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A chat with Jeff Mangold, author of “Power and Pinstripes”

A review of Jeff Mangold’s new book, “Power and Pinstripes,” and a chat with the author.

Triumph Books

“Yes, I wanted it, so I took it. And I later sold it.”
– Jeff Mangold, co-author, “Power and Pinstripes: My Years Training the New York Yankees

As I was reading Jeff Mangold’s new book, that was the second main item that preceded an eyebrow raise. The “it” to which Mangold, the former Yankees strength and conditioning coach, referred in the quote above was the barrel end of Mike Piazza’s bat — more specifically, the shard that Roger Clemens dismissively flung toward Piazza in the 2000 World Series.

I’ve never been in a major league dugout before, so I don’t know the standard operating procedure of broken-bat removal, but it did seem in my amateur estimation that the bat is still someone else’s bat. Taking it seemed odd to me — at first.

This came after my initial raised eyebrow about the book topic in general. I’ve spoken to enough trainers of professional athletes to know that the second-best way to keep your job is to be a good trainer. The best way is to avoid telling state secrets. Organizations generally don’t like the public knowing what’s going on in their training room, and professional athletes, in general, don’t like being used as a prop for their trainer’s public benefit. A trainer’s ability to keep matters to themselves is a desirous one in that setting. Although Mangold is no longer with the Yankees, I was still concerned that “Power and Pinstripes” was going to be a glossing-over of history through rose-colored glasses designed not to offend anyone.

I came to learn pretty quickly that my concerns and skepticism were unwarranted. Due in no small part to a personal tragedy, the bat went on to do much good for many families in need, and the rest of the story — which partially takes place in the locker room where guys named Clemens, Giambi, and Rodriguez trained — was honestly told and didn’t shy away from discussing difficult situations in what was a trying time for baseball.

Mangold was the strength and conditioning coach for the Yankees from 1984 through 1988, and then again from 1998 through 2006 (with a four-year stint with the Mets in between). As I’m sure you’re aware, during that second stretch in the Bronx, the team won nine straight division titles, and appeared in five World Series, winning three.

“Power and Pinstripes” is the story of Mangold’s emergence through the college coaching ranks and eventually landing a job with the mid-eighties Yankees, and all the characters contained therein. After some professional twists and turns, and some personal obstacles (to vastly understate them) to overcome, his return to the Yankees saw great team and personal success, but also brought some challenges as well.

As you would expect, there’s great background and behind-the-scenes discussion about working with managers on a massively wide personality spectrum like Joe Torre, Yogi Berra, Dallas Green, Lou Piniella, and Billy Martin. Episodes with George Steinbrenner when “The Boss” was concerned about the size of the mid-sections of some of his players, and when Mangold’s wife had a run-in with George over tickets (spoiler: George learned that a mom on a mission isn’t to be trifled with). There are even a handful of anecdotes about Don Mattingly, the weeks after 9/11 and who almost went to Texas for A-Rod that I’d never heard previously that were interesting additions to the text.

Then there’s Clemens and Brian McNamee. Jason Giambi and the team needing to accommodate his personal trainer. Alex Rodriguez and his training regimen. These were all what turned out to be very public landmines that Mangold needed to circumnavigate in the Yankees’ training room, while simultaneously trying to maintain a training system for a team with higher expectations and more demands than any other.

Mangold and co-author Peter Botte do a great job of openly discussing the elephants in the room without sinking to the level of name-calling or finger-pointing we’ve come to expect with such topics. It’s a direct and honest account of what were two stretches in Yankee history that most fans remember, but only saw the tip of the icebergs.

I had a chance to talk with Jeff Mangold about the book and as you’d imagine, interesting things – some from the book, others not – arose. I was quite interested in hearing more about Torre, of whom Mangold spoke very highly, and what exactly made him different from other managers that led to the Yankees’ success.

Some managers, he said “…could get very emotional, and ream guys out. Joe always had an ability to maintain his composure and never raised his voice, and that kept a calm throughout the team. With Joe, there were times we’d get beat, you might see some lackadaisical play, and you’re thinking ‘wow, we’re going to have a team meeting tonight.’ But no, another game would come. Joe knew ‘maybe just let things play out a little bit.’”

When we discussed training methods, Mangold mentioned in his first tenure, he used 30-yard sprints, agility drills, and a few other moves to test and re-test players to measure progress. Then in 1998, GM Brian Cashman approached Mangold and mentioned the organization wanted the players to be “focused right out of the gate” in spring training. Mangold added a competitive wrinkle, changing the 30-yard sprints to 300-yard shuttle runs — 30 yards down and back 5 times — and having players grouped by position for competition.

“It had to be seen,” Mangold told me. “At first you didn’t know if everyone was going to sell out. Many professional athletes, especially if you’re a star, don’t like to be seen as ‘just spent’. This 300-yard shuttle run brought our team together. These guys were yelling at each other and for each other. Everybody.”

He continued, “It really helped get their competitive juices flowing” and mentioned one player in particular:

“Ironically, the position that had the best overall time was the catchers.” Having a low center of gravity and insane lower body endurance certainly helps in that drill but he added, “If you have a guy like Joe Girardi — he would not let his guys give anything but their best — he pushed them hard and he led by example.”

That was an interesting segue into the 1998 team and a particular aspect about them he discussed in the book. That group, according to Mangold, came into spring training and focused on fundamentals such as relays and cutoffs right away. I asked if that was unusual – doesn’t every team do that?

“They do,” he said. “But this was with focus, effort, and concentration. Not just going through the drill, not just doing it to do it, but to do it at game speed when you’re not in a game. It was never ‘we already did this, let’s move on’, with that group, it was ‘we’re going to do it until we get it right’. It was doing it with efficiency.”

I was curious about whether or not MLB would see the equivalent of soccer’s Leicester City, who shockingly won a title a few years ago, in large part due to a declaration from ownership. The field coaches and players of Leicester City were told in no uncertain terms that the training staff had the final say on training matters – what they said went – no questions asked. The field coaches would coach the field, the players would play, and neither would have a say in the strength and conditioning protocols. As a result, there were very few injuries and the team’s speed and endurance were big factors in their success.

“I’m not sure that isn’t going on already,” he said. “I’ve been away from [MLB] for a while, but I know that what the Yankees are doing with redoing their strength and conditioning staff. I don’t know if it’s mandated or not, but it does seem like there’s more to follow and to integrate throughout the whole system. And that’s important that it’s the whole organization, not just the Major League level. I think that’s going on right now.”

What about having a veteran player or players around for whom English is not their first language? How important is that to help integrate the young players who may be new to the country and language? (Like Luis Sojo for example, of whom Mangold spoke highly in the book.)

“It’s huge,” said Mangold. “Especially if it’s a player like Luis who was a jack of all trades, who was good at a lot of little things. He could be a conduit between the player and my philosophies and how I wanted things done. Luis would be able to address that, or things coming down from management, he could express that to the younger players (privately, without the need for interpreters and/or coaches) — it’s very important.”

If you’re like me and you’re a fan of behind-the-scenes access to your favorite team’s history and some of its characters, you’ll likely enjoy “Power and Pinstripes” as I did. Botte did a great job of guiding the story and filling in blanks while managing to stay out of the way. The book is in Mangold’s voice, using Mangold’s words, and he doesn’t shy away from or make apologies for the unpleasant topics, such as the Clemens and McNamee show, among others.

You can grab a copy at Triumph Books, Amazon, or whichever local book store you choose to support.

*Author’s note: Jeff did not ask me to add this, but the CJ Foundation for SIDS is important to him and his family. Like most charities, they and the families they support are always in need of help. There are several ways in which you can help, learn more, and raise awareness on their organization’s page and on Facebook.