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Joel Sherman of the NY Post chats with John Amato of Pinstripe Alley

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Joel Sherman of the NY Post joined me for a bit and talked about his new book, The Birth of a Dynasty." We also got into A-Rod, Bermie, Mariano, Buck Showalter, Albert Belle and a host of other topics. If you can send him an email to joel.sherman@nypost.com to thank him for jumping into the blogosphere, that would be nice. I tried to approach the interview like a discussion and not a question and answer period.

Audio-MP3


Transcript:

John: I want to really thank New York Post columnist and author of the New Yankee book called Birth of a Dynasty, it's Mr. Joel Sherman.  Joel, thanks a lot for joining me and with Pinstripe Pally; and also I'm going to Post this on crooksandliars.com.  

Joel: Well thanks for having me on.

John: And you are a Yankee expert--let's talk a little bit about your book because again you know- 1995, that series against Seattle  was such a heartbreaking loss for us Yankee fans, but yet you say that it was the turning point in the change to the Yankees. Can you explain a little bit about that?

Joel: Yeah, uh.  Sometimes you need a feeling of rock bottom uh, to change, uh, and you know and in a way '95 was the trigger for '96.  Would they have won if they'd kept Buck Showalter as manager?  Would they have won if they had continued to go kind of with their heart instead of the reality of who Don Mattingly had become by the mid-90s, which was a kind of popless first baseman in what was becoming an increasing steroid age?  Um, you know, that that changed the team around by losing that series.  If they would had advanced, it would have been very hard to get rid of their manager Buckshaw Walter and change the face of the team - guys like Mike Stanley and Randy (inaudible) they would have been back.  So, I think that, I always knew where I wanted to start the book, you know, Birth of a Dynasty- Behind the Pinstripes with the 1996 Yankees, and that was in game 5 of the '95 Division Series because I thought it was such a seminal moment, um, for the organization.  And I think the biggest reason why was Buck SHowalter was managing as he always did by preprogram, and what that meant was he didn't trust his eyes and there was one pitcher in that series.  The Mariners had the best offense in the Major Leagues that year and, uh, there was only one pitcher on the Yankees staff in the Post-season that did well against the Mariners and it was a guy who was the 9th guy on a 10 man staff and he was a convert starter, and his name was Mariano Rivera.  And I always knew I would start the book with the "What if" question: What if, uh, Buckshaw Walter had known what he had in Mariano Rivera? He didn't - uh, Joe Torre knew by the end of April of '96 what he had.  And that's kind of how history gets written.  

John: To me though, I'm watching Mariano mow down the Seattle Mariners and they couldn't touch him and I'm looking at Buck Showalter at that point in time when, you know, Cone had thrown like 130 pitches, 136 pitches, and I'm saying "Where is Mariano?"  And he waited, and he did not trust his eyes.  And when I read just that sentence in your book, you know, it brought it all back because it was so frustrating to see a guy like Mariano sitting on the bench.  And as you said, Buck's style of coaching was his downfall.

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Joel:  Right, and let's be honest - he wasn't even Mariano Rivera yet.  I mean, we know he's Mariano Rivera now, and it's easy to look back.  And one of the points I do make, I hope, in the book, is he managed the way that most guys manage to some degree - including Joe Torre, who's been incredibly successful with the Yankee franchise - which is you manage by those you trust, you know, you invest trust in these players over the long haul.  And he trusted the heart and the ability of David Cone and Jack McDowell, and those were the two guys he went with in the key spots in that, uh you know, situation.  And it would turn out that with the 1996 season on the line, Joe Torre would do the exact same thing with David Cone- the exact same thing with David Cone- that that Buck Showalter had done.  In game 3 of the World Series, the Yankees are down 2-0, it's the first game in Atlanta, clearly if they lose this game they're going to lose the series, they're going to be down 3 games to nothing, Cone is on the mound, you know, it's the end.  It's his last start of the season, just like it was his last start of the season in 1995, uh, his arm is exhausted, he's gone through aneurism surgery, and, uh, in the inning, bases load by single, walk, single.  It's the exact same sequence that occurs in the 8th inning of game 5 of the division series, and Joe Torre goes out to the mound.  The lead is 2-0, he knows he's got to find out what he can about David Cone, he looks in David Cone's eyes, he says, you know, "What can you do for me here?"  You know, "what have you got left?"  And David Cone says to him "I can get the guy."  The guy is Fred McGriff, who already owns the record at that time for RBIs in the Post-season, great lefty hitter -  

John: and former Yankee...

Joel: - and former Yankee, uh, farm (inaudible).  Joe Torre literally says to "Don't bullshit me - I need to know the truth here."  And David Cone looks into his eyes - they look like lovers in a movie, they have their hands, he has his hands on his hips and he looks in his eyes and he says "I need to know the truth" and Cone looks him in his eyes and says "I can get Fred McGriff out."  He asks him one more time, and one more time Cone reassures Torre.  Torre goes back.  There's only one problem:  David Cone's lying to him - he has nothing left, but as Cone told me for the book "If I don't believe it, how am I going to get Fred McGriff out?"  Sure enough, he gets Fred McGriff out, he gets out of the inning, the Yankees win game 3 of the World Series, they don't lose another game in 1996, and they win with Joe Torre, for the same exact reasons that Buck Showalter let David Cone in in the 8th inning the year before - because he trusted him.  He trusted his arm, but mainly he trusted his heart.  And because of that both guys did the same thing.  Sometimes, you know, the baseball gods are with you and sometimes they ain't.  

John:  No, I, and you know to win that series in '96 was so sweet and it's funny you know how we're so wrapped up in sports.  I've tried to look at this - I don't know if you've ever really thought much about it - like why do we get so wrapped up in our teams, and so, so - it's like part of us.  When the team loses we feel like losers.  Have you ever written a column about that?  

Joel:  Um, I don't know if I've ever actually written on it, but I've certainly thought about it a lot because, you know, what is my job without people who feel that way?  

John:  Uh huh

Joel:  You know, the job can't exist.  My job is based on the passions of fans.  I was a Yankee beat writer for seven and a half years, I've been the baseball columnist for the New York Post for more than a decade now, and I only work at the behest of the fans.  You know, a lot of times I try to explain to players or managers or management when they say like "Why do you want to know that?"  Or like "What's the big deal with that?"  And I say "Well, you know it's not really like I sell it on the street like heroin, I'm anticipating what people who are passionate about your team, what they want to know.  What will compel them, what they will find dramatic.  What they will find intriguing, uh, what they will find entertaining."  This is the quest of what we do, is we serve - we serve at your graciousness.  Thank goodness there are people who feel this way.  Otherwise I'd have to go get a real job!

John: (laughing)  

Joel: I hear you say with me you don't want to be beat on stories and that you want to be interesting and compelling and all those other words I used before - dramatic, entertaining.  It's with you every second; you're thinking "Who should I be calling?  Who should I be talking to?  What's the big story?  Who's on the trade block?"  And you do - and it can drive you nuts, and I really (inaudible) a mechanism, John, to be able to do the job, and that was my father was an incredibly passionate Yankee fan, and a working class man.  And I thought to myself, "You know, if I tried to write for a million, it's one thing.  But if I try just to say, you know what?  I'd really like to entertain and inform and compel and all those other things, for my father."  It made it simpler, and that's how I kind of did it.  I thought "what would entertain someone who I thought of as the average Yankee fan?"  And it made doing the job - it narrowed it, it made it simpler for me to do.  

John: uh, going back to your book, I had forgotten - and there's so much that you forget - and I forgot that when Bernie Williams came up, Mel Hall tormented him.  Tell us about that.  

Joel: Well, uh, I mean to say that Mel Hall just wasn't a good human being would be understatement.  Uh, but, you know, when Bernie came up it's even hard for people to remember now.  He wore thick rim glasses.  His control of, uh, English was OK but not great.  He was incredible shy - I mean, he's certainly not verbose and tremendously outgoing now, but he is the life of the party to the 20-21 year old Bernie Williams.  And, um, you know Mel Hall was the bully in the schoolyard, in the sandbox.  You know, this was the easy to pick on guy and he did.  Among the stories I tell in the book is where uh he used to tape on the top of Bernie Williams locker just the word "zero", and that's like the number you are wearing.  He used to say "That's what you're worth to the team, Zero."  And every time Bernie would start to talk he would like interrupt with "Zero-Zero-Zero", to the point where Bernie become so flustered and frustrated he almost came to tears a few times.  And Bernie actually had to fight the urge, you know - he has a teacher mother, a musician father, both pacifists, and they kind of taught Bernie that manhood isn't judged by your fists but sometimes by your ability to not use them.  And Bernie will tell you that that is the closest he has come to having to defy his parents, and stake his place.  But as it turns out, you know, his character was simply greater than many of the guys that played on that team, but certainly greater than Mel Hall.  And most important, his talent was so sizeable, and that won out in the end.  He was built of better stuff both mentally and physically, and here we are a long time from the early 90s now, and Bernie Williams is getting standing ovations pretty much for tying down, uh for tying his shoelaces these days at Yankee Stadium.  Which means the fans kind of get it.  They got who he is, what he's done.  Here he is, that shy kid, the appreciation is kind of staggering for him these days.  

(snip)

John: When you see Mariano up there, it's just, he takes the ball, it's that graceful delivery--how many in this lifetime are we going to see like Mariano?  I mean, you know it looks like he's got a couple of years left.  I had thought - I had hoped in the off season that they would have thrown like $60 million at B.J. Ryan for six years, and say "You can be the closer after Mariano is done."  Do you know, did B.J. ever consider wanting to play for New York, or was he just totally against that?  

Joel: Uh, he was totally against the idea of going anyplace where he wouldn't be the - the closer.   I think he thought of these as his prime years and he felt like he had served his apprenticeship already and he had had a lot of money thrown at him to do the closing job, so he wasn't going to go someplace where he didn't close.  And look, John, your expertise cuts across a lot of fields, which is politics and music and sports, and I daresay in our lifetime, last quarter century, do we know anybody in any profession who does their job better than Mariano Rivera?  In any profession, you know, who has been that expert for this long?  And you know, let's remember what he's expert at: he's expert at the most pressurized job in sports, which is getting the final out.  He's done that exclusively in the American league, exclusively in the American league east, exclusively for a team that has played in the playoffs every year, exclusively for a team that plays in New York with a voracious media and a voracious fan base, and he's been best - he's been the greatest regular season closer of all time.  But here's the thing: he's been even better in the Post-season when the games mean the most than he has been in the regular season.  I mean if he never played in the Post-season he'd be a Hall of Famer.  Here's the thing: he's even been better in the Post-season, and in the Post-season there are no Kansas City Royals, there are no Tampa bay devil rays, there are no Pittsburgh pirates.  It's only the best of the best, and against the best of the best, he's been the greatest.  And I daresay that even playing in New York, Mariano Rivera is underappreciated in some ways and we'll never fully get our arms around it.  I think until he's gone and we have to watch somebody else have to tackle all of the monsters I just named: New York, the American league, the American league east, October, the media, the fans - and then I think we'll fully get our arms around exactly who he's been and what he's done.  

John: I couldn't agree more with you and that's why, I take every game when he comes in, it's special.   I wish I could save every appearance where he blows it or not, because he's magnificent.  And, uh, can you imagine this guy, he would be voted into the hall of fame, you know the day he walked out, and really what he's done, you can't put words to a guy like that, he's a John Coltrane.  I mean, he's the Charlie when you look at music, he's the Jimmy Hendrix, he's the,--with one pitch the guy has done what nobody else can do.  And how many saves - does he have 31 or 34 saves in post-season play?  

Joel:  And let's not - whatever the number is, think about the percentage that have been more than three outs, four outs, five outs, six outs - nine outs against the Red Sox in game 7 of the 2003 ALCF.  You know, in Birth of a Dynasty I wrote - and I believe this - he has pinpointed more pressure pitches in his career than any other guy who's ever lifted his arm in the history of the game.  And, you know, what more can you say?  

John:  I know, you know I've been talking to some of my friends and there's so many pitchers now that you see that have like this one incredible year, I mean just look at Josh Beckett.  I mean the guy was unhittable, and yet he's getting crushed.  I mean, you know, and Mariano does this time after time, year after year, and yet here's Mariano, you know, the same.  Um, you know, he might not be able to go, you know, before '96 he can go two innings every, every other day, it would be no problem.  But you know, his arm, it's just, it is an amazing thing and he will get the accolades.  And again, wait 'til somebody has to replace him.  That's going to be interesting, that's going to be a job for Brian Cashman.  But now, let's just shift to one last topic before you go, which is A-Rod, because we talk about the all love for Mariano and for Bernie, and A-Rod, I kind of like when someone struggles, you start to, uh, root for them harder.  And I've always been that kind of guy, um, and you know A-Rod struggles.  You know it seems to have gotten into his head.  What drives me even crazy is reading a lot from some of the columnists - and more than not it's really the television commentators because they just recycle the same thing, you know - people boo him because he makes a lot of money.  Nobody cares in New York how much money - I believe - how much money A-Rod makes.  You know, he had a great year last year, he fielded tremendously.  I was angry, not at only A-Rod, but you know, let me see Sheffield and Matsui, you know, do something in the Post-season also.  And if you don't produce in the post-season, that sticks with you, and it seems to have gotten his fielding this year, and uh, you know, what's your take on A-Rod?  

Joel:  Well I tend to agree with you.  I don't think the fans of New York are booing him because of the money.  Uh, first of all, the Yankees do not pay the entire freight on this contract, and I think a good deal of Yankee fans are aware or savvy and understand that. You hate to use the word "only" but the Yankees only pay about $16 million - excuse me - of the $25 million a year that A-Rod and Texas pays the rest.  And certainly in the context of what players are paid, $16 million is right for the guy with the most talent.  I think they're booing him because he has the most talent, and he is not fulfilling the talent.  But, there's other things going on.  He is a guy who clearly has some kind of issues with Jeter; it came out in the Esquire piece.  Jeter is a home grown great championship player, it's not a guy you want somebody dealing with from outside, and I think that, there, uh, there is the issue of how he got here, you know.  Uh, let me say this about the issue of the contract, John:  I think the contract is a problem to the extent that it's A-Rod's problem.  If you think of it, uh, here's a guy who grew up a Met fan, and he wanted to play with the Mets, and he could have played with the Mets.  But, he decided the most important thing to do as a free agent would double Kevin Garnett's contract, which was the highest contract in North American sports.  He'd let Scott Borders, he was a very high powered, very influential agent, influence him about that kind of quest, about the most money would be this great representative, kind of "Money would make you happy."  Kevin Garnett was making $126 million; A-Rod got $252 million.  But to get $252 million he had to go to a place in Texas where baseball not only falls behind the Dallas Cowboys, and not only behind about seven or eight college football teams in the Southwest Conference, but behind Friday Night Live also...

John: (laughing) That's right...

Joel:  And, so, you know, then it was like a "Dammed Yankees" thing to end up in Texas for a quarter of a billion dollars.  Then, after playing three years there and realizing that nobody cares about baseball, that, um, that the team isn't very good, and that he's playing for Captain Queeg in Buck Showalter - here we go with his name again - he wanted to get out.  And the place that wanted him was Boston.  But the reason he couldn't go to Boston was because of that contract he'd signed.  It was so complicated that they couldn't work it out with the union because you're not allowed to lesson the value of a contract; it's against the collective bargaining agreement.  So, he didn't end up in Boston, which dispirited the Boston fans to start with, and then for them the worst possible thing in kind of a latter-day Babe Ruth kind of way was the great slugger of the era ends up with the Yankees.  So, now he becomes the bane of Texas; he had been the bane of Seattle because he had left; now he becomes the bane of Boston and for Yankee fans because Boston fans turned on him so much.  Yankee fans wanted him to be Ruth; they want him to be the guy who makes the Red Sox regret it and instead the curse ends in A-Rod's first year in part because A-Rod's quest, four games against the Red Sox, are horrific.  So, is the contract part of that?  Yes, in the greater context and subtext of this story it is.  But the guy fought that contract is Alex Rodriguez - he decided that the money was the most important thing.  And I don't think the fans of New York are booing him because of the "contract", but all the things that the contract has brought have become issues in and around Rodriguez that have made him less likable and more of a lightning rod, and so it is part of the story.  

John: But as you know, A-Rod has the ability to turn it around.  I think it's mental;  It just seems to be, I think he should of just told the media to just go f-off for awhile, and just really come out strong, instead of saying "Yes, I do suck, I am suck, they can boo me."  I think he should have been a little feistier.  

Joel:  I want to give you a little insight on something.  First of all, just so you know where I fall on this, I couldn't care if the Yankees win or the Yankees lose; I just don't care.  I look for short games with interesting game stories, you know?  Compelling people and dramatic situations, and things of these ilk - but I, I'm glad Alex Rodriguez came to play in New York because he is a great player.  You know, there's no sense in watching dinner theater.  You might as well the best guys if you're going to do what I do, and I wish every fan of baseball could - certainly Yankees fans - could see Alex Rodriguez in spring training, when the cameras are, when it's not obvious that he's being watched, and you'd see how amazingly talented this player is.  You would watch him take batting practice on a (inaudible) field and hear the sound that is different from other people.  He has that almost golf ball-like carry that he gets on a ball, that extra 20-30 yards that he gets when he hits a ball, that others, not neophytes but major leaguers don't get.  To see him working out in the field, and to see how powerful and true his arm is.  To see a guy 6'4" and 240 pounds move as gracefully, as wonderfully athletically as he does.  This guy is the most talented player in the world, and there's only one thing that can defeat that kind of talent - only one thing that can serve as kryptonite to that kind of Superman - and it's between his ears.  And kryptonite is winning in 2006.  And now the question you have to ask if you are a Yankee fan and you're someone who feels passionate about it or someone who even does my job and asks questions, which is:  Is that an affliction that never goes away and just slowly decays this wonderful talent?  Again, John, I've done this for 20 years.  I could tell you all about great players.  I can tell you I have seen another person do all the things I just told you I watch him do in spring training, when he doesn't have to think about thinking about other people watching him and have his brain be over-active.  

So, I feel like I have a little more insight into it when I write "why is he failing?"  And I know Yankee fans get upset when people write "well, this is a mental thing", and they're like "well, what are you, a psychiatrist?" And I'm like "I'm not a psychiatrist.  But I watch a lot of baseball, and you've got to see how gifted this man is.  And now you have to figure out why are the gifts, which have flourished before in the Major Leagues but aren't flourishing now, what is going on?"  And it seems to me the only logical possibility is that the worst of his brain is winning and he is losing.  

John:  It seems to me it's just going to be a slow progression.  And he seems to be hitting a bit better.  And we'll just wait and see, but he's going to break the all time home run record before he's done.  

Joel:  He's got a great shot.  Again, I think the only thing that could defeat him is above, you know, above his neck.  And uh, but I do want to throw this one out.  As I was thinking about this: when people talk about the home run record, one day soon we're going to wake up and Manny Ramirez is gonna have 600 homers.  And we're going to realize that he is the Aaron of our era.  And I mean that in that he's never going to hit above 50 but he's never gonna hit less than 30 or 35.  He's going to be like Aaron, he's going to be a metronome; he's going hit 40, 42, 37, 46, 38.  And we're going to look up one day real soon and he's gonna be sitting at 600 or 637 and we're going to say "Man, he's only 36 or 37.  He's got a shot also."  

John: Yeah, you know Manny is incredible. I mean this guy, David Ortiz, needs to thank his lucky stars that he's got Manny behind him.  But you know, Manny's just a machine. I talked to a few of the sports writers and when Nomar was in Boston, they just told me that, Nomar hated the press and they hated Nomar.  He was just a nasty, mean guy.  Now with Manny, - like Manny wouldn't want to do press conferences because he just really didn't know what to say - he was shy, because he was goofy.  It wasn't because he was, you know, dissing the press, this is what I had heard.  When you see the guy hit, he's a machine!  It reminds me, I mean - Albert Bell could have possibly been that type, because I remember he had that stretch of five or six years, where Albert Bell was banging out the same numbers.  And weren't the Yankees close to actually letting Bernie go and signing Albert Bell?  

Joel: Yeah.  If Albert Bell had said yes, he said no at the last second, and the white sox had an offer, Bernie Williams would have left and Albert Bell would have been a Yankee.  Your know, look - just to go back to my book for one second, you know Birth of a Dynasty - Behind the Pinstripes with the 1996 Yankees - I wrote the book...you know, when you write a book about the Yankees of this era, you're not writing about like the 1890 Richmond Tigers here.  You're writing about one of the most (inaudible) teams, and you have to figure out ways to write it where you bring in new insights, fresh ideas, fresh thoughts into it.  I kind of did it as an architecture book, where I'll go back to the very beginning, I'll take you to the dirty streets of Panama for Mariano Rivera, the high school fields for Derek Jeter, and by doing that one of the things I show is just how close all the key people - the 12 to 15 key people in the dynasty were - to not being Yankees.  Where, you know, they easily, they were so close to signing with another team, or even being traded to another team, being drafted by another team, uh, etcetera.  And, you know, the Albert Bell-Ernie Williams thing is like that, which is, you know, do they win their last two world series with Albert Bell in the outfield and without Bernie Williams? You know, it's an unanswerable question, but Birth of a Dynasty is a lot about that "What if?"  It asks a lot of "What if?" Questions, and if you're interested in that, especially as a Yankee fan but I think as a baseball fan, if you're interested in kind of like seeing the quirky dynamic or the brilliance and the sheer luck it takes to put together a champion and a dynasty, I think you'll get behind the scenes and see it with Birth of a Dynasty.  

John:  You know, really, it's a great book as a Yankees fan and as a baseball fan, because you either hate the Yankees or you love the Yankees, and again you see how the team was built to win four championships in five years.  And again we do need to give Buck his due because he did have a lot to do, and also Gene Michael who again was a great talent evaluator.  But I don't want to give your whole book away here, because I want my listeners and my readers to go and buy it because it really is - if you like the Yankees and baseball - you really need to get this book Birth of a Dynasty by Joel Sherman, it's on Amazon, it's all over the place.  Listen Joel, I don't want to hold you up, I really appreciate all the time you've taken to talk with me and join in the blogosphere because it is the new medium, and uh, you've been very forthcoming, and uh I really appreciate it and hopefully I'll get you back to do some more like again.