Friday, May 19, 2006

Book Review: The Devil Wears Pinstripes


by Matt Sandler

On Wednesday night, the Yankees fell behind 9-0 to the Texas Rangers, but they stormed back to take the lead by the sixth inning. After blowing the lead and then seeing Mariano Rivera give up the go-ahead run in the ninth, they won on a walk-off home run by Jorge Posada. Yankee-haters and Yankee-lovers alike could see this win coming. It was a great game; too bad the spawns of Satan came out on the long side.

I wonder if Jim Caple was watching. Those of you cubicle-dwellers who spend as much time on the Internet at work as I do are probably familiar with his work from Page 2 on espn.com. He is also the author of a funny and highly readable book devoted to Yankee-hating: The Devil Wears Pinstripes: George Steinbrenner, the Satans of Swat, and the Curse of A-Rod (Plume, 2005).

The book recounts the history of all the evil things the Yankees have done throughout their history. Of course, the book gives ample weight of the sale of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees, but it reminds us that the term “The Curse of the Bambino” was not coined until decades later. It also recognizes that as much as many of us hate the team, we love to hold this hatred. Perhaps everyone has a certain reservoir of hatred that they carry around with them, and to expend it on something as ultimately meaningless as a baseball team is just a healthy outlet. Caple writes, “The reality is that as much as we all hate the Yankees, we need them. They are an integral part of baseball’s circle of life, making the game a richer, fuller and more entertaining sport.”

The book is full of several versions of alternate realities, including an unofficial Yankees timeline, including entries like this one for August 12, 2000: “History is made, play is halted and a special ceremony is held when the umpire calls a strike and Paul O’Neill doesn’t bitch about the call.” He also presents an alternate history that may have occurred if Boston had never sold Ruth to the Yankees, including the Cubs and the Red Sox being the dominant teams in baseball history.

Most of Caple’s wrath is directed at George Steinbrenner, a.k.a. “Darth Steinbrenner.” George must have taken some of his cues from some of the earlier Yankee bosses. There was the general manager who fired Casey Stengel after winning seven World Series and three additional American League pennants in a twelve-year span, simply because he had the audacity to lose the 1960 World Series to the Pirates.

Caple also gives obnoxious Yankee fans their due. He accurately criticizes the “bleacher creatures” for their outrageously crass behavior, which often seems laced with serious strains of self-loathing. Caple had the nerve to see a Yankee game from the bleachers, which he somehow survived without winding up with a prison sentence or a broken nose. He also provides a handy Yankee-fan-to-English translation guide (“Your father sucks!” translates as “You’re welcome.”)

One minor quibble with the book is its overemphasis on recent history, especially events during the Steinbrenner reign. Bill Mazeroski’s home run to end the 1960 World Series does not even make the top ten list of “The Ten Moments We [Yankee-Haters] Savor.” Caple also has some running jokes that wear out their welcome, including references to Steinbrenner’s contributions to the Nixon re-election campaign and gratuitous references to Derek Jeter’s sex life. Finally, although all characters from Yankee history should be fair game, there are some tasteless gibes at Mickey Mantle’s alcoholism and the demises of Thurman Munson and Billy Martin.

But of course those without sin should cast the first stone. I am guilty of what I consider a still-healthy level of Yankee hatred. I look forward to starting my third decade of Yankee-hating, and rooting for a team bus crash.

Matt Sandler's column, "The Critical Fan," appears alternate Fridays.

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