Bob is a longtime member of the Florida sports media, having served as a reporter and copy editor for more than 30 years. His true sports passion, however, is the history of the various games, exhibited by his in-depth book reviews and hobby of collecting cards and other sports memorabilia. He blogs for TBO.com on both subjects, transferring his work for the Tampa Tribune to the realm of cyberspace.
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A book for Yankee lovers —and haters
Posted Apr 10, 2012 by Bob D'Angelo
Updated Apr 10, 2012 at 02:07 PM
There is no neutral ground where the New York Yankees are concerned. One either loves them or loathes them.
So put some of the sharpest, wittiest, and poignant pieces of literature about the Bronx Bombers in one book, and Yankee lovers and bashers can agree on one point: there are plenty of colorful opinions about the Yankees worth reading.
That’s what Rob Fleder did in editing “Damn Yankees: Twenty-Four Major League Writers on the World’s Most Loved (and Hated) Team,” (Ecco, $27.99, hardcover, 290 pages). Fleder, an executive editor at Sports Illustrated and editor of SI Books for two decades, draws from the brilliance of writers like Tom Verducci, Roy Blount Jr, Sally Jenkins, Frank Deford, Leigh Montville and others to give a full picture of what the Yankees truly mean.
There is plenty of contempt for the Yankees, as expressed by Bruce McCall: “Almost from the day in late puberty that I’d discovered baseball, I had found more joy in hating the New York Yankees than in loving any other baseball team.”
Or, the inevitable Yankees vs. Mets rivalry, put forward by Nathaniel Rich, fanatical Mets fan: “There is not an animosity between Mets and Yankees fans so much as a profound philosophical abyss.”
Sally Jenkins writes about growing up in New York, calling it “a grit-encrusted survivalist camp, and yet a soaring spire, and to be from it meant we were savvy and resilient.” That toughness came into play when the Yankees advanced to the World Series, seven weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy.
There is a moving piece by Michael Paterniti about Catfish Hunter, who was battling Lou Gehrig’s disease. Paterniti brings the color and intimacy of a backyard meal in the backwoods of North Carolina into focus, giving readers a true sense of what “Mr. Jimmy” meant to family and friends.
Dan Okrent writes about the greatest trade in Yankees history. It didn’t happen on the field; it was the 1970s wife swap between pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich.
Montville writes an essay wondering how Babe Ruth would have fared under today’s media scrutiny and Facebook/Twitter posts. Montville believes that Ruth would have embraced it with the same gusto he did during the 1920s.
Deford comes out swinging against the Yankees.
“I like just about everything about New York except the Yankees,” he writes. “It is like living in Vatican City and liking everything about the place but the Roman Catholics.”
Deford even tramples on Joe DiMaggio, and throws singer Paul Simon under the bus for good measure.
“Why in the world did Paul Simon ask where that cold fish of a human being, Joe DiMaggio, had gone to? Hey, where had Fred Astaire gone? Jimmy Stewart — where did he go? Doris Day: I want to know where she is. Peggy Fleming, Arthur Godfrey, Lena Horne, Alben Barkley, Red Grange, Ferrante & Teicher,” Deford writes. “There are so many other nicer has-beens you wonder where they’ve gone, and that creepy little Paul Simon has us brood over a … sourpuss Yankee.”
Steve Rushin writes a fascinating piece about the Kensico and Gate of Heaven cemeteries, where Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Billy Martin and Jacob Ruppert are buried.
When the Yankees became lousy in the late 1960s, not everyone was happy. Dan Barry pens an ode to his baseball collection in 1969 and his wasted optimism about players who were going nowhere.
“From Jake Gibbs, catcher without bat, to Walt Williams, outfielder without neck, they confirm my childhood status as underdog,” he writes.
Bill James weighs in with numbers and statistics, and Jane Leavy recounts a hilarious incident involving former Red Sox pitcher Frank Sullivan — well, it amused Sullivan, but the gaffe made by Leavy was not amusing to the author of “The Last Boy.”
Blount puts the public’s fascination with shortstop Derek Jeter into perfect perspective.
He asserts that Jeter in the summer is like his tomato plants.
“I check every morning to see how he’s doing,” he writes.
The book’s final chapter is about numbers and statistics, but the strength of this book is the quality of writing and the no-holds-barred opinions. If you love the Yankees but are thin-skinned, skip a few chapters. There is no mincing of words here. But even the criticism is engaging, and this book is interesting enough to go beyond an audience of Yankee lovers and haters.