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The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty: The Game, the Team, and the Cost of Greatness

The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty: The Game, the Team, and the Cost of Greatness

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The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty: The Game, the Team, and the Cost of Greatness

ratings:
4.5/5 (5 ratings)
Length:
537 pages
7 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Oct 6, 2009
ISBN:
9780061981081
Format:
Book

Description

For six extraordinary years around the turn of the millennium, the Yankees were baseball's unstoppable force, with players such as Paul O'Neill, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera. But for the players and the coaches, baseball Yankees-style was also an almost unbearable pressure cooker of anxiety, expectation, and infighting. With owner George Steinbrenner at the controls, the Yankees money machine spun out of control.

In this new edition of The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, Buster Olney tracks the Yankees through these exciting and tumultuous seasons, updating his insightful portrait with a new introduction that walks readers through Steinbrenner's departure from power, Joe Torre's departure from the team, the continued failure of the Yankees to succeed in the postseason, and the rise of Hank Steinbrenner. With an insider's familiarity with the game, Olney reveals what may have been an inevitable fall that last night of the Yankee dynasty, and its powerful aftermath.

Publisher:
Released:
Oct 6, 2009
ISBN:
9780061981081
Format:
Book

About the author

Bestselling author Buster Olney covered the Yankees for four years at the New York Times. He is a senior writer for ESPN: The Magazine and an analyst on Baseball Tonight.


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Top quotes

  • If they say, ‘Go drill someone,’ I’m going to drill someone. I don’t care about the manager; I don’t care about the coach. Even if they told me not to, I’m going to go out there and do it.

  • He reduced his leads drastically, and as he crept away from first, he’d lock his hands on his knees, making it all but impossible for him to get a good break from first base.

  • He was an endangered species in an era of offense, a pitcher who was willing to fill the role of villain and knock down some hitters.

  • The franchises with lower budgets had an improved chance of competing, particularly in the leagues’ Central Divisions, which were filled with low and moderate payrolls.

  • He was a loyal person—he and his wife, Soot, maintained a Christmas card list of about 300—and sensitive, reacting sharply when he felt slighted. Before .

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The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty - Buster Olney

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INTRODUCTION

NO QUESTIONS about his horse, George Steinbrenner insisted. But this was the only condition he set for his interview with the YES Network during spring training in 2005. Bellamy Road was the early favorite to win the upcoming Kentucky Derby, and Steinbrenner, it seemed, did not want to jinx his own horse.

Everything else was fair game in this interview, which Steinbrenner had long promised to YES executives. His history as an impossible boss, his two suspensions from baseball, his bullying and cajoling, his seeming resentment of manager Joe Torre, the evolution of his relationship with players, the Yankees’ many successes and failures, his impetuosity, a management style that was often counterproductive—he was ready to talk about all of it. He had done many interviews like this in the past, and while he never really liked doing them, the cameras would go on and he would start telling stories and recalling details. When he walked into the makeshift interview room, in the visitors’ clubhouse at Legends Field, the Yankees’ spring training park in Tampa, Florida, an air of preeminence still hovered over Steinbrenner, four months shy of his 75th birthday.

But there was something wrong. His eyes darted around the room, to the camera, to the cameraman, to others. He seemed anxious, and maybe a little frightened. Friends had been concerned for months about his health; he had collapsed at the funeral of football great Otto Graham late in 2003, and he seemed to have trouble remembering recent conversations, they noticed. They wondered whether he had suffered some small strokes, but Steinbrenner was never the sort who would acknowledge sickness or a physical ailment. Not the son of Henry Steinbrenner.

A makeup artist applied the standard dose on Steinbrenner, some powder to diminish the shine from the television lights. Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay, conducting the interview for YES, began asking questions. In years past, Steinbrenner would have elaborated extensively and injected anecdotes. But his answers to Kay’s questions on this day were clipped, one word or one or two short sentences. Was it overwhelming, Kay asked, to own the Yankees?

It was overwhelming, Steinbrenner said.

Steinbrenner kept adjusting his glasses. He gripped his chair tightly. The interview stopped for a moment, and John Filippelli, the executive producer for YES, leaned in to speak with Kay. The session wasn’t going well. The producers would have a very difficult time generating a show, it seemed, from Steinbrenner’s answers. There was something wrong.

The camera rolled again. Kay appeared to wait a little longer for answers, allowing Steinbrenner more time to gather his thoughts. Although Kay was a former newspaper reporter who tended to ask blunt and challenging questions, as the interview progressed he seemed to ask leading questions that gave the owner a better shot at answering.

Kay asked him about his initial pledge to be a hands-off owner. I thought I could do it, but I couldn’t, Steinbrenner said. I had to take care of my partners and the people of New York.

What about the way you were portrayed on Seinfeld? Kay asked. It was accurate, Steinbrenner replied.

Kay asked about Thurman Munson, the Yankees catcher killed in a plane crash in 1979. Steinbrenner had told the story many times before about how he had barked at the commissioner at the time, Bowie Kuhn, declaring that the Yankees would attend Munson’s funeral, even if it meant forfeiting a game.

But now, in front of Kay, Steinbrenner didn’t have much to say.

Kay asked about another favorite Steinbrenner topic. What were you thinking when [Billy Martin] and Reggie [Jackson] went at each other on national TV? he asked.

I didn’t like that at all, Steinbrenner said.

Were you watching on TV?

I was watching on TV, Steinbrenner said.

…Did you go, ‘Oh my God’?

I said, ‘He lost it.’ He did, momentarily.

Was it hard? Kay asked.

It was a very hard moment, Steinbrenner replied.

When Kay posed a question about his father, Steinbrenner began to tear up, his lowering lip tightening, quivering. If he could have one person in a foxhole with him, Steinbrenner said, that person would be Henry Steinbrenner. He’d know what to tell me to do, said Steinbrenner.

The interview ended, and there was an enormous sense of relief in the room. Steinbrenner had gotten through it. This would be the last extensive television interview Steinbrenner would give. He was a man in transition, and because of this, the baseball team that he owned was in transition, a shift that continued through the 2007 season. By the start of 2008, there were only four players remaining from the team that tried to defend its standing as world champion during the World Series of 2001—pitchers Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, shortstop Derek Jeter, and catcher Jorge Posada. Joe Torre, the manager of 12 years, was gone. There was a new generation of players rising, generated by the successful campaign of General Manager Brian Cashman to change the organization’s philosophy, and to go back to focusing on player development, something that had served them so well in the ’90s.

The greatest change for the Yankees, however, would be the departure of Steinbrenner as their domineering owner. November 4, 2001, was the last night of the Yankee dynasty of 1996–2001, the end of the Paul O’Neill–Tino Martinez years. But in a broader sense, Steinbrenner’s own extraordinary dynasty was coming to an end, and it wasn’t entirely clear who would succeed him, or whether anyone could possibly live up to his staggering legacy.

THE FIRST real sign of transition in Steinbrenner might have come in May 2005. The Yankees started 9–14 in April, and they were a broken team in some respects—too old, with eight of their nine starters on Opening Day over 30, and bloated in expense; the Yankees became the first team that year to spend more than $200 million in payroll. Steinbrenner’s instinct had always been for action—for reaction—in times of need, and his history of management was to seek out the biggest available star, regardless of recent track record. But the advice of General Manager Brian Cashman was simple and resolute: Don’t make trades.

Instead, Cashman—whose job title, at that time, implied more power than he actually possessed—wanted the Yankees to call up their best minor league players. Veterans like Tony Womack and Jason Giambi were struggling terribly, and by Cashman’s way of thinking, the Yankees really had nothing to lose by giving the prospects a chance to play. They wouldn’t do any worse. Maybe they would show something, and maybe not. But it made no sense to Cashman to make an old team older, and more expensive, through trades. Cashman recommended to Steinbrenner that the Yankees call up second baseman Robinson Cano and, shortly thereafter, pitcher Chien-Ming Wang. And George Steinbrenner, deferring more and more to the advice of people he trusted, agreed.

And the changes worked; the rookies thrived. Cano had once been given mixed reviews by rival scouts—and the Yankees’ evaluators couldn’t have been sold on him, either, because he was dangled repeatedly in trades—but his game matured once he reached the big leagues. Cano handled the bat with an unusually loose grip, as if its handle were a hatchling, but when he swung, he snapped the bat like a wet towel, stinging the ball; the style reminded Joe Torre of former AL batting champion Rod Carew. Cano would bat .297 in his first season, and the Yankees loved his ethic. Shortly after Larry Bowa was hired as a third base coach and infield instructor, he received a phone call and didn’t initially understand what the person on the other end of the line was saying. Who? Bowa asked. Robinson Cano, the caller responded. He had phoned to tell Bowa that he would be arriving in Florida early, before spring training, to work on his defense. I’ve never had a player do that, in all my years as a coach and manager, Bowa recalled. You might hear from guys in January, once spring training is getting closer. But not in November. And I’m telling you, when he got there, this kid went to work, at 8:30 in the morning, extra work. There was promise that Cano would be part of the Yankees’ lineup for years to come.

Wang, a native of Taiwan, flung hard sinkers that dived through the strike zone and broke bats, and he would go 8–5 in 18 games in his rookie season. He and Cano were the first young players that the Yankees had afforded opportunities to in almost a decade—the first since the generation of Jeter, Pettitte, Rivera, and Posada—and what was particularly striking to Yankees officials was their relative poise.

In the years after the O’Neill-Martinez dynasty, Yankees talent evaluators stopped trying to guess which veteran players would adapt easily to New York and which would not. Randy Johnson had come to the Yankees with five Cy Young Awards and 246 career victories, but from the outset he was uncomfortable, distracted by the steady criticism that inevitably followed days when he failed to dominate. (And Johnson would eventually ask out, after a couple of seasons.)

But after watching Cano and Wang, some Yankees executives reached the conclusion that young players developed within the team’s farm system made the most seamless transitions to the pressure of playing for New York, perhaps because of the much lower level of expectations. Once Alex Rodriguez, Giambi, and Johnson came to the Yankees, they would be booed anytime they performed as anything less than megastars. But when a relative unknown like Robinson Cano was promoted to the big leagues, the fans at Yankee Stadium tended to be much more patient.

The Yankees won 86 of their last 139 games in 2005, making the playoffs. The success of Cano and Wang—the success of the Cashman’s recommendation—would become a turning point for the organization.

Cashman’s contract was set to expire after the 2005 season, and the general manager decided to walk away from the Yankees. As he prepared for his departure, he told Steinbrenner that the front office needed a major makeover. Rather than having the various baseball departments—scouting, minor league development, and the big league club—all reporting to Steinbrenner separately, Cashman argued that the Yankees needed a linear chain-of-command led by a single executive who would answer to The Boss. You shouldn’t have to look for someone to blame, Cashman told Steinbrenner. There should be one person who should ultimately be responsible, and gets results for you. Cashman warned Steinbrenner, as well, that other clubs in the AL—the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox, in particular—were years ahead of the Yankees in player development.

Cashman wasn’t going to be that person. He hated the fractured and factionalized nature of the Yankees’ front office, and in the last hours before his contract was set to expire, on October 31, 2005, he informed general partner Steve Swindal and team president Randy Levine that he was leaving the organization.

Steinbrenner had first hired Cashman when he was a teenager, and while the two men frequently disagreed and screamed at each other, the Yankees’ owner trusted Cashman. Like former Yankees General Manager Gene Michael, Cashman would offer his advice based on what he believed to be in the best interests of the Yankees, and not necessarily on what was in his own best interests. Steinbrenner phoned Cashman and mentioned the recommendation that Cashman had given for the revamped chain of command. Why don’t you do what you’re recommending? Steinbrenner argued.

Cashman was fed up with the front-office infighting, and the fact that he never knew exactly who had Steinbrenner’s ear at a given moment and who, in effect, held the practical power as the Yankees discussed a possible trade. Was it a friend? Was it a former player? A scout? Sometimes Cashman didn’t know, and he was left to read clues like a forensic investigator. Evaluating Cashman’s record as a general manager was all but impossible unless you knew precisely who was responsible for each transaction—and that changed from day to day. Steinbrenner made the deal for pitcher Randy Johnson, personally signed Gary Sheffield, and wanted Carl Pavano. Cashman preferred Vladimir Guerrero over Sheffield, had nothing to do with the Womack signing, and he, too, had wanted to sign Pavano. It was like a potluck baseball management.

Cashman was wary, too, of whether Steinbrenner would actually give him the control over baseball operations he thought the department leader would need. But Steinbrenner agreed to do so and put it in writing, and his personal appeal worked: Cashman might have developed job opportunities with the Phillies, the Dodgers, or the Red Sox, but ultimately, he did feel beholden to Steinbrenner for the faith the Yankees’ owner had invested in him years before.

The change in structure was dramatic. Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973, and for more than 30 years, front office personnel had often bounced from department to department. Gene Michael provided the classic example of the organization’s fluid structure, moving from coach to the front office to manager to scouting, sometimes day by day. Cashman separated scouting, player development, and the big leagues entirely; if you worked in player development, well, you wouldn’t be asked to scout. We were like the Roman Empire, said Cashman. We were spread out all over the place. What we did was try to simplify it.

And Cashman redirected the Yankees’ scouting and player development departments toward doing what they had done so well in the early ’90s: finding and fostering high-ceiling talent, particularly pitchers. He didn’t want the Yankees to make the conservative, safe pick; they should take chances, he believed, because they had the money to do so. The Yankees would take such a gamble in the 2006 draft, and it would pay off in a big way.

AT ANY given moment there are 15 to 30 writers in the part of the Yankees’ home clubhouse open to the press—but only four or five players, as most of the the team chooses to occupy some off-limits part of the clubhouse. It’s as if the center of the room is a watering hole filled with crocs, and only the youngest wildebeests—the youngest players—dare range as far as the shoreline. A kind of chronic fatigue had set in by 2007 among some of the Yankees’ veterans. The team made the postseason, but older players who came from other teams found that playing with the Yankees was often not very much fun at all.

But that began changing during the 2007 season, and the reason, the veterans said, was the enthusiasm of the minor leaguers developed within the Yankees’ farm system—some of them the products of Brian Cashman’s effort to restructure the organizational philosophy, like Joba Chamberlain, who, three years before, was not a high-ceiling talent. He was an overweight kid who threw hard and had once been a manager of his high school basketball team.

Chamberlain had grown up in Lincoln, Nebraska, the son of Harlan Chamberlain, a man who was stricken with polio as a child, and he had appreciated his father’s effort to raise him in spite of his handicap. When Joba was a college sophomore, he had knee surgery and couldn’t do much more than lie on the couch, an ice pack on his knee. Through a sleepy haze one morning, he watched as his father came into the living room on crutches and checked the ice pack on Joba’s knee. We need to change your ice, Harlan said. So the father gripped the ice bag between his teeth and moved haltingly toward the kitchen, and in that moment, Joba would say years later, his understanding about his father’s love and resiliency, and about the effort he could put into his own life, fully crystallized.

Chamberlain played a season at the Division II University of Nebraska–Kearney, then transferred to the Division I University of Nebraska–Lincoln and learned how to throw a slider. The velocity of his fastball climbed. In the winter of 2006, he was regarded as a rock-solid first-round pick, but in the weeks leading up to the June draft, his stock began slipping because of concerns that he had a sore arm. A week prior to the draft, Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer saw Chamberlain in person and loved what he saw, but he had no expectation that the Yankees would have a shot at drafting him after the first round; somebody else would take him earlier, Oppenheimer believed.

The selections began and Yankees officials starting pulling the placards of the highest-rated players off their draft board as they were picked by other teams. Deep into the first round, after the Yankees had chosen right-hander Ian Kennedy, Chamberlain’s placard was still there, all by itself, at the top of the team’s draft board. Oppenheimer couldn’t believe that Chamberlain hadn’t been picked. There’s no way he’ll get to us, Oppenheimer said aloud in the war room. Thirty-one picks into the draft, Chamberlain still hadn’t been picked. He’s tumbling, Oppenheimer said to another executive. You don’t think this could happen, do you? It did happen: at pick No. 41, an ecstatic Oppenheimer submitted the name of Joba Chamberlain.

Chamberlain dominated the minors and was just one in a wave of young Yankees who reached the big leagues in 2007. Phil Hughes, a laid-back kid from southern California with a high energy fastball, assumed a spot at the back end of the rotation, amid high-end expectations. Melky Cabrera supplanted Johnny Damon as the team’s center fielder. But the most essential contribution of Chamberlain and the others, veteran pitcher Mike Mussina believed, was in the energy they brought to the team. The older Yankees were buttoned-down and brief-cased, and the newest Yankees are more about iPods and chest-bumps. Cano and Cabrera began their workdays with power lunches and afternoon workouts alongside Alex Rodriguez, and ended them by jumping into each other, chest first, in the handshake line after victories. First baseman and right fielder Shelley Duncan, who spent his early life in clubhouses as the son of St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan, was gregarious and outgoing—the team mascot, Torre jokingly called him—and seemed to share a running gag with everybody the way that Tim Raines had a decade before. Each day, players filled out a standard ticket request form, listing their guests and the number of tickets, and always left the adjoining comment lines empty. Duncan made a point of inventing all the comment lines, daily. Good friend. Went to high school together, he might write in, or something like Met them at the museum.

Chamberlain was stoic and serious in his work, and on his first day in the big leagues, he made a point of sitting next to Rivera in the bullpen and gestured toward the Toronto hitter at home plate. What do you do against this guy? and the long conversations began. But Chamberlain also possessed the competitive arrogance—an absolute belief that he would succeed—that Jeter and Rivera held. In his first inning in the big leagues, Chamberlain had shaken off a sign for a fastball from catcher Jorge Posada, and Posada had jogged to the mound; Chamberlain insisted that yes, he wanted to throw his slider instead of his fastball, which sometimes reached 100 mph. Posada relented—OK, if that’s what you want to throw, go ahead and throw it, he seemed to say with his body language—and Chamberlain threw his slider. It was placed perfectly, down and just off the outside corner, beyond the flailing swing of the hitter. Joba Chamberlain would face 66 batters in the big leagues before allowing a run, striking out almost half of the hitters he faced, and within days of that first appearance, the fans at Yankee Stadium had taken to treating him like royalty, rising in ovation as he entered a game. Oval-faced and weighing more than 250 pounds, Chamberlain bore a striking physical resemblance to Babe Ruth, and he happily embraced his life the way the slugger once had—joking with teammates before games, challenging Mussina to distance runs and Roger Clemens to stomach-churning workouts, chatting up quiet veterans until he mustered a smile from them, sending off 200 text messages a day, most of them written in sentences that ended in exclamation points, to family and to friends throughout baseball. On the September night in 2007 that Red Sox rookie Clay Buchholz—someone Chamberlain had met on his journey to the majors—threw a no-hitter, Chamberlain fired off a text message cast in good humor, through a respectful portal of the Boston-Yankees rivalry: GLAD YOU GOT THAT OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM!

In the first big moment of Chamberlain’s career, in the 2007 playoffs in Cleveland, a swarm of midges suddenly filled the air of the infield and the rookie pitcher waved in frustration at the bugs. But he might as well have been trying to swat away a cloud of fog. With the bugs glued by his sweat to his face and neck, Chamberlain threw a wild pitch to allow the game-tying run, and the Yankees would lose in extra innings. Afterward, Chamberlain stood at his locker and took responsibility for the loss, in a manner that would’ve impressed David Cone during the dynasty; he refused to use the bugs as an excuse. I just didn’t get the job done, he said. It was the type of accountability that had been inherent in almost all of the young players to come through the Yankees’ farm system, a group that showed enormous promise, as the Pettitte-Jeter crop had 15 years before.

While the Yankees had once again invested in a new generation of young players, it was still a team that spent more than any other franchise; it was an organization reliant on highly paid superstars, including the highest-paid player in the game.

ON A CHILLY May afternoon at Yankee Stadium in 2007, hours before the first pitch of a Yankees home game was thrown, Yankees coach Robby Thomson stood at home plate and yelled out to the only player on the field. Frank Thomas, Thomson shouted, and then whacked a ground ball toward Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees third baseman took his time, setting himself with a crow hop before throwing to first base. The drill was designed to simulate game action, and this was Rodriguez’s way of imagining how he would handle plays with particular hitters, like the slow-footed Thomas, moving down the first line. Vernon Wells! Thomson shouted, calling out the name of the speedy Toronto center fielder, and then he hit another grounder to Rodriguez, who jabbed his glove quickly at a grounder before zipping a throw over the infield.

Rodriguez arrived early to the park every day to go through drills like this, to get comfortable. Some players, like Derek Jeter, trusted their mechanics implicitly. But Rodriguez trusted work, the process, the practice, in preparing himself to play. He needed the reps. And feeling at ease, for him, took a lot of work.

His time with the Yankees had been tumultuous, because that insecurity—which drove him through extra workouts and drills daily, and helped make him into a great player—played out on a Bronx stage every night. As players on another AL team watched Yankees games on television, they noticed that when the Yankees played games at home and it was their turn at bat, Rodriguez seemed to glance constantly at the camera located at the end of dugout, as if to check whether he was on air. Indeed, he appeared preoccupied with how he was perceived, what others would think of him. This was something that his more experienced teammates did not understand. Jeter had long since simplified his life: he worried about winning baseball games, he made sure he said nothing controversial (even at the risk of boring reporters), and he wouldn’t talk about his private life.

There was every reason for Rodriguez’s day-to-day existence to be just that simple. By the time he was 30 years old, he was, by some standards, one of the greatest players who had ever lived, and he made more money playing baseball than anyone in the history of the sport, and yet daily, he yearned for signs of approval. He had once approached a teammate after a particularly good game in Texas, when he had multiple hits and a home run, and asked, How does my swing look to you? It was like an A-plus student asking the C student if 100 was good enough. He had the most security in the game, quite literally, and yet some teammates in New York found him deeply vulnerable, as if he were someone fighting for the last spot on the roster. Some of them found it maddening: at a time when the Yankees were trying to advance into the postseason, Rodriguez was gnawing at his own psyche from the inside. Jason Giambi went to Joe Torre late in the 2006 season and told his manager to stop coddling Rodriguez, according to Sports Illustrated. Torre met with Rodriguez to feel him out, and noticed him nervously twirling his wedding ring. Rodriguez indicated to Tom Verducci of SI that he felt he was unfairly singled out. [Mike] Mussina doesn’t get hammered at all, Rodriguez said. He’s making a boatload of money. Giambi is making [$20.4 million], which is fine and dandy, but it seems those guys get a pass. When people write [bad things] about me, I don’t know if it’s [because] I’m good-looking, I’m biracial, I make the most money, I play on the most popular team. It was an odd statement, and added to the perception, within his own clubhouse, that he was a high-maintenance teammate.

It was as if the Yankee Stadium fans sensed the weakness in him, the anxiety, and they chastised him for it in the first three seasons he was with the team. From 2004 to 2006, Rodriguez averaged 40 homers and 115 RBI in the regular season, winning an MVP Award along the way. But he would fail to drive in a run in 14 consecutive playoff games, and because he was A-Rod—because he was the Yankees’ best and highest-paid player but performed so horribly in October—he was booed in a way that Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera would never be booed. Jeter and Rivera each had won four championship rings and were, in effect, indemnified from hard-core booing, but Rodriguez still wasn’t regarded, by fans, as part of the circle of trust. He had to lift the team to championships in October to achieve that. And the booing, which would come and go for a time before accompanying almost every at-bat by the end of 2006, seemed to make him put even more pressure on himself. He is a guy who just wants to be perfect, said Larry Bowa, a coach to Rodriguez in two different decades, and this is a bad game for someone who needs to be perfect…. He takes the responsibility of being the fourth hitter in the lineup very seriously, and you can see him up there, trying to get six hits in every at-bat. You can see him squeezing sawdust out of the bat, putting pressure on himself. Torre even dropped him to eighth in the lineup in the midst of the 2007 playoffs, the most glaring outward sign of just how frustrated the Yankees were with Rodriguez.

Before the 2007 season, Yankees officials privately wondered if Rodriguez would ever get comfortable playing in New York. Rodriguez had the contractual option to void the last three years of his contract, from 2008 to 2010, a clause that gave him the leverage, in theory, to ask the Yankees for a pricey extension. But there appeared to be little sentiment within the organization to invest long-term in Rodriguez.

He arrived in spring training intent on trying to change, however. Rodriguez acknowledged at the outset of camp what everybody already knew, that he and Jeter were not as close as they once had been; Rodriguez seemed liberated by the revelation, because now he didn’t have to pretend any more. He appeared to be eliminating distractions, narrowing his focus. Late that spring, batting practice pitcher Mike Borzello and Bowa sat down with Rodriguez on a back training field, and the two men told Rodriguez that he had to stop worrying about trying to please everybody. No matter how great you are, there are always going to be people who don’t like you, Bowa told him. You can’t control that.

He completed a productive spring training, and in the first regular season game, Rodriguez raced in from his position in pursuit of a high pop foul—and missed it altogether, drawing more boos. But he got a couple of hits and drove in a couple of runs, and laughed at himself afterward about the pop-up. It was as if Rodriguez, the player who liked reps so much, had to shape his own neediness in a way that would allow him to exist in the face of the daily expectations of Yankees fans—in the same way he would try to make an adjustment against a pitcher with a tough slider.

He made some changes in his swing, diminishing the leg kick that had become so pronounced, and, in the eyes of Yankee coaches, had come to affect the way he tracked pitches. As he raised and then lowered his foot, his head and his line of vision would descend, as well; imagine trying to hit as you travel the downslope of a roller coaster.

The eyes control the barrel of the bat, a hitting coach explained. If the head is going down, the barrel of the bat is going down. Pitchers who had had success pitching to Rodriguez in the upper half of the strike zone in 2006 tried to do the same in 2007 and got pounded. Rodriguez slammed 14 homers in April, and hit 30 more by the All-Star break; at a time when the Yankees floundered, Rodriguez all but carried them, repeatedly tying or winning games in the late innings, doing all the things that it was assumed he might never do as a Yankee. Rodriguez would finish the year with more homers than any Yankee since Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, and he would drive in more runs (156) than any Yankee since Joe DiMaggio. Jeter would say flatly that Rodriguez was doing things that he had never seen on a baseball field before. Rodriguez had 518 homers, and given his relatively young age and his pace, he was projected to approach the all-time record well before his 40th birthday. By midseason, he had completely altered the front office’s view of what he was capable of as a Yankee. The Yankees tried twice to open negotiations on a new contract, but those offers were declined by his agent, Scott Boras. It would be better for Rodriguez, Boras told Cashman and team president Randy Levine at Yankee Stadium in early September, if A-Rod just focused on baseball. Nobody could argue with that.

Late in the evening of October 28, 2007, Cashman read a bedtime story to his four-year-old son, and nodded off. Game 4 of the World Series was being played in Colorado, but Cashman had little interest in watching; it stung him to see the rival Red Sox one victory from clinching their second World Series title in four years. But an hour later, Mary Cashman came to retrieve her husband, and she was a bit piqued: his cell phone was ringing constantly in their bedroom, keeping her awake.

Cashman and the Yankees had waded knee-deep into negotiations with Rodriguez and Boras, pressing them for a meeting, because they were beginning to bump up against a deadline. Rodriguez had to tell the Yankees within 10 days after the World Series whether he was going to opt out, and the Yankees had made it clear, by dangling an opening offer of about $230 million in front of Rodriguez on October 20, that they were very determined to keep the slugger. Internally, they had made the decision to upgrade their proposal, through negotiation, to a deal just south of $300 million—about $295 million.

But for about a week, there was no response from Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras. And on October 25, Cashman called Boras, with the Steinbrenner sons and Levine in the room, and suggested the meeting to discuss the offer. Rodriguez could come, too, Cashman suggested. Boras’s answer stunned them: the agent would not meet with the Yankees unless they guaranteed that their offer would begin at $350 million.

The Yankees’ executives weren’t sure what to make of what Boras said. They knew that Boras always preferred to take his clients into free agency, into the open market, and by opting out of the last three years of Rodriguez’s contract with the Yankees, that’s exactly what Boras would do. On the other hand, the Yankees had gotten the strong sense from Rodriguez that he wanted to stay, and they were willing to make a record-setting deal to keep him. But there was no chance they would offer as much as $350 million, and they weren’t sure how to proceed. They dialed Rodriguez’s cell phone number, and got voice mail. The Steinbrenner sons left messages, but those went unreturned. It was possible, the Yankees’ officials agreed, that they had misread Rodriguez’s intentions all along. But they also were determined not to chase the third baseman in negotiations, because at the instant that he opted out of the last three years of his contract, the Yankees would lose a $21 million subsidy they were scheduled to receive from the Texas Rangers as part of their 2004 trade for Rodriguez. If A-Rod opted out, the Yankees would not sign him because of the lost subsidy and because opting out would demonstrate to club executives that Rodriguez didn’t want to play in New York.

Now, in the midst of Game 4 of the World Series, Cashman’s cell phone rang over and over, as he napped in his son’s room and Mary Cashman tried to get some sleep. Summoned by his wife, the Yankees’ general manager groggily checked his messages—and found frantic calls from reporters seeking a response to the breaking news that Rodriguez had formally opted out of his contract.

Cashman scrolled through his e-mail on his BlackBerry, and among the messages was a note from Boras, sent a couple of hours before, informing him that A-Rod was, indeed, exercising his contractual right to void the last three years of his contract. (Boras would initially suggest that the Yankees had leaked the story in the middle of Game 4 of the World Series, which both angered Yankees officials and made them laugh. The story had broken on the Internet hours before the Yankees were aware of Rodriguez’s decision. Because Brian Cashman had fallen asleep reading a bedtime story to his son, at the time Boras emailed him to tell him of Rodriquez’s choice, there was no way the Yankees could have leaked the story. They believed, as almost everyone believed, that Boras had leaked the story.)

There was immediate and harsh media backlash to the news, not necessarily because of Rodriguez’s decision to seek a larger contract, but because of the timing of the leak—right in the middle of the last game of the World Series. Rodriguez had always fought the perception that he was a selfish player, that he was self-absorbed, and while other players and teams were competing in the World Series, the leak drew attention away from them. It was as if someone stood up in a theater in the middle of a play and shouted, Look at me. One of the Boras clients participating in the World Series would later chastise the agent angrily for how the Rodriguez news had played out.

In the days that followed, Rodriguez reached out to friends on the Yankees’ staff and told them that he, too, had been blindsided by the timing of the leak—and he blamed Boras. This is not turning out the way I want it to turn out, Rodriguez said to a Yankees’ employee. These recriminations were passed up the line in the Yankees’ chain of command, but the highest-ranking officials didn’t take them seriously. Rodriguez had opted out of the contract, and as far as the Yankees were concerned, he should’ve maintained control over the situation. They were finished with A-Rod.

At about 6:30 p.m. on November 7, Yankees president Randy Levine walked briskly through the New York City cold past the intersection of 57th Street and Third Avenue, on his way home, when his cell phone rang. It was Gerald Cardinale, a managing director at Goldman Sachs. He had been asked in a roundabout way to speak on behalf of Rodriguez, he explained, and he had some news: A-Rod wanted to re-sign with the Yankees.

Cardinale’s words echoed what A-Rod had been saying to Yankees clubhouse employees. But when it came to Boras clients, Yankees executives—and executives throughout baseball, for that matter—were leery of being used as a pawns. What Levine knew for sure was that at that moment Boras was at the general manager meetings in Orlando, Florida, holed up in his suite and trying to engage other teams in negotiations for Rodriguez. Yankees executives had been very outspoken about how they had no interest in negotiating with Rodriguez, and if they indicated any level of interest in the third baseman now, Boras might use that to leverage a larger contract with another team. So as Cardinale began to convey what he had heard, Levine was wary.

What Levine didn’t know was that earlier that week Rodriguez had talked to billionaire Warren Buffett, talked about how his negotiations had not played out the way he wanted. And Buffett had advised him to contact the Yankees himself. Rodriguez asked John Mallory, another executive at Goldman Sachs, to intercede on his behalf, and Mallory had called Cardinale, who phoned Levine and told him that Rodriguez felt as though he had made a terrible mistake, and that the situation had been mishandled by Boras.

Levine called the Steinbrenners. While Hank Steinbrenner was angry that Rodriguez had never returned his phone calls, the Yankees still, in the big picture, wanted Rodriguez back. Yankees executives had gamed out possible replacements for the slugger, and no matter what they looked at, the lineup, without A-Rod, was greatly diminished. They might’ve tried to trade for former All-Star Scott Rolen, but there were major questions about his shoulder. They could bid on free agent Mike Lowell, who was coming off a good year for the Red Sox, but the Yankees had serious questions about how long Lowell’s body would hold up. Plan B to Rodriguez, in early November 2007, was Wilson Betemit, who had mustered a .231 average and 10 homers in 2007. There was nobody [available] who could’ve given us anything close to what we could get from A-Rod, said one member of the Yankees’ staff. Nobody.

The Steinbrenners discussed the question of whether it would be worth it to follow up on Cardinale’s call, and they agreed that Levine should. The next day, November 8, Levine arranged a conference call with Rodriguez, Cardinale, and Mallory, and Rodriguez was contrite. Everything that you were told is true, he said. Levine was blunt about how the negotiations would proceed, if they proceeded: It was either going to get done quickly, on the Yankees’ terms, or the deal would not happen. Rodriguez made it clear that Boras would not be involved in the negotiations, other than to review the language.

Rodriguez, bargaining on behalf of himself, proposed a deal well in excess of $300 million. The Yankees had been prepared to offer Rodriguez $296 million, Levine said flatly, but that figure would be reduced by $21 million—because of the Texas subsidy lost when Rodriguez opted out of his contract. Within a day, the two sides reached the general framework of a new contract: 10 years, $275 million. There was talk of mutual marketing agreements that would pay off as Rodriguez approached milestone home runs—a deal that would take the potential value of Rodriguez’s contract over $300 million. But all along there was an understanding that the deal would not move forward until Rodriguez made his peace with the Steinbrenners face to face.

Alex and Cynthia Rodriguez arrived at the home of Hal Steinbrenner, dressed casually, and he reached to shake the hands of the Steinbrenner brothers. They sat and Rodriguez did most of the talking, saying what the Steinbrenners wanted to hear: He apologized for the way the negotiations played out, he said he had made mistakes, and he said he felt that Boras had represented him badly. They had a deal. Weeks later, Rodriguez sat for an interview on 60 Minutes. When I realized things were going haywire, at that point I said, ‘Wait a minute. I’ve got to be accountable for my own life,’ Rodriguez said. ‘This is not going the way I wanted it to go.’ So I got behind the wheel.

Bowa watched and thought that the teenager he had once known was growing. He had taken steps forward and seemed to be learning, taking control of his own emotions and life. I saw a different demeanor in him [in 2007], said Bowa. I really think there’s going to be a year in the playoffs when he figures it out in a big way.

Rodriguez, like many sluggers in baseball, was subject to speculation about whether he used performance-enhancing drugs. Jose Canseco—the former slugger who wrote a book and ignited the steroid scandal that eventually led to Mark McGwire’s ugly appearance before Congress in March 2005—said in December 2007 that he couldn’t believe Alex Rodriguez’s name wasn’t in the the Mitchell Report, the cursory history of steroids pieced together by former Senator George Mitchell. But by and large, national columnists and a lot of baseball fans looked forward to a day when they hoped that Rodriguez would pass Barry Bonds as the all-time home run

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  • (4/5)
    Olney's thesis (unquestionably correct) is that the latest incarnation of the New York Yankee dynasty ended in November 2001 when the team lost the World Series to the Arizona Diamonsbacks.Since that time the Yankee organization has left the formula that made it a success, namely the cultivation of home grown talent, emphasis on pitching depth, and the importance of team chemistry. The Yankees have returned to their foolish ways that were the M.O. of the 1980s, namely depleting minor league resources, foolish spending, ill-fitting sluggers, no pitching, and wasted money. Olney pays homage to Daniel Okrent's "9 Innings" as he takes us through game 7 of the World Series, inning by inning, almost pitch by pitch. Olney uses the framework of the game to explore the history of the 2001 roster and how they came to be a Yankee.Olney focuses a great deal on the importance of team chemistry and this is really the book's strength. It's hard not to like the various players, O'Neill, Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Williams, Brosius, Mussina, et. al. when one learns how much pride each of these players took not only in their craft, but in being part of the most storied organization in sports. One even learns that Roger Clemens, the INFAMOUS Roger Clemens, was universally considered to be a great teammate.However, in reading "Last Night..." one gets the feeling that you aren't really learning anything new. This is the Yankees we are talking about here, the most covered and well known team in all of sport. The exploits of the Jeters and Clemens and so forth have been well chronicled and replayed on ESPN ad nauseum. Though lacking in any groundbreaking insights (apparently this Steinbrenner character is a real asshole), Olney does have an eye for human drama and does give us an interesting glimpse inside the Yankee clubhouse.
  • (4/5)
    Pretty good, but it plays more like a series of newspaper profiles bridged by brief descriptions of each inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.