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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reading List: The Year I Owned the Yankees

Lyle, [Albert] Sparky and David Fisher. The Year I Owned the Yankees. New York: Bantam Books, [1990] 1991. ISBN 978-0-553-28692-2.
“Sparky” Lyle was one of the preeminent baseball relief pitchers of the 1970s. In 1977, he became the first American League reliever to win the Cy Young Award. In this book, due to one of those bizarre tax-swap transactions of the 1980–90s, George Steinbrenner, “The Boss”, was forced to divest the New York Yankees to an unrelated owner. Well, who could be more unrelated than Sparky Lyle, so when the telephone rings while he and his wife are watching “Jeopardy”, the last thing he imagines is that he's about to be offered a no-cash leveraged buy-out of the Yankees. Based upon his extensive business experience, 238 career saves, and pioneering in sitting naked on teammates' birthday cakes, he says, “Why not?” and the game, and season, are afoot.

None of this ever happened: the subtitle is “A Baseball Fantasy”, but wouldn't it have been delightful if it had? There's the pitcher with a bionic arm, cellular phone gloves so coaches can call fielders to position them for batters (if they don't get the answering machine), the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium enhanced with a Mood Room for those who wish to mellow out and a Frustration Room for those inclined to smash and break things after bruising losses, and the pitching coach who performs an exorcism and conducts a seance manifesting the spirit of Cy Young who counsels the Yankee pitching staff “Never hang a curve to Babe Ruth”. Thank you, Cy! Then there's the Japanese pitcher who can read minds and the reliever who reinvents himself as “Mr. Cool” and rides in from the bullpen on a Harley with the stadium PA system playing “Leader of the Pack”.

This is a romp which, while the very quintessence of fantasy baseball, also embodies a great deal of inside baseball wisdom. It's also eerily prophetic, as sabermetrics, as practised by Billy Beane's Oakland A's years after this book was remaindered, plays a major part in the plot. And never neglect the ultimate loyalty of a fan to their team!

Sparky becomes the owner with a vow to be the anti-Boss, but discovers as the season progresses that the realities of corporate baseball in the 1990s mandate many of the policies which caused Steinbrenner to be so detested. In the end, he comes to appreciate that any boss, to do his or her job, must be, in part, The Boss. I wish I'd read that before I discovered it for myself.

This is a great book to treat yourself to while the current World Series involving the Yankees is contested. The book is out of print, but used paperback copies in readable condition are abundant and reasonably priced. Special thanks to the reader of this chronicle who recommended this book!

Posted at October 29, 2009 23:25