I like sports books. Not just any sports books, but sports books written by former athletes. They are choc-full of interesting word usements. They read like someone is leaving a really really long and dull answering machine message. And at least once per book there is a line that you know the ghost writer tried to talk or trick their subject out of including. I like them because they are, in a word, SURPRISING. Below I have compiled a list of such surprising books, all of which have two common threads; they are all written by former or current Yankee players and all are in one way, shape or form, SURPRISING.
Let’s begin with the MOST SURPRISING in the bad way (bad as in bad, not bad as in good):
10) Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big by former Yankee and noted dumbass Jose Conseco. Of all the embarrassments to soil the same uniform worn by Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Derek Jeter, Canseco pains me the most. It’s not that he’s a Neanderthal, but that he publicly celebrates his neanderthality.
Most Surprising Positive Aspect of the Book: I didn’t know Canseco could read and write! Oh, wait, his book was ghost written by ESPN staff writer Steve Kettman. Never mind.
Most Surprising Negative Aspect of the Book: Canseco’s main “arguments” are that 1) Jose Canseco was good for baseball, 2) Steroids are good for baseball, and 3) Jose Canseco on steroids was GREAT for baseball. Silly? Stupid? Certainly, but Canseco’s, um, magnum opus nevertheless provided the basis for Canseco’s invitation to testify before the Mitchell Hearings in 2004 so that he could inform on fellow players.
9) Winfield: A Player’s Life by Dave Winfield.
Most Surprising Positive Aspect of the Book: I bought this book when I was in high school because Dave Winfield was one of my favorite Yankees of all time. I didn’t buy the book because I actually expected it to be insightful and thought-provoking, but it was. It details his experiences in the minor leagues and with the Padres (who technically are a major league team) and his troubles with Steinbrenner (who is said to have been so infuriated by the book that he traded Winfield the next year to the then-merely-Anaheim Angels).
Most Surprising Negative Aspect of the Book: the book is ghost-written by Tom Parker and feels kind of like a couch-session at a psychiatrists’ office.
8) The Yogi Book (1988); written by, I know you’ll find this difficult to fathom, one of the most under-rated Yankees of all time. He caught Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game and he’s got a World Series ring for each of his fingers as a Yankee but he’s best known for comments like “If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they may not go to yours”.
Most Surprising Positive Aspect of the Book: HILARIOUS and as the New York Times Book Review noted Yogi-isms remind us that “being a baseball player was once a job held by regular people.”
Most Surprising Negative Aspect of the Book: Yogi claims “I didn’t really say everything I said.”
7) Catching Heat: The Jim Leyritz Story (2011): The book was ghost-written by Douglas and Jeffrey Lyons.
Most Surprising Positive Aspect of the Book: apparently, Jim Leyritz was a one-man team, who never had any teammates, and single-handedly won games, pennants and World Series championships.
Most Surprising Negative Aspect of the Book: Everything from pages 1 to 244.
6) Play Ball! By Jorge Posada: This is a children’s book by one of my all-time favorite Yankees. The story is based upon Posada’s baseball-centered childhood, growing up in Puerto Rico. My children like the book and the tidbits of advice interspersed throughout like “good isn’t best”, as Jorge’s father tells him after a game. Young Jorge is advised by his father to learn how to switch hit, in order to better help his team. He struggles, and, well, you can pretty much guess the rest.
Most Surprising Positive Aspect of the Book: its genuine, my kids liked it, and a portion of the proceeds go to the Jorge Posada Foundation. I appreciated the message – sometimes hard work and desire are not enough, one must apply those ethics to learning a skill, like switch-hitting, which is hard but valuable and can help your team win.
Most Surprising Negative Aspect of the Book: as my son noted, there are no Lego Ninjas in it.
5) Out of the Ball Park: Another children’s book, this one by current Yankee Alex Rodriguez. It tells the tale of a young boy who works really hard, overcomes adversity, aces a math test, and hits a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning to win a little league game. The lesson of the story is that through hard work, dedication, and tons of God-given talent, you too can get drafted by the Mariners, get traded to the Rangers who then pay you an ungodly amount of money but then realize that they have no money left over to pay the salaries of their outfield, so then trade you to the Yankees who agree to pay even more money until you are 42 years old and even though you’ve had hip surgery.
Most Surprising Positive Aspect of the Book: my kids liked it.
Most Surprising Negative Aspect of the Book: Because my kids like it, I have to read it to them again and again. I have thus spent my hard-earned teacher dollars contributing to the vast empire that is A-Rod.
4) All You Can Be by Curtis Granderson: Not to be outdone by Posada and Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson took time off from batting practice to write a children’s book geared toward inner city children. It advises them to stay away from gangs and drugs. This is not your average boy-aces-a-math-test-and-hits-a-grand-slam- then-gets-ungodly-money-from-the-Yankees story. Instead, the book includes pictures of Granderson’s childhood, and shows pictures of inner city schools in New York and Detroit. Granderson notes that there are “leaders” in every community, but that you need to be careful which one’s you follow. He writes “Gangs are leaders in your community, but do you want to follow them? I didn’t.”
Most Surprising Positive Aspect of the Book: this is a very sincere, thoughtful, and provocative children’s advice book. It’s not geared for all children but rather for a specific inner city audience.
Most Surprising Negative Aspect of the Book: Um, Curtis, do really have time to write books? You are closing in on the single season strikeout record.
3) Ball Four by Jim Bouton: I love this book. It’s like the bizarro version of A-Rod’s book. It’s about an adult-kid who works really hard, has a modicum of talent, performs pretty well in the majors but nevertheless gets caught in baseball purgatory.
Most Surprising Positive Aspect of the Book: This is not the first baseball diary, but it is by far the most interesting. It cured me of my adolescent belief that the Yankees were a picture-perfect organization and more importantly, that hard work equals success in major league baseball. You could, in fact, be pretty good but get stuck in an organization that stunk and never make your way to the majors.
Most Surprising Negative Aspect of the Book: There isn’t a Ball Four part II
2) The Bronx Zoo : The Astonishing Inside Story of the World Series Champion 1978 New York Yankees by Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock: This is Sparky Lyle’s memoir of the 1978 Yankees. The 1977 and 78 Yankees are definitely in the conversation, along with the 1927 Yankees and “The Big Red Machine” Cincinnati teams of the early 70s, as the best in baseball history. But Just because Lyle, the Yankees’ closer in 1978, had won the American League Cy Young Award – the first “closer” in the history of baseball to do so – didn’t mean that George Steinbrenner didn’t need yet another closer. You can never have too many closers. Steinbrenner went out and bought Goose Gossage from the Pirates who subsequently found himself in more key game situations and became the go-to guy over the former Cy Young Award winner. Would that this were the only interesting part of the book – the players of the 70s could party! It was like, a, uh, zoo there in the Bronx!
Most Surprising Positive Aspect of the Book: one of the greatest sports lines ever. Teammate Craig Nettles described Lyle’s situation in 1979 as “from Cy Young to Sayonara”.
Most Surprising Negative Aspect of the Book: None. This book was awesome. If you don’t like, move to RUSSIA!
1) The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci. This is my favorite sports book ever. It chronicles the evolving toxicity of the Yankees organization from the dugout to the front office in the wake of their six pennants and four World Series championships from 1996 to Torre’s departure in 2007.
Most Surprising Positive Aspect of the Book: perhaps I was sleeping in 2007, but Joe Torre didn’t want Alex Rodriquez? We’ve won exactly ONE World Series ring since his arrival? Hmmmmm.
Most Surprising Negative Aspect of the Book: I still can’t read the part about Kei Igawa and not vomit.