Book Review: “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty”
By: Buster Olney
Published by: HarperCollins
“Vivid, informed, and gracefully written. Like Olney’s coverage of the Yankees for the New York Times, this is sportswriting at its very best.” -David Halberstam
That quote about sums up this entire novel. Buster Olney, a writer with ESPN.com, did splendid work writing about the Yankees with several interesting sidenotes on players as well as Boss Steinbrenner and Yankee coaches. He weaves his background story, the last night of the Yankee dynasty, with these interesting little clips.
In the first chapter, Olney begins, as a fly on the wall, writing about the pregame speech given by the Yankees’ trainer Gene Monahan. He ties this in with a speech that Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera delivers, which many of his teammates questioned. Chapter two covers the most important Yankee of them all: George Steinbrenner. Olney delves deep into who George Steinbrenner is; like that the Boss believes failure is eminent at all times. Next is a biography of Steinbrenner followed by the final minutes before the fateful Game 7.
The third chapter deals with Paul O’Neill, considered to be one of the grittiest players in recent memory. Olney starts the bottom of the first with Jeter’s strikeout, but moves to O’Neill’s at bat. Here Olney disappears into a spiel about how O’Neill learned from his father Chick O’Neill how to play baseball the right way. The story continues to discuss how O’Neill angered manager Lou Pinella so much that the Reds traded O’Neill to the Yankees for Roberto Kelly. This move turned out to be brilliant for then General Manager Gene Michael, as Olney explain in-depth in his book.
Chapter four discusses then Yankee General Manager Gene Michael. This is an interesting story of how Michael started at the bottom rung of the baseball ladder (in the Pirates farm system) and moved to one of the highest: the guy in charge of an entire baseball team. Next, Olney tells how the rebuilding of the weak early ‘90s Yankees turned into a dominant late ‘90s force. The next chapter discusses Joe Torre at large. Olney starts with Clemens beginning the bottom of the first and moves toward the media response of Clemens throwing the bat at Piazza in the 2000 World Series. It begins with Torre’s discussions with the media and then moves to how inspirational Torre is to his team. Then Olney brings in players like Chad Curtis and Ricky Ledee and explains how they were integral to the Yankees success as well.
Chapter six begins with Luis Sojo, about how Sojo was a major part of the Yankees because of his veteran experience. Sojo then went to the Pittsburgh Pirates and says how they “operated day to day with absolutely no expectation of success.” These veteran players were major cogs in a major league team, and the Yankees had the financial wherewithal to sign end of the rotation starters and middle relievers who had played for many years. Olney then writes about the economic disparity of small market teams and then moves to how Sojo won the 2000 World Series for the Yankees. Sojo would never play for another team, by choice.
Chapter seven is about Roger Clemens, both in the bottom of the second and in his playing days as a Yankee. When Clemens joined the team he was not the same dominator he once was, but a short time in pinstripes changed that. Olney then talks about Clemens workout regimen and Clemens’s career as a headhunter. Chapter eight discusses Boomer Wells’s departure from the Yankees, about how Boomer was a rambunctious soul who loved to go out and party. Olney then moves to another Yankee lefty, Andy Pettitte. The author then moves to David Cone and Mike Mussina, integral pitchers for the Yankees.
Olney begins chapter nine writing about how old the Diamondbacks were, how they had the necessity to win this game. He then moved towards an aging star, but one on the Yankees: Bernie Williams. The author discusses how Williams rose through the Yankee farm system and almost signed with the Red Sox before becoming an integral part of the Yankee outfield for years to come.
GM Brian Cashman is the main focus of chapter ten. Cashman was raised through the Yankee front office and knew the business of working for George Steinbrenner. The author describes how Cashman kept track of all his work through with much care. And then Olney brings to the forefront of how Steinbrenner controlled what Cashman did, like acquiring busts Denny Neagle and Jose Canseco. The game was complete through four innings, no runs on either side.
Chapter 11 is about former Yankee David Cone. Olney starts the chapter in Coney’s living room during the series and then moves to Coney in the Yankee clubhouse. During his tenure with the Yankees, Cone would always be the man in the clubhouse. He would settle disputes with ease and speak with the media in difficult situations. Chapter twelve is an important one because it discusses the other teams in the east. The first section is about the Orioles, and how they almost have a chance to sign David Cone. Then the author moves to the Red Sox and how they were serious competition for the Yankees dominance.
Chapter thirteen begins with the top of the sixth inning where Alfonso Soriano was leading off. It continues with a story about Soriano’s joining the Yankees, followed by international players Livan Hernandez, Hideo Nomo, Andy Morales, Hideki Irabu, and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. Chapter fourteen moves to another fielder, Derek Jeter, and fifteen is the first baseman, Tino Martinez.
Chapter 16 is a more somber one, with Darryl Strawberry being the focus of it. Olney brilliantly describes Strawberry’s addictions and talents, along with his dependence on the Yankees. The next chapter deals with Rudy Giuliani and his importance to the Yankees. In here, Olney carries the story to the importance of Yankee relief pitching and how Mike Stanton was the only real arm Torre could trust out of the bullpen to set up Mariano Rivera. He then moves to the Yankee clubhouse where Boss Steinbrenner is furious over Fox’s persistence to put a victory stage in the room, which would surely jinx the team, according to Steinbrenner.
Chapter 18 describes the amount of suffering the Yankee players due to the losses of their fathers, as well as the role that cancer had on the Yankee staff. The next one leads to the building up of Mariano Rivera being impossible to beat and the following one deals with Chuck Knoblauch and Scott Brosius, two important cogs for the Yankees in that infamous game.
The final chapter is the final moments of the game: the coming apart of the Yankee ninth. Olney takes the reader inside the mound conversations between Torre and his infield, as well as the thoughts of his infielders in those final moments before the end of the Yankee dynasty.
I give this book 3 balls out of 4 for any Yankee fan because of how in-depth Olney covers the Yankees. If you have just become a Yankee fan, this is a definite read. If you aren’t a Yankee fan and despise them, this book gets 2.5 balls.
Our Rating System is based on a four ball system as follows:
One Ball: Average. It has something to say but is nothing special.
Two Balls: Something men usually have - also means its a cut above average, and worth reading/owning.
Three balls: Stands out from its peers and is highly recommended.
Four Balls: More than just what two men have when hanging out together, it means it is an exceptional book that truly earns a walk - straight to the local book store to get a copy.