Looking at an inaccurate Steinbrenner biographyBy
Where would the Yankees be right now without George Steinbrenner? It’s absolutely impossible to say for certain, other than “not like they are now.” Which can be a good thing or bad thing, depending on your worldview.
Whenever I see something George-related, my ears and eyes perk up. Peter Golenbock, of The Bronx Zoo fame, recently published a biography of The Boss, titled George: The Poor Little Rich Boy Who Built the Yankees Empire. It’s on my reading stack, but unfortunately it’s a ways down. Seeing as I might not get to it for a while, it was nice to see Hugging Harold Reynolds post an interview with the author, wherein he talks about his subject.
While the whole interview is worth a look, my favorite part came when HHR asked Golenbock about Hal and Hank — specifically about how the team will be run and how it will be different from their father’s reign. Says Golenbock:
What the Yankee fans can expect in years to come is a much more rational approach to running the team. With George at the helm, he would ignore the advice of his talented baseball scouts and general managers, often making stupid or ill-advised personnel decisions. Buying Steve Trout was just one of many such decisions. Hal and Hank will be more likely to trust their baseball people and sign players who will help them more often than not. The signing of Sabathia, Burnett, and Teixeira are proof that they will sign talented players, not too-old retreats or pitchers with reputations who are injured, as George did. Since the Yankees will be making a fortune from ticket sales and from the YES nature, their overspending won’t break the bank. In my opinion, the Yankees will be a much more dangerous franchise going forward.
A franchise more dangerous than one which won six championships under George? Now that’s scary good. Then again, citing only those six championship seasons overlooks a number of other factors, including the Yankees cellar dwelling in the late 80s, and that the late 90s dynasty was assembled while George was banned from baseball. Still, to say that the franchise will be run better seems a bit of a stretch.
Why isn’t George higher up on my reading list? Other than having more interesting books ahead of it, there’s another reason: factual accuracy. Murray Chass (h/t BBTF) points to Goldenbock’s history of inaccuracies, and warns of much the same from George. This isn’t just Chass’s criticism; these errors have been acknowledged by the book’s publisher, John Wiley & Sons.
What does that mean? It means that Goldenbock has written another baseball book, another book about the Yankees, and that’s not good. In fact, it’s downright dangerous. It’s dangerous because whenever he has written a baseball book, Golenbock has created errors for posterity.
Years from now some kid will take a Golenbock book out of his school library and think he is reading an accurate history. Golenbock and accuracy are an oxymoron.
The review includes an expression of regret from the author for the mistakes and a statement from the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, which said in part, “Regarding Peter Golenbock’s book, we are currently taking steps internally to correct the errors which will be reflected in the next reprint.”
But the reviewer must be faulted, too. “As an avid baseball fan,” he writes, “I’ve enjoyed Golenbock’s past works, which include collaborations with former Yankees Graig Nettles, Billy Martin and Sparky Lyle. Those associations gave me good reason to expect ‘George’ to be interesting and entertaining.”
How could he have read those other Golenbock books without finding the same kind of faulty writing he exposed in “George?” He would have had to have read the books with his eyes closed not to see them. The Lyle book, “The Bronx Zoo,” for example, contains 68 factual errors.
Sixty-eight factual errors. Don’t they pay people to go through books and find these? It might seem like Chass nitpicks with some of these errors, but I don’t take issue at all. If Golenbock is making simple errors on things like hotel names and the handedness of a batter (uh, Duke Snider was a righty?), what other lazy errors is he making?
One of these days, we’re going to get an 800-page biography of Mr. Steinbrenner, and it will be glorious. It won’t dabble in psychology and try to define George’s various compulsions and neuroses. It will cover the man and his effect on the people around him. Hey, maybe that’s a future RAB project. I think we’d have more than a few willing participants.