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The Game, the Team, and the Cost of Greatness

by Buster Olney

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-06-051506-6
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

A well-mulled, highly atmospheric, and richly versed story of the Bronx Bombers’ great 1996–2001 ride.

When you win four World Series out of five, the word “dynasty” understandably begins to take shape. The Yankees were in position to take a fifth in 2001, in the funky, gray days that marked the aftermath of 9/11, but it was to be the end of that dynasty. ESPN sportswriter Olney, whose dispatches for the New York Times were a pleasure to read in the years leading up to the contest with the Arizona Diamondbacks, pivots this around the climactic seventh game in 2001, rolling away from it time and again as a batter might from an inside fastball, but returning to face its consequences. Much had gone into the making of the Yankees by this point, and Olney tracks the arc of the team’s great levitation: the truly superb players and the strategic rebuilding of the franchise with high on-base percentage hitters and pitchers with gas and chutzpah. As he moves through the innings of the seventh game, Olney provides crisp profiles of players, from Chuck Knoblauch’s dwindles to the ever-sad Darryl Strawberry, Paul O’Neill’s pressure cooker to Derek Jeter’s self-effacing conviviality and good humor (which will come as a surprise to people tired of his ubiquitous face). George Steinbrenner’s odious personality is given a wicked knife job for how he treated those who worked for him, for the uneven playing ground he inflicted on the game, and for the price it took on his players. Joe Torre, by contrast, is rightly credited for his “social genius” in tending to “the minds of his players.” In that, he is much like Olney, choosing the right words, keeping pace, moving from frame to frame without jarring the continuities.

Both subtle and opinionated, a densely layered portrait of the Yankees late-20th-century dynasty and the enduring impact of that commercial and competitive juggernaut. (16-page b&w insert, not seen)