Magazine article The New Yorker

Trust

Magazine article The New Yorker

Trust

Article excerpt

Joe Torre will be back in town on Tuesday, July 7th, reassuringly on view behind the batting cage at Citi Field as he prepares his Los Angeles Dodgers for a three-game series against the Mets. Last year, he took the Dodgers into the National League Championship Series, one step short of the World Series, but lost to the eventual 2008 Champions, the Phillies; it was the thirteenth consecutive year that a team of his had progressed into the October playoffs. The Yankees, meanwhile, finished a lacklustre third in the American League East under their new manager, Joe Girardi, and went home. For me, a longtime New York baseball fan, the shock of no Yankees in the playoffs was less than the shock of not having Joe Torre in town for the summer, and I feel the same way now, at the beginning of his second year in exile. What's lost is not the winning so much as the elegant daily and weekly, home and away managing seminar on giving your team a chance to win, or get ready to win--or perhaps lose, if that's the way things turn out. This tone or strategy may be only another way of enunciating Yogi Berra's "In baseball you don't know nothin'," but it's a lesson I did not fully grasp until I had watched Torre sitting immobile in the Yankee dugout through many hundreds of innings, with his lidded dark gaze raised to the level of the field; one hand occasionally reaching back for another swig of green tea; his head now and then tilting toward the words of his bench coach; and, late in the evening, his shoulders lifting as he prepared to get up and climb the steps and trudge to the mound to change a pitcher and exchange a word or two with his catcher about the situation at hand. Is this all that big-league managers do? Here's Torre: "There's a certain amount of keeping track and keeping a little grip on certain things, so somebody doesn't go off half-cocked or somebody doesn't lose their direction, but aside from that you trust these guys to play the game. I can honestly say that when the game's over that you just go home. If it wasn't good enough, it wasn't good enough. You knew they were out there giving it everything they had."

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. The Torre-Verducci collaboration departs from the usual run of sports lit, because it's so clearly Verducci's book; he does all the writing and reporting, while Joe stands a step or two to one side and speaks up when needed. The book covers much the same ground as Buster Olney's ringing "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," from 2004, but gives most attention to the latter seasons and the steady input from Joe. This is straight baseball by a reporter alert enough to enlist Yankee bullpen catcher Mike Borzello and trainer Steve Donahue as significant sources.

Verducci has range and ease; he's a shortstop on the page. He gets us into the visiting-team clubhouse before the sixth game of the Yankees-Red Sox American League championship in 2004 (the Red Sox have come back from three games down), where Kevin Millar, ringleader of "the Idiots," as the hilariously loose team is known, tells manager Terry Francona that the Sox will not be taking practice that night, in order to avoid "Yankeeography crap" up on the stadium's video board. …

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