These days, even a pro athlete of completely modest standing is famous enough to warrant a Hail Mary by the publishing industry. And so the past two decades have witnessed autobiography after autobiography, almost all ghostwritten, by sporting stars both big and small. Most of them are formulaic and quickly forgotten, but every once in a while something stands out, usually because of a salacious or controversial revelation. Joe Torre’s recent effort, The Yankee Years, is hardly the first or most notorious tell-all account by a New York coach or athlete. The following is a list of highlights from this idiosyncratic sub-genre.
Ball Four, by Jim Bouton (Dell)
This was the one that started them all. Published in 1971 and in print ever since, Bouton’s account of his 1969 season with the Houston Astros and the now-defunct Seattle Pilots is expansive, honest and witty. And it was also instantly notorious, drawing widespread condemnation from fellow ballplayers and official censure from Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who tried to force Bouton to disown the book. Ball Four revealed a culture rife with amphetamine usage, petty contract disputes, sexual indiscretions and puerile antics. But what really got people’s blood boiling was the description of outfielder Mickey Mantle, Bouton’s former teammate on the New York Yankees, as a preternatural talent prone to bullying and alcoholism. At the time, Mantle carried a hagiographic aura around him, and no one was ready to see it tainted.
The Bronx Zoo, by Sparky Lyle (Triumph Books)
The Yankees of the late 1970s were a legendary collection of talented egomaniacs, with owner George Steinbrenner, manager Billy Martin and slugger Reggie Jackson leading the way. They have inspired many accounts, but The Bronx Zoo got there first. Lyle was a top reliever with the Yankees through most of the 1970s, but he was traded away following the 1978 season and responded with the Bouton treatment. Lyle’s effort produced plenty of irreverence and some sharp putdowns of Jackson and Steinbrenner. The most enduring tidbit from The Bronx Zoo, though, is undoubtedly Lyle’s description of his favorite prank, which involved sneaking into the Yankees clubhouse while the team was on the field to leave the impression of his naked backside on a player’s birthday cake.
Just Give Me the Damn Ball!: The Fast Times and Hard Knocks of an NFL Rookie, by Keyshawn Johnson (Grand Central Publishing)
When Johnson joined the New York Jets as the first overall draft pick in 1996, he was supposed to be the franchise savior. Instead, he endured a miserable 1-15 rookie season. Johnson encountered plenty of controversy when he wrote Just Give Me the Damn Ball the next year, mostly stemming from the shots he took at some of his coaches and teammates. Most notably, he called quarterback Neil O’Donnell a “stiff puppet” and repeatedly denigrated fellow wide receiver Wayne Chrebet.
Perfect I’m Not: Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches, and Baseball, by David Wells (Harper Paperbacks)
Several weeks ago, former Yankees pitcher David Wells excoriated Torre for revealing too much in his book. His comments were quite ironic considering that Wells, a famously hefty but talented pitcher who played for the Yankees for four seasons, published Perfect I’m Not in 2003. In the book, he insulted teammates and detailed his love of the New York nightlife, claiming he had partied until 5 a.m. the night before his perfect game in 1998 and was still drunk when he took the mound. Wells was also frank about the sexual peccadilloes of players and the use of steroids but did not mention any names. The Yankees responded by fining Wells about $100,000.
Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars, and the Battle to Save Baseball,
by Jose Canseco (Simon Spotlight Entertainment)
Canseco only spent a small part of one season with the New York Yankees, and his two books about steroid use in baseball have mostly been about his time with other teams. But in Vindicated, published last year, Canseco took aim at Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez, claiming that he introduced him to a steroid dealer. Earlier this week, Rodriguez admitted that he took “a banned substance,” but said he was unsure if it was steroids.
Trackback from your site.