If ever there was a book aimed directly at our hearts, the new offering from Harvey and Frederic Frommer, Red Sox vs. Yankees, is surely it. When our copies arrived last week, courtesy of the fine folks at Sports Publishing Ltd., we were quick to unwrap these prizes. Alas, our fear that the contents might not meet with our admittedly high expectations began to grow before we even reached chapter one. Let’s say this: any book that places Michael Dukakis next to Ari Fleischer in its acknowledgments, and does so with no apparent sense of irony, is best approached with a fair degree of skepticism.
And in this case skepticism is warranted, for all too often Red Sox vs. Yankees seems content to simply cash in on the rivalry it pretends to celebrate. It’s a large-format, illustrated book, but many of the crucial moments in the series are left unpictured (how could there be no shot of Bucky’s homer?!). There are so many typos you have to wonder if the whole thing was proofread by Chico Esquela—and this is especially egregious as Frommer pere (Harvey) is a professor at Dartmouth and Frommer fils (Frederic) reports for AP—so they should know better.
In its research the book tends to laziness. Red Smith’s “Rooting for the New York Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel” is here run unattributed, and with GM incorrectly substituted as the corporate behemoth. Despite a chapter rather clumsily entitled “The Mood, the Culture,” the authors spend practically no time examining how these two teams stand as metaphors for the cities they represent.
More seriously, they seem congenitally incapable of bringing drama to material that is inherently dramatic. Much of the text is devoted to extended recapitulations of key games—not in itself a problem—but the authors do little more than limn the news accounts without adding anything of value. (YF’s pet peeve: For all the hemming and hawing about Bucky Bleepin’ Dent, it would have been nice to have the authors note that Mike Torrez was clearly running out of gas when he gave up the famous hit, and that in retrospect the situation has more than a little in common with the events of the 2003 ALCS.) Barring any trenchant analysis of their own, the Frommers might well have made use of the rich catalog of writing on the rivalry: the works of Halberstam or Angell, for example, or the countless first-hand accounts by the likes of Bouton, Lyle, or even Don Zimmer. Alas they have not.
Is it all bad? Well, no. There are some handy lists and stats and quotes (boy are there quotes—that’s where Dukakis and Fleisher come in). And it is handy to have an annotated game log lying about for reference. Just don’t expect too much. It’s an April publication, and you know what they say about baseball in April.