A Yankee Century
With Harvey Frommer,
Friday, Oct. 11, 2002; Noon ET
From the Yankees historic start in 1903 to their string of 26 World Series championships, the New York Yankees have given baseball fans "a century of triumphs and heartbreaks, legends and lore."
Author Harvey Frommer was online Friday, Oct. 11 at Noon ET, to talk about his latest book, "A Yankee Century," a definitive chronology of one of America's legendary sports teams.
The book offers exclusive interviews with Mel Allen, Yogi Berra, Bob Feller to name a few, as well as portraits of the greats from Mickey Mantle, Don Mattingly, Joltin' Joe DiMaggio to Derek Jeter.
Frommer is the author of more than 30 sports books, including the classics "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," "New York City Baseball," and "The New York Yankee Encyclopedia." He wrote for Yankees Magazine for 16 years. Together with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer, he authored the critically acclaimed oral histories such as "It Happened in Manhattan," "It Happened in Brooklyn," "It Happened on Broadway," "It Happened in the Catskills," and "Growing Up Jewish in America." Frommer is a professor in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program at Dartmouth College, and a longtime Yankee fan.
The transcript follows.
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Harvey Frommer: It's just wonderful being on washingtonpost.com again and talking about a topic dear to my heart, baseball! It was a lot of fun writing "A Yankee Century" and although people call me one of the leading experts on the team, even I was able to discover new things about baseball's greatest franchise in doing my research and interviewing. I hope some of the washingtonpost.com readers will be able to pick up a copy of the book. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
Philadelphia, Pa.: What makes this book unique? How does this compare to your other big Yankee book -- "The New York Yankee Encyclopedia?"
Harvey Frommer: In a way writing "A Yankee Century" was competing with myself because I wrote "The New York Yankee Encyclopedia" which critics have called the definitive book on the team. So I had to include new and different things in the current book to make it unique and different from the other one. A few of the things that are different is a Yankee datebook which goes through year by year recounting the most significant dates for the franchise. There is also a section on the Yankees by the numbers, oral histories in the book and an entire section, "Talking Yankees," which is a section on Yankees talking and people talking about the team. Plus there are more than 250 photos -- many that had never been published.
Salt Lake City, Utah: What happened to the Yankees this year?
Harvey Frommer: What happened this year? They lost.
New York, N.Y.: What is your favorite Yankee story?
Harvey Frommer: I have dozens of them and they are all in the book.
Newark, N.J.: Who was the best Yankee manager?
Harvey Frommer: In my opinion, the best Yankee manager was Casey Stengel, who said "There comes a time in every man's life and I've had plenty of them." He sure did. Only once in his dozen years as manager of the Yankees did his teams win fewer than 90 games. His Yankee career managing record was 1,149 wins and 696 losses, a winning percentage of .623. He knew how to handle the media, he knew how to handle players and he knew how to handle the opposition teams. I actually had the good fortune of meeting and interviewing him. Unfortunately, it wasn't when he was the Yankee manager, it was when he was the manager of the Mets -- and that's a whole different story.
Hanover, N.H.: Who was the greatest Yankee?
Harvey Frommer: In my humble opinion, Babe Ruth. Bigger than life, greater then them all, the Babe was an incredible pitcher which a lot of people might not realize but a far greater slugger. He had so many nicknames, probably more than any other in baseball. A few of them that underscored how great he was -- the Bambino, the King of Clout, the Rajah of Rap, the Sultan of Swat, the Colossus of Clout and the Wali of Wallop. He was an original and a great one.
New York, N.Y.: What is the significance of the book's title?
Harvey Frommer: The significance of the title is that the Yankees came into existence is 1903 and 2003 is the hundredth anniversary of the team. Hence, the title of "A Yankee Century." The title is a celebration of the first 100 years of baseball's greatest team.
Boston, Mass.: Were there any surprises for you as you went about researching and writing the book?
Harvey Frommer: Not really except as I point out in my introductory remarks in the book. I did learn quite a few new things and that is why I created a section called "A Yankee Quiz" -- some of those things I learned became questions in the quiz.
For example, on page 359 of the book:
15. Who was the player Don Larsen struck out for the final out in his perfect game?
The answer is Dale Mitchell.
16. Who was the first major-leaguer to hit two grand slams in one game?
A. Babe Ruth B.Lou Gehrig C.Mickey Mantle or D.Tony Lazzeri?
The answer is Tony Lazzeri in 1936.
On a negative note, there was a surprise for me at the lack of cooperation of the public relations department of the New York Yankees for the book, especially by a man named Rick Cerone.
Lyme, Conn.: Yogi Berra states he didn't say much of what people say he said. What are some of your favorite things Yogi did say?
Harvey Frommer: I have an entire section on Yogi Berra quotes. The section has not only what he has said but what other people have said about him. Some examples of the funny quotes are what Casey Stengel said, that he had fallen in a sewer and came up with a gold watch. Another quote is that Yogi's face is his fortune by Mike Stanley. I believe those two statements about Yogi are very true. He is an original and a really nice man and that is why I think people like him so much.
The beloved quality that has attached itself to Yogi, came from what he said and no one else really has that quality today.
New York, N.Y.: You are a well known oral historian as well as a celebrated sports author. Is there oral history in "A Yankee Century?"
Harvey Frommer: Thanks so much for asking that question. There are some oral histories indeed in the book from fans, former players and opponents of the Yankees. Andy Carey, who was a Yankee star in the 1950's contributed his memories of Mickey Mantle. Monte Irvin, who spent his career as a major leaguer with the N.Y. Giants reminisced about going to a Yankee stadium as a kid when he lived in New Jersey. He had eloquent things to say. He observed what it was like playing the Yankees at a World Series when he was playing for the Giants. Bill Valentine was an American League Umpire in 1960's. His oral history memoir is about a five year feud he had with Mickey Mantle. And Jerry Coleman was a Yankee star in the late 1940's and 50's and he speaks about the Yankee mystique tradition and the way of life in his oral history.
Those oral histories are some of my favorite entries in the entire book.
Queens, N.Y.: I heard a rumor that you are a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Any truth to that?
Harvey Frommer: You have blown my cover. I am a Yankees fan overall but in the National League, I root for the Cardinals. I can't help myself.
Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: From the plug for today's session: "The book offers exclusive interviews with Mel Allen, Yogi Berra, Bob Feller to name a few," -- Bob Feller was a Yankee? That must come as a real shock to his surviving fans in Cleveland who still recall the 20 years he played for the "Sons of Geronimo" (Indians)? When did Bob Feller wear pinstripes? Thanks much.
Harvey Frommer: Bob Feller was never a Yankee but he pitched against the Yankees. Interviewing him gave me a lot of insights to see what it was like for him to do that. Feller was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history and he pitched for the Cleveland Indians when they were in their glory years. He discusses what it was like to come up against the great Yankee teams against his great fastball.
Alexandria, Va.: Who's better, Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds?
Harvey Frommer: The Babe.
Washington, D.C.: The Nation's Capital: Without Baseball for 30 Years: The old saying goes that routing for the Yankees is like routing for U.S. Steel, which would now be like routing for Microsoft. Do Yankees fans ever feel this embarrassment of riches, knowing that money can buy them whatever they want, or is winning 'the only thing'?
Also, do you feel, like many do, that the Yankees early elimination this year is 'good for baseball'?
Harvey Frommer: I don't think so. Having Yankees playing in October makes for a lot of excitement. For those of us who root for the team, we are deprived of a lot of enjoyment.
I don't really agree with the Yankee bashing that money buys everything. The Yankees have not been successful only because of money but because of owners like George Steinbrenner who are willing to go out to get an all winner. They have an incredible scouting network, a tradition and they just get the job done.
Somewhere, USA: Not a surprised Steinbrenner/his minions didn't cooperate. Cerone, by the way, played for them. Didn't you know that?
Harvey Frommer: That was a different Cerone. That was a catcher who played for the team a few decades back.
Kensington, Md.: Do you think the Yankees have essentially been buying championships recently by acquiring high priced free agents? And if so, what went wrong this year?
Harvey Frommer: Basically the team lost really "professional" players like Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez and replaced them with others who were not so "professional." There were also some pitching problems. But the Yankees will be back!
Miami, Fla.: More than 32 sports books and five oral histories and hundreds of articles -- how do you do it? You are sure one of the most prolific writers around. What is your secret?
Harvey Frommer: Thank you for your compliment. I enjoy working. It is my life and my love (next to my wife, Myrna).
Pittsburgh, Pa.: Is this the favorite book you have written?
Harvey Frommer: Anytime I have a current book out, it is my favorite book. An especially favorite book is "Growing Up Baseball" because the co-author was my son, Fred Frommer.
washingtonpost.com: Transcript: Harvey and Fred Frommer on "Growing Up Baseball" (Post, April 1)
Washington, D.C.: Countless baseball fans cheered the elimination of the Yankees from the playoffs. There are Yankee-haters galore. When did this ill-will originate? Do you think it's connected to a general disgust non-New Yorkers traditionally have had for the city itself (which has probably softened since 9-11)? Or, are the critics just jealous?
Harvey Frommer: I think the ill-will against the Yankees has come about through most of the items that you allude to. I do think it has softened since 9-11. But all the Yankee winning through all the years has made fans of other teams resentful. My son Fred and I are working on an update on one of baseball's greatest rivalries, the Yankees and Red Sox, which will come out next year around this time. Working on this new project has shown how many Yankee haters there are in Red Sox country. Maybe they have a right to hate because they constantly come runner up to the Bronx Bombers.
Herndon, Va.: Mr. Frommer: Do you agree that "the Yankee mystique" effects the fan/media evaluation of player? For example, with no offense meant to Phil Rizzuto, I believe his being a Yankee is why he's in the Hall of Fame. The same statistics with, say, Philadelphia, and he's recognized as a good shortstop.
Harvey Frommer: I do not agree with you. Perhaps being a Yankee and playing in New York city gets a player more exposure but not automatic edge for the Hall of Fame. I believe that Phil Rizzuto is in the Hall of Fame because he belongs there.
Newark, N.J.: Who was, or is, your favorite Yankee?
Harvey Frommer: My favorite Yankee was Joe DiMaggio. He personified the team. Phil Rizzuto said that there was an aura about him. That aura remains through the years. I believe that his 56th game hitting streak is one of baseball's greatest accomplishments and that it will not be broken. His former manager, Joe McCarthy said "He never made a mistake on the basis in the outfield or up at bat." DiMaggio in 13 years as a Yankee won three MVP awards, two batting titles, and was named the All Star team every season he played. He averaged 118 RBI's a season and had a 325 lifetime batting average. Perhaps the most incredible statistic is that he slammed 361 homeruns and he struck out just 369 times in his career. The statistics don't even tell half the story. He was the Yankee Clipper, the personification of the team's greatness and glory.
Arlington, Va.: While you may not be satisfied with the performance of the revolving door in the Yankees' corner outfield positions, I doubt I'd call Giambi anything but "professional". They simply elected to pursue offense over defense, and their once-great pitching is showing serious signs of age.
Harvey Frommer: Giambi was not in my frame of reference. I agree with everything else you said.
Laurel, Md.: The only time in baseball history when rich teams did not have an insuperable advantage in acquiring talent was the period between the institution of the amateur draft in 1965 and the beginning of the free agency era in 1974.
This period precisely matches the worst in Yankee history.
Haven't the Yankees, in one way or another, been buying championships since Babe Ruth?
Harvey Frommer: You could say that but other owners could have also spent the money, and some have but they have never gotten the same results the Yankees have.
Washington, D.C.: Not being a Yankee fan myself (I root for that team in Queens) it seems to me the real root of the animus towards the Yankees is not the team itself, or even Steinbrenner, but rather the arrogance of the fan base. It seems that these people feel that they have a birthright to win every championship, to be the best this and the best that, where most reasonable people know that you can't be dominant all the time.
Harvey Frommer: There is a degree of arrogance among Yankee fans but I wouldn't call it quite arrogance. I would call it confidence. Perhaps these fans have been spoiled by the Yankees winning so many times. That's the breaks of the game.
Harrisburg, Pa.: One of my all time favorite players was Ron Guidry. When he was at his best, he was one of the greater pitchers ever. Indeed, it seems few realize he ranks statistically as one of the all-time great Yankee pitchers. What are your impressions of Ron Guidry?
Harvey Frommer: I have Ron Guidry profiled in the section "A Yankees Who's Who" and he was one of my favorite players. In 1978, he won 25 games and lost only three. He said "Winning 25 games in the big leagues is easy, it's only losing three games that's hard." He was called Louisiana Lightning and Gator, both tip the hat of his Louisiana roots. He wasn't a very big man but for 13 seasons, he was one of the top Yankees pitchers of all time. I had the privilege of meeting him and he was a real southern gentleman and a tremendous competitor. Thanks for the question!
Washington, D.C.: Having written so many books on sports, it must take a lot to intrigue you. What, in particular, drew you to examining a century of Yankees' history? What part of the story did you enjoy exploring the most?
Harvey Frommer: Most books on the Yankees celebrate the teams and go into the positive aspects and winning. I have a section on the great Yankee teams and it was fun to research them and write about. But I also thought it would be interesting to include information on the worst Yankee teams and I have profile of the 1912 Yankees - a team that won 50 games and lost 102 with a winning percentage of .329. They finished 55 games behind Boston.
The 1966 team won 70 and lost 89 and had a .440 winning percentage. They finished in last place, 26 1/2 games behind Baltimore.
Then we have the 1990 also on my worst Yankee list. They won 67 but lost 95 and a winning percentage of .414. They finished 21 games behind Boston. These teams will give Yankee haters something pleasurable to read about.
Getting back to your question, even though the franchise has been successful, there have been bumps along the road. I enjoyed exploring that part of the story because even the mighty have their down times.
Washington, D.C.: We all know so much about the Yankee greats of the past, but what are some of the more interesting stories about the new Yankees players?
Harvey Frommer: The interesting stories of the new Yankee players, despite the team being knocked out this year, is that there still is a bright future. Especially with a nucleus of players such as Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano and Bernie Williams and so many more. These are the Yankee greats of today and of tomorrow. They are still writing their stories.
Harvey Frommer: Once again it was a great pleasure for me to be on washingtonpost.com and to interact with all the nice people there. I thank all of those who sent in interesting, controversial and informative questions and I look forward to being on again in the near future.
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.
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