I think it’s safe to say there have been more books written about the New York Yankees and their personnel than any other baseball team. While there have been hundreds of titles that consider specific aspects of the Bronx Bombers --- their success in the World Series, or their slew of Hall of Famers (Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, etc.), or their place in American culture and society --- it’s been generations since a “definitive” history about the team has been released.
"[PINSTRIPE EMPIRE] is indeed a volume that deserves a special place in baseball’s literary canon."
That long “losing streak” ends with the publication of Marty Appel’s PINSTRIPE EMPIRE. Appel, who served as the Yankees’ public relations director in the mid-1970s and currently runs his own boutique sports PR firm, is the perfect person to take on this responsibility. The author of numerous sports titles, including the well-received MUNSON: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain, Appel goes beyond the usual facts and figures one would expect from this genre as he pays tribute to some of the lesser-known players and events that fill in the gaps of the more standard fascination seniors and aging boomers have with the marquee names such as the Ruths and Mantles, and the appreciation newer fans have for the Jeters and Riveras.
Having been a devotee of the ballclub long before he began working for them (he got his start as a 19-year-old answering Mantle’s voluminous fan mail), Appel is just as comfortable with the episodes that occurred before his arrival on the scene as the ones he can speak of firsthand. Stories about the Yankees’ early and less successful years (i.e., before they acquired The Bambino) are intriguing, especially when considered in hindsight. For example, we know now that first baseman Hal Chase, a member of the team from 1905-14 (he also served as player/manager of the Highlanders, as they were then known, for a couple of seasons) was a notorious gambler and game-thrower, but back in the day, he was feted more for his slick play and intelligence. Building the Yankees brand, including designing the iconic navy blue pinstripes and constructing baseball’s ultimate cathedral, “the” Yankee Stadium (as it was called for years), also serves to explain the lore of the franchise.
A less modest author might chat up his connection with the team much more than Appel does. On the other hand, he did have that insider’s view of the George Steinbrenner era, and it would be ridiculous to pretend otherwise and omit the more important events in which he was involved (the aftermath of Munson’s tragic death in 1979, or trying to deal with the ongoing conflicts between Steinbrenner and his parade of managers, including the tempestuous Billy Martin). Such insights are never offered with braggadocio; just the facts, ma’am, with a little self-deprecating humor tossed in.
In a nice touch, Frank Graham Jr., son of the author who had published THE NEW YORK YANKEES: AN INFORMAL HISTORY in 1943 --- Appel’s predecessor in terms of the “authoritative” story --- contributed the introduction to PINSTRIPE EMPIRE, as if passing a literary torch. It is indeed a volume that deserves a special place in baseball’s literary canon.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on June 29, 2012