During the 1990s, when the New York Yankees went from the worst stretch in franchise history to a new dynasty of four championships in five years, Pennington (Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius) covered the team for the New York Times, then a local newspaper. Here he revisits that subject and all the principals involved in a look back at how the Yankees not only returned to winning, but more important, restructured their operations into a more sustainable system that's continued to produce winning teams well into the 21st century. The key element was the commissioner's suspension of blustery owner George Steinbrenner that allowed general manager Gene Michael to move away from a short-sighted, panic-driven management style to a more patient, long-term approach. Surprisingly, even Steinbrenner himself transformed his approach once he returned and saw the results. The contacts Pennington established then enable him to retell the story with the broader perspective time provides. VERDICT This well-written account of the building of a new Yankee dynasty in the 1990s is deeply informed by the author's extensive interviews and will be enjoyed by all baseball fans.—John Maxymuk, Rutgers Univ.-Camden Lib., NJ
New York Times sportswriter Pennington (Billy Martin; The Heisman) draws on his decades of reporting to offer a fast-paced, insider history of the 1990s New York Yankees. Pennington charts the steady resurgence of the Yankees from a “cloak of doom” in the 1980s to a powerhouse that dominated the sport in the decade following. Pennington shows how manager Buck Showalter built the new team by strengthening the farm system, and explains how the famously mercurial owner George Steinbrenner recovered from a 1990 ban he received from commissioner Fay Vincent (for paying someone to smear right fielder Dave Winfield), returning to the organization in 1993 calmer and more willing to let others, like GM Gene Michael, run the team. Along the way Pennington introduces the rookies who rose up from the Yankees minor league system: shortstop Derek Jeter, pitcher Andy Pettitte, catcher Jorge Posada, and reliever Mariano Rivera (“we didn’t know what we had with Mariano,” recalls Showalter). Excitement builds as Pennington takes the narrative through the 1995 season, to the moment when veteran first baseman Don Mattingly shed tears after clinching a wild card playoff berth—the team’s first since 1981. Pennington’s work is a must for Yankees fans, but also an exciting history for any baseball aficionados. (May)
"In Chumps to Champs, Bill Pennington delivers one of the greatest modern baseball stories never told by taking the reader into the boiler room of the Yankee machine that churned out four titles in five years. Pennington combines his relentless reporting skills and poetic writing with his experience on the beat to profile the imperfect men who built a perfect dynasty in a book that—much like those Yankees—will be talked about for decades."
—Ian O’Connor, author of New York Times bestsellers Belichick and The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter
“Bill Pennington spins a richly detailed narrative of the fall and rise of the Yankees. From the comedically bad Yankees of the early '90s to the quiet genius of Gene Michael, the pages sparkle with forgotten and previously untold nuggets.”
—Tom Verducci, New York Times bestselling author "I lived this era as both a newspaper man and a Yankee broadcaster and it all comes rushing back to me off these pages. Bill Pennington has researched this time with such artful thoroughness that he has uncovered gems that the deepest Yankeeologist will look at as illuminating and surprising. A superb book, and a step-by-step, move-by-move blueprint on how the Yankees got from 'Chumps to Champs.'"—Michael Kay, voice of the Yankees on YES Network and host of The Michael Kay Show on ESPN Radio in New York
"Joining the Fox broadcast team in 1996, I watched a new era of Yankees World Series champions unfold but knew less about the struggling teams that preceded them. Pennington’s entertaining, well-researched account pulls back the curtain on the tumultuous times that laid the foundation for greatness."
—Joe Buck, Fox Sports' lead baseball broadcaster “Pennington’s deeply perceptive analysis . . . is the result of interviews (with Stump Merrill, Buck Showalter, and many others) conducted over a long period and a deep understanding of the sport and the business of baseball. Many baseball books cover similar reversals, but few reach Pennington’s level in explaining the dynamics . . . His attention to the critical details of the lives of both the players (from their teenage roots) and the front-office personnel is unusually penetrating . . . The book is intelligent and memorable.”—Booklist, *starred* review "Pennington draws on his decades of reporting to offer a fast-paced, insider history of the 1990s New York Yankees . . . Pennington’s work is a must for Yankees fans, but also an exciting history for any baseball aficionados."—Publishers Weekly "Pennington writes a mixture of interviews, biographies, on-the-field action, and fierce front-office politics that will not put off Yankee haters but will also entertain their fans who know that the story has a happy ending."—Kirkus Reviews “This well-written account of the building of a new Yankee dynasty in the 1990s is deeply informed by the author's extensive interviews and will be enjoyed by all baseball fans.” — Library Journal
Although the greatest baseball team of the past century, the New York Yankees were the worst for a period 30 years ago. An award-winning sports reporter offers an energetic account of their miseries.
After appearing in the 1981 World Series, the team went into a steep decline, writes New York Times sportswriter Pennington (Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius, 2015). From 1989 to 1992, the team had the worst four-year record since becoming the Yankees in 1913. Observers, Pennington included, blame George Steinbrenner (1930-2010), the Yankees owner from 1973 until his death. An extremely hands-on boss, Steinbrenner fired personnel in droves, interfered in day-to-day operations, and hurt morale by insulting players and coaches. Worse, enamored with free agents, he signed players who didn't pan out, costing the team picks in the amateur draft as compensation. Added to this was a penchant for trading young prospects (Fred McGriff, Doug Drabek) for aging stars. "By 1989," writes the author, "the Yankees minor league system, filled with accomplished managers and coaches, had been stripped of talent." Pennington rightly dates the beginning of the revival to Steinbrenner's two-year banishment in 1990 for involvement with a gambler, after which manager Buck Showalter and general manager Gene Michael, free of interference, fixed matters. They nurtured slow-maturing but ultimately brilliant prospects—including Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, and Andy Pettitte—revived the intense camaraderie that had always been a Yankee trademark, and made intelligent trades. In 1994, the team was leading the league, but a strike eliminated the World Series. In 1995, they won the division but lost in the playoffs, after which Steinbrenner, in his last nasty act, fired most of the staff responsible for the revival, including Showalter. In 1996, the familiar world returned; the Yankees won the Series and continue doing so regularly.
Pennington writes a mixture of interviews, biographies, on-the-field action, and fierce front-office politics that will not put off Yankee haters but will also entertain their fans who know that the story has a happy ending.