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An interview with Mark Feinsand, author of “The Franchise: New York Yankees”

The longtime reporter has a new book out on the Yankees’ storied history.

Triumph Books

Yesterday, a new Yankees book hit the shelves, as June 7th was the release date for “The Franchise: New York Yankees,” by Mark Feinsand. The longtime reporter has packed several fascinating stories into this book, and he was nice enough to take some time out of his release day activities to speak to Pinstripe Alley about the book.

Stay tuned for another interview with Mark where we’ll discuss a number of topics relating to the 2022 Yankees in particular.

To start off, what brought about the interest in writing “The Franchise” in advance of the 2022 season?

Triumph Books, who was my publisher on the “Yankees Fans’ Bucket List,” approached me about it. They were starting this new series called “The Franchise,” and they wanted to start out with the Yankees as their as their launch. I had worked with them and we have a really good relationship, so they asked me if I’d be interested in writing it. And I said, “Sure!”

It seemed like a fun series, and obviously, trying to tackle the history of a team like the Yankees is quite a challenge. You’re not going to be able to hit every every mark, because otherwise, that’d be a 4,000-page book. But we figured out a way with coming up with six different thematic factors of different areas of the franchise’s history, to tackle everything from Ruth to Gehrig to Jeter, and a little bit of the current team — although not quite as much at the Aaron Judge Era, given that in New York, it’s all about championships, and this group hasn’t won one yet.

But we went through the acquisitions they’ve made over the years and some of the architects who built this team, whether it’s owners, GMs, or managers. We tried to hit a little bit everything and tell a few stories that either haven’t gotten a lot of play, or in some cases maybe haven’t been told.

That was something I was going to ask you about because it was interesting to me that instead of being a standard chronological history like Marty Appel’s “Pinstripe Empire,” this was more groups of essays in different sections. So I guess it was done this way to sort of give this book series its own theme as to how it will work?

Yeah, Marty’s book was invaluable in the project. When you’re writing about some of the older players, especially Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle, it’s hard to find too many people who were around or sort of have the insight that Marty has. But yeah, we just tried to do something a little different and attacked it from different themes. And when you when you look at the architects, not a whole lot of people know a lot about Jacob Ruppert or George Weiss. These are guys who were foundational parts of turning the Yankees into who they are.

So we hit some of them, and then of course some of the modern guys: Brian Cashman, Joe Torre, Gene Michael, Hal Steinbrenner, and George Steinbrenner. These are the people who are responsible for making the Yankees what they are, and putting together the teams that we’ve watched on the field all these years. We tried to put our little spin on it and not just start from 1903 and go from there, but all of those eras are hit throughout the book.

Your own career as mostly a Yankees reporter has dovetailed with the last 21 years of Yankees history. How difficult was it to edit down some of the essays on those subjects that you personally covered to make them somewhat comparable to the older stories?

Yeah, it was difficult. I’ve covered them from 2001 to the present, and you can get a little long-winded for sure. But it was great to catch up with some guys I covered who I haven’t seen or spoken to for awhile. I went to Pennsylvania and sat down with Mike Mussina for a few hours, I caught up with Jason Giambi for awhile, Paul O’Neill ... some other guys who span the the era that I’ve covered here in the past few plus decades.

Torre was gracious enough to write the foreword for the book, and there was a big chapter on Joe in there. When I was talking to Joe, he was talking about how they offered him the GM job before they offered him the manager’s job. You start thinking about the sliding doors.

Joe Torre with Bob Watson being named new Yankees’ manager. Photo by Keith Torrie/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

What could have happened with this team if he had taken that GM job? Maybe Bob Watson doesn’t retire and leave the team after two years. Maybe Cashman doesn’t become the GM. Who knows who the manager would have been? Would they have brought Buck Showalter back? Would they have hired somebody else? Does that dynasty ever happen to begin with?

So it’s fascinating to think about — the what-if’s that could have happened, had that one move been made. But Joe was having his daughter at the time, knew he was gonna have a baby to take care of and didn’t want to miss her early years. The GM job is not one where you have a whole lot of flexibility, especially when you’re working for Steinbrenner in the ‘90s. In the managerial role though, you’re swamped from mid-February through hopefully the end of October, but in November, December, and January, you actually have some family time. Joe used to enjoy his time in Hawaii with his family. It’s really interesting to think about what could have been.

Absolutely. Did you have any particular favorite chapters or other stories from the book that stick out in your memory?

Well, I certainly have a fondness for the guys who I knew really well and being able to sort of tell their stories. I covered Mussina and Giambi’s entire tenures in New York. Being able to go back with them and sort of relive those days ... here we are, 10-15 plus years later, it was interesting to hear their takes on those.

I spoke to Willie Randolph for quite awhile for a few chapters about those ‘70s teams, Thurman Munson, and the rivalry with the Red Sox. Some of the Red Sox stories from the late-’70s are just unbelievable that you can’t even fathom. As fierce as the rivalries have been in the last 15-20 years, the hatred these guys had for each other — there was no fraternizing on the field, there was no chatting each other up before games. It was all about hatred and real tense feelings. “We don’t like you, you don’t like us, and we’re not going to let you push us around on the field.”

Willie talks a lot about the importance and the significance to him of becoming the first African-American captain of the Yankees, plus the impact that guys like Roy White and Elston Howard had on him. It was great to be able to go back and sort of dig into the careers of guys who spent the vast majority of their career in pinstripes and hear their takes all these years later.

It feels like that the co-captaincy with Randolph and Ron Guidry doesn’t get talked about a lot, partly because those teams did not go to the postseason or anything like that. But obviously just from reading the words, it meant a lot to Willie, and you really understand why.

Yeah, no question, and Willie was a real big part of those late-’70s and ‘80s Yankees. In his early years, he was overshadowed because there were really big personalities on those teams, with guys like Reggie Jackson, Munson, and Guidry. But Willie was a crucial piece of this team. He felt that after Munson died, they didn’t need a captain for awhile; they eventually named Graig Nettles as the next captain about three years later.

After that, Willie said he kind of felt almost like the unofficial captain, and when they formally named him and Guidry co-captains of the team, he just sort of went about continuing his business the way that he always did, because that’s what he knew. He learned a lot from Munson about being a leader, and it wasn’t about giving the rah-rah speech. It was about going out there every day, playing hard, getting the uniform dirty and setting an example of how to be a Yankee and how to be a professional on that team. So, yeah, it certainly meant a lot to him just as it did when he became the first African-American manager of the Mets. Willie was was a trailblazer in New York in many ways.

Milwaukee Brewers v New York Yankees

And speaking some more on the rivalries a little bit, I appreciate how you sort of delved into some of the more recent ones that have bubbled up, whether it was the Orioles in the ‘90s, or the Rays in recent years. It feels like this was an important nod to what’s been going on in the last 20-25 years — even if it hasn’t been typically as fierce as those brawls with the Royals and Red Sox back in the ‘70s.

Oh yeah, the Royals back in the ‘70s met up with the Yankees a bunch of times in the postseason and there were some feelings of hatred there as well. But if you think about the pre-’70s days, they didn’t have a real rival because they just won all the time. So it wasn’t like there was anybody really challenging them for their superiority in the league.

In the last 20-30 years, that hasn’t been the case, as there have been other teams that have challenged them. I mean, I grew up as a Yankees fan, and I remember in my college years right before the dynasty started — and then certainly in the first couple of years in the Torre era — I always considered the Orioles a bigger rival at the time than the Red Sox, because the Red Sox were in sort of a down mode. The Orioles had some really great lineups, plus Mussina and some other guys in that rotation who were just, you know, a pain in the butt. They really challenged the Yankees. Obviously, that one huge brawl in ‘98 was as fierce of a brawl as I’ve seen in the last 30 years.

The fact that the Yankee fans have basically taken over Camden Yards as Yankee Stadium South shows you that the rivalry is not what it was at one time, but even when they made the playoffs in the 2010s, you could sense there was a history there. People in Baltimore do not like the Yankees, which is one of the reasons that Mark Teixeira took so much heat as a Baltimore kid signing the Yankees. I guess Orioles fan thought he was suppose to sign with the hometown team for a discount; he wasn’t in agreement.

But the Rays have become a huge rival, then there’s the Orioles, Royals, and we have a couple chapters on the Red Sox — one sort of pre-1980 and then one more focused on ‘99 to the present. Then of course the Mets with the Crosstown rivalry. There’s been a lot of interesting games in these rivalries for sure.

Yeah, I thought it was funny hearing Teixeira’s perspective as an Orioles fan in 1996 talking about how they had to pray for Jeffrey Maier at his school because they wouldn’t let them say anything mean about him.

Oh yeah, it brought out the teenager in him who was a little exasperated. “Oh, yeah. Jeffrey. Man, I’m talking about this guy again.” Poor kid.

That was a huge moment. And I will tell you, I was not yet covering the team. I was right out of college when that happened. And I was sitting in the last row on the main level, field level — right behind home plate with my back up against the wall. And we couldn’t really see exactly what happened. We saw Jeter circling the bases. You kind of figured it out, bending down to see Tony Tarasco arguing with the umpire. But it was almost like an old-school game of telephone where you had people relaying down the field what was going on, and by the time we figured it out, I think at that point three Orioles had been tossed from the game.

New York Yankees vs Baltimore Orioles, 1996 American League Championship Series Set Number: X51513 TK1 R11 F16

So obviously, cuts have to come somewhere. And I noticed that say, Bernie Williams and Dave Winfield got essays and I appreciated that, since they’re not often as well-discussed. Other notable players like Alex Rodriguez and Elston Howard didn’t get as much. Were there any other profiles or stories that ended up on the cutting room floor?

No, you know, I tried to do a combination of giving chapters to guys like Williams and Winfield, who, like you said, have always been overshadowed. We talked about that in the book, about the whole “Core Four” concept and how he sort of gets left out. And he said he couldn’t really be mad about that because every time they talk about the “Core Four,” his name comes up about how he should be there, too. So, you know, to play his whole career in New York with those four championships ... he just had the misfortune that the catchy nickname didn’t come up until after he had been retired for a couple of years.

As for the A-Rod part of it, I felt like I told a lot of his story with Bryan Hoch in “Mission 27.” The same goes for CC Sabathia, who was obviously a huge acquisition for them. But we had delved into that entire story of how the Yankees recruited him and the impact he had in that last book. So I tried not to be too repetitive in terms of people reading and being like, “Wait a second, I read this in your last book.”

That makes sense.

But obviously with Jeter, I couldn’t write a Yankees book without a chapter about Derek Jeter. That wasn’t gonna happen. But I thought some of the bigger free agency signings they had guys like Mussina, Giambi — even though neither of them won a championship, you look at era of 2001 to just before 2010, those are two huge figures. They had to face the fact that they never won a World Series with the Yankees, and we talked about that — if they had any regrets about departing after ‘08 as the Yankees won the World Series the next year. They both sort of just accept that as part of their journey. Mussina obviously ended up in the Hall of Fame. Giambi retired after playing for a few more teams, and I wouldn’t be surprised at some point if we see him back in baseball.

But I remember after my first year, when they signed Giambi, that was thought of as the biggest free agent signing they had made since Reggie. It didn’t quite live up to it. He went through a lot of scandals, and there was a lot of interesting sort of aspects of his time in New York and I thought it would make for some fun reading.

All right, so the book came out on June 7th?

Yes sir. You can get it on Amazon, independent bookstores, or pretty much anywhere you can find books. Could be a good Father’s Day present for any big baseball fan, or Yankees fans in particular. I certainly encourage Yankees fans to pick it up, give it a read, and hit me up on Twitter to let me know how you like it!

Thanks again to Mark for his time.