Book Summary: The New York Yankees won the World Series four times between 1996-2000. This book is the story of the New York Yankees of the 1990s, who were the worse team in baseball for a brief period.
I didn’t entirely understand why Chumps to Champs opened with Andy Hawkin’s no-hitter on July 1, 1990. No-hitters are always celebrated and reflected upon for decades. There was the only problem with this particular no-hitter. Hawkins lost the game 4-0, and Major League Baseball stripped Hawkins of his no-hitter.
At the time, no one would fully comprehend that day would go on, to sum up, the current state of the once-revered New York Yankees. Since they last played in the World Series (1981), it had been a long time and still had one of baseball’s best players in their lineup, Don Mattingly. They also had one of the game’s most eager and festy owners, George Steinbrenner. Despite all their attempts at winning, the New York Yankees were just a shell of their former selves.
This book documents their slow and painful rise from mediocrity to World Championships. It showcases all the managerial changes Steinbrenner would pull the trigger because the guy was never happy unless they were winning.
A great deal of the stories focuses on Buck Showalter, who was the manager of the big team from 1992-1995. Buck’s career with the Yankees started in 1990 when everything was a mess. Showalter played a vital part in helping the organization with scouting and coaching. I always knew Buck Showalter as the manager of the Baltimore Orioles (2010-2018). I had no clue he was a former Yankees manager, never mind such a great baseball mind. This guy studied film for hours every day and was willing to do anything to make his manager career in the major league happen. Thanks to this book, I was able to appreciate everything Showalter contributed to the game.
The book doesn’t shy away from the controversies that ignited clubhouse fights (hair cuts), ongoing battles with the players (Dave Winnfield), and the legal troubles with the MLB front offices. There’s a whole chapter about the 1990 incident that lead to George Steinbrenner’s second permanent banishment from the game. Although George was serving a suspension and not allowed to interact with the team, his fingerprints were still on everything the Yankees touched.
It was also fascinating to learn Bernie Williams’s story and how it became a New York Yankee. It was also insightful to read that Steinbrenner didn’t like him and wanted to trade him. Lost in Bernie’s story is also the career of Gerald Williams. There were plenty of Williams on the roster but not enough space to play them.
Bernie may have been one of the first pieces for a future Yankees dynasty, but so were Andy Pettite and Marino Rivera. You can’t talk about the eventual Core Four without those two names, so one has to dig deep into the scouting reports to see how it all came to be. Sometimes it’s simply amazing to see how life turns out. Some scouts go places to see certain people and instead discover hidden gems. Pettite and Rivera would both fall into that category. One has to imagine how different history would be if neither got scouted or traded away.
Another interesting side story arc builds throughout the entire book, one that started way back in 1982. That was when Don Mattingly became a major league player. Throughout his entire career in Pinstripes, the six-time All-Star and 1985 AL MVP played once in the playoffs, his final season in 1995. So the team mentality for most of the book appeared to be, win one for Donny Baseball, but embrace the future simultaneously.
Even though the New York Yankees were a laughing stock of baseball in 1990, things were quite different in 1993 and 1994. Chumps to Champs details the success of the 1994 team, which lost out on a good postseason run when the season ended due to a labour strike. Any fan of the franchise at that time could see that their patience was going to pay off. The blocks were in place, and young kids named Derek Jeter, Riveria, Pettite, and Williams would become household names in homes all over the country. Despite numerous shuffles of management, the right people were falling into place, and the seeds of the dynasty were almost ready for harvest.
I was skeptical of the book and wondered how it would play out or keep me interested. Yes, I did find the Steinbrenner personal vendettas to be a tad bit childish, and I couldn’t wait to finish those chapters, but those stories did play a vital role in shaping the Yankees’ past and future. Like I mentioned in another book review, I found this one to be thoroughly researched and presented in great detail. Sometimes you can think you know a lot about a subject or the people involved in the story, and then you get a chance to peel back the layers and see there is so much more to any given account.
Chumps to Champs was just that kind of story. Even though I became a fan of the team in 1996 when I was only 14 years old, I had no knowledge they were that bad for that long. This book reminded me to build a powerhouse team, and you have to go through the fire. It would be best if you looked long and hard to find the final pieces to complete the puzzle, known as professional sports. Now, if the Miami Marlins could only learn something from this book.