May 19, 2019

Book Review: “This BAD DAY in Yankees History”

May 25, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Gabriel Schechter’s book, This BAD DAY is Yankees History, doesn’t just bash the Yankees, it also takes the reader on a fascinating trip through baseball’s past.

When I received my copy of Schechter’s book, I couldn’t wait to crack it open.  I’m a Red Sox fan and the title told me everything I needed to know; I was about to embark on a daily journey into Yankee misery, starting on January 1 and going all the way through to New Year’s Eve.  I couldn’t have been more excited had the book been titled, The Day the Yankees crashed Into the Andes and Ate Each Other (had that actually occurred in 1996-1997, God help those survivors who got too close to Cecil Fielder).

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The book didn’t disappoint.  The foreword was written by former Red Sox southpaw and icon, Bill Lee, who was a perfect choice to introduce readers to Schechter’s manuscript.  No one had a more adversarial relationship with the Yankees than “The Spaceman,” who once compared Yankees manager Billy Martin to Herman Goering and referred to the Bronx Bombers as “George Steinbrenner’s Nazis.”  Lee’s foreword was as entertaining as you’d imagine it would be.

After the introduction, the book jumps right into January 1 which features two anecdotes, the first of which details the sale of the club to Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston in 1915, which actually proved to be the best thing that ever happened to the franchise, and the second of which consists of a quote circa 1984 from a fan lamenting the presence of Steinbrenner and predicting a “long stage of dormancy” for the team (I don’t know if I’d call 10 years “long,” but the Yankees did have a relatively rough time from 1984-1993).

From there, each day includes multiple passages from throughout the team’s history, chronicling everything from the fairly innocuous—Joe Dimaggio’s marriage to Marilyn Monroe in 1954—to the potentially disastrous—hiring notorious game-fixer Hal Chase to manage the team in 1910—to the ridiculous—Billy Martin being hired to manage the Yankees five different times (he would have managed them a sixth time had he not died in 1989).  Each page also includes quotes of the day, like the classic line from the .203 hitting Hank Bauer who responded to allegations that he punched a heckler in the nose in the infamous Copacabana nightclub incident in 1957 by saying, “Hit him?  Why, I haven’t hit anybody all year.”

There are two things I especially enjoyed about the book, 1) being taken back to my childhood when the Steinbrenner/Martin/Reggie Jackson Yankees were as much a three-ring circus as a baseball team, and 2) reading about players and events that I’ve run across during my own research for several projects.

The former included Jackson’s “I’m the straw that stirs the drink” comment in Sport Magazine in 1977, a dugout altercation between Martin and Jackson at Fenway Park that same year, and Martin’s 1978 declaration that, “One’s a born liar (Jackson), the other’s convicted (Steinbrenner),” which led to his resignation a day later.  The ’78 season was humorously chronicled in The Bronx Zoo by former Yankees reliever Sparky Lyle and esteemed author Peter Golenbock, who wrote about the trials, tribulations, and clubhouse antics of the Yanks while they fought back from a 14 1/2 game deficit in July, then beat the Red Sox, Royals, and Dodgers on their way to a World Series title.

Schechter includes anecdotes about those seasons as well, and brings new information to light, including draft bungles that included taking Rex Hudler, Matt Winters, and Brian Ryder in the ’78 amateur draft and bypassing Cal Ripken Jr., Ryne Sandberg, Kent Hrbek, Mike Boddicker, Steve Bedrosian, Kirk Gibson, Bob Horner, and Dave Stieb.  Every team has experienced poor drafts, and it almost appears as if Schechter is piling on, but the fact that the Bronx Bombers passed up on the “Iron Man,” to take the “Wonder Dog” is too delicious not to merit a mention.

The second thing I enjoyed about the book—the quick trips through the early 20th century—includes stories that had been lost to the last few generations of fans, including a recounting of center fielder Whitey Witt being nailed between the eyes by a soda bottle during a 1922 game in St. Louis.  Witt was knocked unconscious and suffered lacerations to his head.  He came back the next day with his head wrapped in bandages and drove in the winning run.

I was already familiar with that story because I’d researched it before.  American League president Ban Johnson investigated the incident and eventually rewarded a salesman from St. Louis named James Hon for coming forward with information. Hon, whose seat was near the spot where the injury occurred, was given tickets to the World Series, a check for $100, and round-trip transportation between St. Louis and New York for explaining to Johnson that Witt inadvertently hit himself in the head with the bottle when he stepped on the bottle’s neck while running, causing it to “bounce up and strike him.”

Then there’s the one about 41-game winner Jack Chesbro uncorking a wild pitch in the ninth inning of the second-to-last game of the 1904 season, giving Boston a 3-2 victory and the pennant.  Those were the days the Red Sox (known then as the “Americans”) competed with Connie Mack’s A’s for A.L. domination before George Herman Ruth became a member of the Evil Empire.

Of course, Schechter makes his living as a researcher at the Hall of Fame, and I expected nothing less than well-researched anecdotes.  I wasn’t disappointed, nor will you be.  Read it straight through from January 1 to December 31 or use it as a calendar and read it a day at a time; either way you’ll be entertained and educated.

To purchase the book and see more of Gabriel’s work check out his web site at: http://charlesapril.com/

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