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Reading And Warming Up To Joe Torre

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With the Yankees and the Dodgers both moving on in the playoffs, and perhaps headed for collision, I finally gave in and started reading Joe Torre’s 2009 memoir, The Yankee Years. It was a book I had been avoiding with a vengeance. I am a Brooklyn boy, born and bred. The first baseball game I ever attended was at Ebbets Field. I cried when the Philly Whiz Kids took the pennant away from Brooklyn. I challenged any jerk who thought the Scooter could hold a candle to Pee Wee. My heroes were ‘Oisk’ and Preacher, The Duke and Campy, and of course, No. 42. The last thing I wanted to read was some gloating Yankee manager’s account of what a great team they were.

The Yankees were the enemy, the hated enemy. The Yankees were a collection of pinstriped harpies who made it their mission to tear the hearts out of young Brooklyn boys. There may have been some who found Yogi’s ‘Berraisms’ endearing. There may have been those who reveled in the exploits of Whitey and the Mick, but I was never likely to be one of them. Yankee Stadium was the hell that swallowed up Dodger stalwarts, and the New York Yankees were the punishment for whatever original sin those of us in Flatbush, Bensonhurst, and Sheepshead Bay had committed.

And when the Dodgers betrayed us and turned tail to the West Coast taking Koufax and Drysdale along with them, we Brooklyn faithful were left with a void that most of us thought could never be filled. Eventually there were the Mets, and they tried. That first year there was Gil Hodges and Don Zimmer. There was Roger Craig. But they were the Mets and for god’s sake the guy up front was Casey Stengel. It was some kind of cosmic joke on all kinds of levels. Years pass and the Mets become respectable. The Yankees come back down to earth. The West Coast betrayal begins to lose some of its sting. Time wounds all heels. But not the Yankees, the Yankees are still the devils. That never changes.

Jim Bouton and Sparky Lyle write their books and it seems that the Yankees might not have been quite the corporate robots they had seemed to us ‘Bums’ fans. Still, for most of us, there had just been much too much resentment built up for the new revelations to make any difference. To put it bluntly, we didn’t want to hear it. Our Dodgers were the adorable zanies with a history of dropped third strikes and beer bellied pitchers. Pop flies hit fielders in the head. Runners screwed up on the base paths. The Yankees, on the other hand, were machines. They had always been machines, and machines they would always be, no matter what a Jim Bouton or a Sparky Lyle might reveal.

Which brings us to Joe Torre: not only did he manage the machine, he arguably revitalized and retooled it. And now he’s going to tell the world how he did it. No thanks: I would be damned before I would read anything a Yankee manager, even an ex-manager, had to say. I didn’t want to know any of the dirt or gossip about Clemens or Alex Rodriguez. I couldn’t care less about how selfless and team centered Derek Jeter was, or what an asset David Cone was in the clubhouse. I didn’t want to hear about how much George Steinbrenner wanted to win. Then, when finally he and the crazy Yankee owner parted ways, where does he go? Where, but to the ‘summer boys’ who left us high and dry for the sun of L.A.? That is nothing short of rubbing it in, pushing our face in it. The Yankee Years was a book never to be opened.

Never? Who was it that said count no man happy until the chickens come home — well you get the idea. You turn on TBS and there’s the man. He’s sitting in the Dodger dugout, wearing that Dodger blue, the same Dodger blue that Carl Furillo wore when he patrolled right field and threw runners out at first base on line drives that would have been singles for any other arm, the same blue that Don Newcombe wore when he started both games of double header for the pitching short ‘Bums.’ It’s the same blue that covered Brooklyn when Bobby Thompson took Ralph Branca out of the Polo Grounds. You’ve got to give a man in that blue a chance. You have to check out his book.

Then when you do, you discover that maybe the man isn’t quite the Bronx monster who has been haunting Brooklynites all these years. You discover a man who takes a job for which he was not really the prime choice, a man who stands up for his players, a man who seems to understand that winning is the one answer to all questions. Moreover, he knows what it takes to win; he knows how to do it. And now he’s in that Dodger blue, and after all blue is thicker than water, and even more important, this is a guy in blue who may well have a shot at putting it to the damn Yankees.

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About Jack Goodstein