remember; just the changing of the weather and lengthening of days, plus the fact that I'm not going to Florida this year, has me craving the start of the season. But how can it ever be any better than October 2008?

Angell probably would answer (and indeed implies in his characterization of the Yankees' 2006 season, when the team won 97 games, was bounced from the playoffs by the eventual AL champion Tigers, and got to hear George Steinbrenner describe their season as "this sad failure") that it's in the journey, not the destination, where joy is to be found. True enough. And I know, and I've written on The Good Phight and elsewhere, that the Phils were the beneficiaries of good fortune in their run to glory last fall. Maybe what I'm really worried about is that having (vicariously) been to the mountaintop, I won't enjoy the climb as much.

1 comment:

Chris said...

have you read this wrapup yet? It's one of the more optimistic outlooks on the last show: