September 27, 2012
In A Pickle
Free to Be We
The "we" debate is a weirdly durable one among those of us who enjoy meta-baseball arguments, those fights that aren't so much about the game as they are about how we interact with it. You'll see the topic spring up on Twitter every so often, as surely as you will discussion of the serial comma, The Wave, and whether Budweiser is an acceptable alternative to water for adult humans. By "the 'we' debate," I mean the question of whether it is "OK" for fans to refer to a team as "we." "We won last night, but it was awfully close;" "We need some power in the heart of the order if we're going to make any noise in the playoffs;" "We stink."
My experience of the two sides of the debate is that many people feel strongly that the "we" is illegitimate, a putting on airs, a usurpation of the rightful ownership of the victories of the men who actually play the game. Those who say "we," by contrast, seem often to not be wedded to the word so much as they are following long-formed mental pathways. They know they're not on the team, and I imagine most of them will admit that no matter how loud they cheer, they don't really have any effect on the field. But they say "we" and they see their use of the word as harmless. The players know full well who drove in the game-winning run, after all, and the first general manager who will be fooled into giving a fan a seven-figure deal to yell real loud hasn't been born yet.
I was put in mind of the "we" by Ray Negron and Sally Cook's recent book, Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers, published a few weeks ago by Liveright, a W.W. Norton imprint theoretically dedicated to "progressive literary sensibilities."
I raise and link to Liveright's puffery because Negron and Cook's book does not at first glance seem to fit beside works by Gail Collins, J.G. Ballard, or George Orwell. Unfortunately, that impression of incongruousness remains at second, third, and fourth glance. The easiest way to describe Yankee Miracles is to say that it is a recounting by Negron of his time in and around baseball, from the day he was plucked off the streets (literally) by George Steinbrenner and given a job as a clubhouse attendant, through his work keeping Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden on the straight and narrow, to his community liaison work with the team now that has him taking Brett Gardner to visit cancer patients.
You can imagine, if you have great powers of creativity and plenty of free time, such a work treading literary paths unknown, charting new territory in baseball nonfiction. It will come as no surprise to the reader, however, that Cook and Negron attempt no such adventure. I'm no expert on "reading levels," but I'd imagine plenty of average middle schoolers having no difficulty with the prose contained in Yankee Miracles. (Parents may want to screen the book first given the light cursing and occasional sexual theme, though there is no outright debauchery — in fact, for a book about the behind-the-scenes world of baseball, it's awfully, even suspiciously, clean).
Returning to my phrasing above, though: I referred to "the easiest way to describe the book," implying to the eagle-eyed reader that there's something else going on. And indeed there is. The problem is that articulating the nature of that "something else" is difficult. The chapters are mainly organized around individual Yankees — Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, and the aforementioned Brett Gardner each have their own chapter, though there is overlap between some of them. Munson's in-season death by plane crash and its effect on the team, for instance, is recounted in both his own chapter and that of Bobby Murcer. The book does not read as a collection of essays, however, giving the overlap the feel of unnecessary repetition rather than the intentional product of events being explored from multiple angles in independent pieces.