The commanding, silver-tongued Kahn (The Head Game, 2000, etc.), baseball chronicler extraordinaire, takes an enjoyably circuitous route to an ultimately dazzling account of the 1978 Yankees.
The year was one of outbursts and outrage, when New Yorkers first got a taste of George Steinbrenner's “creative terrorism”; when Billy Martin, a man who never met a drink he didn't like, quit as the season was coming to a wild close; when the team fielded the likes of Reggie Jackson, Thurmon Munson, Bucky Dent, Ron Guidry, Catfish Hunter, Goose Gossage, Sparky Lyle, Craig Nettles; and when the New York media went after the team as if the number of rude bites really mattered. The team’s smashing, clashing egos performed their personal passion play for all to see, to be followed by a cordon sanitaire lasting to this day. Never again would we get to hear the vibrant narrative between star player and manager. (Billy Martin: “I ought to kick your fucking ass.” Reggie Jackson: “Who the fuck do you think you're talking to, old man?”) There are almost too many personalities to corral here, too many important references to include, but Kahn gets them all standing in the same place at the same time for a wonderful snapshot: keen-edged profiles of the players, a huge supporting cast of managers and owners, innumerable barroom encounters both amiable and fraught, the longstanding club ownership woes, and a host of wicked digs at fellow sportswriters. Yes, 1978 was a special year for the Yankees, but it’s clear that Kahn could make any year a compelling one with his storytelling acumen, ease and mastery of the material, instinct for the good stuff, and ability to keep it rolling despite all the color commentary.
Hits it out of the park.