As a Red Sox fan I thought I had heard it all when it came to the glory of the New York Yankees and their 27 World Series titles. It’s a refrain frequently presented in a matter of fact tone to anyone with the audacity to challenge the place of the Yankees at the top of the baseball world. As it turns out there is a treasure trove of fascinating stories behind the successes (and occasional failures) of baseball’s preeminent franchise, and they have been marvelously captured by Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees From Before the Babe to After the Boss (ISBN 978-1608194926), the most recent book by Marty Appel.
Pinstripe Empire is a historical compendium of the most revered franchise in professional sports. Many works in the baseball history genre tend to use statistics to tell the story. While Appel shares important numbers, he doesn’t hit the reader over the head with them, but instead relies on an impressive collection of anecdotes, quotes, and other inside information to weave his narrative tapestry. He speaks on good authority too, having spent a number of years working for the Yankees- first handling Mickey Mantle’s mail and then working his way up to the team’s PR Director position. After leaving the team in the 1970’s he went on to an acclaimed writing career, authoring 18 books, including biographies of King Kelly and Thurman Munson.
At 620 pages Pinstripe Empire is robust to say the least, but is so out of necessity, meticulously covering every Yankees season through 2011. Appel includes all the salient information while including a generous portion of inside stories. From the specifics of each Billy Martin firing and subsequent re-hiring, to Babe Ruth’s habit of not flushing the toilet being the one lasting memory of the Bambino by a long-time clubhouse employee, this comprehensive history is full of depth and substance.
I love baseball and I love history, and any book that is written in a way that satisfies both genres is a rare but welcome treat. Pinstripe Empire is that kind of book. Putting away personal rooting interests, it’s impossible to not be drawn into the story of the Yankees and the way they have become woven into the American fabric over the past century. Love them or hate them the Bronx Bombers are the gold standard in sports and are the model of America’s pastime. Appel helps the reader not only understand the team and its past, but also how they fit in the baseball landscape and the larger story of America.
Less ambitious books would be satisfied to recount all the famous home runs and past headline stories; content that they had given an accurate depiction of their subject. Much of the beauty in Appel’s opulent work is in the wonderfully incidental and often forgotten details that are so important in telling an accurate story. Many people have heard of Babe Ruth’s called home run in the 1932 World Series or Reggie Jackson earning his “Mr. October” moniker in 1977. But how many can remember the trouble in getting old Yankee Stadium built on the site of the Hebrew Orphans Home or how Hall of Fame front office man Larry Macphail punched his way out of his stake in the team’ss ownership the night they won the 1947 World Series?
Appel includes a bibliography of cited works, something always appreciated by historians. While he utilized more books than periodicals as his sources, he has done such a thorough job of researching that only the most nitpicky of academics could find fault.
Perhaps the most complimentary thing that can be said about Pinstripe Empire is that after reading it even this dyed in the wool Red Sox fan can understand how the Yankees are so alluring to so many. Marty Appel has created a real gem; one that is worthy to be on the bookshelf of any historian, baseball fan, or just someone seeking a good read.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the book being reviewed by the publisher, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.
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