Tuesday, May 5, 2009

George Steinbrenner Biography Review - Part 2

We're back with the second half of our two-part review of Peter Golenbock's George Steinbrenner biography, George: The Poor Little Rich Kid Who Built the Yankee Empire. NSI gives the bio a thumbs up, and recommends it to our audience. Rather than a book report style review, here are five reasons why it's worth a read:

5 - Billy Martin. Everyone knows that Billy was fired and re-hired by George a million times. But Golenbock (who wrote one book with and one book about Martin) has some great stuff about Martin and the volatile but not entirely hateful relationship between the two strong-willed men. A lot of really good detail in there, including the story of how Billy punched out a marshmallow salesmen. The Billy stories alone are probably reason enough for me to check out Golenbock's earlier stuff about Martin.

4 - It's funny! As Seinfeld did, Golenbock shows that while Steinbrenner may have been the world's worst boss, he was [unintentionally] hilarious. In one story, "The Case of the Red Lips," the editors of the 1981 Yankee yearbook used a shade of red for Steinbrenner's lips that looked enough like lipstick to prompt George to destroy all ten thousand copies of it. He also was quoted as saying the 1973 Yankee team picture "could very well serve as a poster for birth control," and there's even an anecdote in there that made me think, just for a second, that the venal Lonn Trost might not have always been so bad.

3 - It fills in the gaps. If you're a Yankee fan born in the late 70s or early 80s, you may remember the team sucking during the 80s and early 90s. This book details the exact level of suckitude the Yankees achieved, largely due to George's fantasy baseball-like trades of pretty much everyone who wore the pinstripes, during that time frame. A fun little trip down memory lane if you recognize the names Claudell Washington, Rich Monteleone, or even Don Mattingly.

2 - The Softer Side of George. If you're looking for a book that shows George Steinbrenner in a positive light, then this is NOT the book for you. Golenbock spends the first 336 pages telling the story of a man who was horrible to work for, a terrible decision-maker and ego-maniac, and really just not a good person. Then, from 337 to 346, we learn about Steinbrenner's charity efforts, and how he might not have been such a bad guy after all. Seems too little, too late, and maybe what we're really seeing is the softer side of Peter Golenbock, who spends the last ten pages of his book lauding, not bashing, an unpopular man whose mental health is in sharp decline.

1 - Joe Torre and Gene Michael. Sure, Joe has his own tell-all book out, but after reading all about George's mostly moronic and definitely despicable behavior in the 70s and 80s, Torre appears nothing short of saintly in his ability to handle George for ten years AND win. And as many new school Yankee fans and analysts have posited, this book leads us to believe that Stick Michael, more than any single individual associated with the franchise, is responsible for the success of the late 90s Yankees. "He believed in Moneyball long before Michael Lewis..." The background on how the 1996 nucleus formed is well done.

If you're an avid reader, this one's an easy read. Wade through some of the slower material, like George's childhood and college years, and the payoff will come in the later chapters during his time as Yankee owner. If you're more of a bathroom reader, well, it's not Maxim. But we think that you'll get something out of it, whether it makes you love or hate George in the end.
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