For 99 years now, Americans have celebrated, tolerated, blessed and cursed a baseball team called the New York Yankees. Damn Yankees brings together 24 essayists to explore the club’s history, its players and the reasons why—as the book’s subtitle tells us—the Yankees are the world’s most loved and hated team.
Overall, this is a well-conceived exercise. Editor Rob Fleder has collected some top-notch writing talent, and his authors take a wide range of approaches to their subject. Personal reminiscence is perennial in this sort of book—the most successful foray here is J.R. Moehringer’s tale of meeting a man in the Yankee Stadium nosebleeds who purported to be the oldest living Yankee. More satisfying for my money are pieces by biographers and profilers focusing on individual players. Jane Leavy supplements her recent Mickey Mantle biography by tracking down one of the Mick’s nemeses on the mound. Michael Paterniti turns in a moving profile of Catfish Hunter in the final days of his struggle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. And the best essay in the book belongs to Pete Dexter, who in his inimitable, hilarious style explains the greater lessons to be drawn from Chuck Knoblauch’s forgetting how to throw from second to first base.
Of course, this book would not be complete if it did not offer ruminations on Yankee hatred. Why do we deplore them so? Frank Deford has a few opinions in a blast that is sure to please Yankee bashers everywhere. A more complicated question: Is it ever okay to like the Yankees? Indeed, there are a very few people in this world who can root for the Yankees while retaining their credibility as true lovers of baseball. Roy Blount Jr. makes a noble effort to place himself among them.
The Yankees are and will remain an institution. Love ’em or loathe ’em, this collection is a fine assessment of what that institution means.