“The 1998 Yankees: The Inside Story of the Greatest Baseball Team Ever,” by Jack Curry (Twelve)
Twenty-five years ago this fall, the New York Yankees won the World Series for the 24th time, part of a six-year run in which they won baseball’s championship four times. Jack Curry, who now works as an analyst for the Yankees’ regional sports network, believes the 1998 team was nonpareil and has written a book to make his case.
Curry was a national baseball reporter for the New York Times that year and knew then that the team was special. But a quarter century later, he’s unequivocal: “The Yankees were supreme in every category,” writes Curry, before sharing a slew of dominant statistics like runs scored, runs against, defensive efficiency and fewest errors allowed.
And while the eye-popping stats help make the case (a 125-50 record counting the postseason and a ridiculous 93-1 when leading after seven innings), Curry bolsters the numbers with fresh interviews of the players and team personnel. Most of the principals are featured, save late owner George Steinbrenner, and while they don’t plow a ton of new ground, it’s fun for Yankees fans to relive the season again through their eyes. “Time, it was clear,” writes Curry, “had made them even prouder.”
Who can forget David Wells’ perfect game after a hard night of drinking?
“If I was pulled over” on the drive to Yankee Stadium, Wells recalls, “I would have gotten a DUI.” Or the late-season call-up of perennial minor leaguer Shane Spencer, whose eight home runs in the month of September propelled the Bronx Bombers into the postseason?
“I played for 17 years and it doesn’t happen where you get in a zone and you almost know what the guy is going to throw,” Spencer tells Curry. Fans will also like hearing again from superstar shortstop Derek Jeter, manager Joe Torre, and Orlando “El Duque” Hernández, a nebulously aged Cuban baseball star who fled Havana on a boat like thousands of his countrymen, but ended up a Yankee thanks to a quick-thinking sports agent he met in the Bahamas.
Baseball fans who love to hate the Yankees can still appreciate the book, but probably won’t enjoy it as much as anyone who owns merchandise with that classic interlocking N and Y. These Yankees were professional baseball killers who didn’t mind heeding Steinbrenner’s no facial hair rule. They went to work every day, pounded teams into submission, and did it all again and again from April to October.
“The 1998 Yankees” sets out to convince readers that the team was incomparable, but by the end Curry assumes a classic pose familiar to sports fans. You can picture him at a bar with friends, or calling into a sports radio show, as he asserts in his closing chapter why the 1906 Chicago Cubs or the 1929 Oakland Athletics or Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s just don’t stack up against the 1998 New York Yankees.
This story has been corrected to say Curry was a national baseball reporter for the New York Times and that he works for the YES Network, which the Yankees are majority owners.
Rob Merrill, The Associated Press