Let’s get this straight: the only reason I checked this book out of the library was because of the parenthetical phrase in the subtitle, “Twenty-four major league writers on the world’s most loved (and hated) team.” It promised a good dollop of hatin’ on the pinstripes, and that was reason enough for me to check it out.
But the reason I bought a copy of the book is that while I’m a fan of exactly one baseball team, I’m a fan of good writing wherever I find it. And in this book it’s mostly in the Yankees-positive or Yankees-neutral pieces, but it’s certainly there. Bruce McCall’s Yankee-bashing is impressively audacious (“the ratlike Billy Martin, the thuggish Hank Bauer … the farmboy-turned-priapic-jerk Micky Mantle” … dude’s gonna get some hate mail) but the first crack in my resolve was Sally Jenkins’ “Street Heart,” which portrays the Yankees as gritty, scrappy underdogs and somehow made me believe it for the duration of the essay (I had a similar thing happen when I saw Jesse Jackson speak live in the 80’s*; it all seemed to make sense while I was in the room with him; it was only on the way home that the “wait, what!?” effect kicked in. Pete Dexter’s loopy piece on Chuck Knoblauch made me hungry for more of his elaborately and oddly structured prose. James Surowiecki’s “Billion-Dollar Baby,” draws and amply supports parallels between Steinbrenner’s reinvention of the Yankees and Eisner’s rebuilding of Disney (it’s also hard to escape the conclusion that the Yankees and the Red Sox have been copying aspects of each other’s business organization for a while). Leigh Montville answers the flippant question, “what if Babe Ruth’s career had been in the age of Twitter and 24/7 celebrenews coverage?” with some provocative thoughts about celebrity; Daniel Okrent’s “The Deal of the Century” similarly examines the relationship between off-field antics and the media. Jane Leavy’s “Sully and the Mick” examines the surprising connections between Red Sox Frank Sullivan, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Norman Rockwell; although it’s much about Sully as the Mick, it made me want to read Leavy’s biography of Mantle. Richard Hoffers’ “Death by Baseball” chilled me. Rick Telander’s “One True Pitch” moved me. William Nack’s “Day of the Locust” made me want to listen to the Baseball Project’s terrific tune “The Straw that Stirs the Drink” with new and slightly more informed ears. Bill James’ “My Season’s Better Than Your Season,” displays his trademark dry wit as well as his bewildering grasp of statistical minutia. Roger Director’s “A Bad Case of the Yankees,” charmed me like Jean Shepherd’s “A Christmas Story.”
Tom Verducci’s Derek Jeter enconium, “Captain America,” though? Pretty hard for this Sox fan to wade through.
needs more demons?</strong pains me to say it, but no.
* (when he was, trust me on this, espousing some pretty nutty stuff)