“Inside the Empire: The True Power Behind the New York Yankees” is a book I have not seen adequately reviewed. So, as a long-time Yankees fan, I am going to take advantage of this platform and review it.
There are two takeaways from “Inside the Empire.” Actually, before I even get to the takeaways…there are two contradictory theses of “Inside the Empire.” Perhaps this is because of the book’s unfortunate dual authorship. Bob Klapisch is a respected (if notoriously anodyne) long-time New York sports columnist, with bylines at both the Post and the Daily News. Paul Solotaroff is, uh, some guy? He writes, too? Google “Paul Solotaroff Yankees” and all you will get is results for this book, so it seems that he is nothing more than a ghostwriter for Bob Klapisch, ostensibly a professional writer himself.
Thesis number one: the Yankees are good, and Brian Cashman is to credit. Thesis number two: the Yankees are good, but not as good as the Red Sox, and Brian Cashman is to blame.
Before I go any further, let me be clear, “Inside the Empire” is good. (That’s takeaway number one). It is a good read, and any Yankees fan will be happy he will have read it. Although certainly too breezy for the diehards, “Inside the Empire” gives a compelling account of the 2018 Yankees season and the personnel responsible. And unlike its direct predecessor (last spring’s “The Baby Bombers” by Bryan Hoch), it does not waste space on the notoriously unreliable and unproductive Greg Bird.
But the albatross of “Inside the Empire” (and this is the second takeaway) is the same albatross that has weighed down the Yankees for two decades now. His name is Brian Cashman. “Inside the Empire” does not know how to treat him, which puts the book in the same camp as most Yankee fans. Cashman, as the man who pulled off legendary heists for Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorius and Luke Voit, to name a few, deserves respect and commendation. But what about Cashman as the man who has allowed the hated Red Sox to match him measure for measure in rings since he took the job?
Brian Cashman has been general manager since 1998. Under his tenure, the Yankees have won four titles: Three with the squad he inherited in the late ’90s and one in 2009. Over the past two-plus decades, the Yankees have won more (and in most cases, significantly more) games than any other team. They managed to build their current superstar homegrown roster without ever suffering a losing season. Day in and day out, these Yankees have been able to sell tickets, able to convincingly tell the media (often through books like “Inside the Empire”) that they are doing everything they possibly can to win the World Series.
Unfortunately for Yankees fans, trying to win just isn’t enough for a franchise that is in danger of experiencing the first decade without so much as a World Series berth since the 1910s. Should Yankee fans be happy that Cashman did not trade away Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez? Yes, of course. Should Yankee fans be able to appreciate that Luis Severino and Gleyber Torres not only thrive on the diamond but also off due to the Yankees crucial English-language instruction? No one would suggest otherwise.
The second thesis proffered by Klapisch and Solotoroff will be the more convincing one to fans left with a sour taste of last October, when the New York Yankees were embarrassed by the Boston Red Sox in a manner that should have gotten everyone associated with the team canned — and would have in a prior Steinbrenner era. But either out of gratitude to a front office that gave them enough access to write the book in the first place, or out of the sense of guilt that all Yankee rooters feel for being disappointed in a run that is by most measures a success, the authors pursue this line of thinking halfheartedly. The book ends in a limp note that the reason the Yankees lost to Boston in the ALDS comes down to strikeouts — which, well, is not really the case at all.
The current Yankees are fun and liable to wow their spectators for a solid hundred-ish wins and record-setting home run count throughout the season. But they aren’t the Red Sox. Aaron Boone, for all his strengths (hitting a home run off Tim Wakefield, not being hated by Gary Sanchez) does not have the same fire in his belly as Alex Cora. Players may like him more than his predecessors named Joe, but amity does not equal respect and “Era of Good Feelings” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Canyon of Heroes.” “Inside the Empire” knows this and hints at it, but the authors tread lightly. After all, Cashman is in charge and will be ’til he dies. And Cash has made clear that no matter how many times Boone hellishly mismanages his supposedly lockdown pitching staff in October (which gave up so many runs in Game 3 of the ALDS that backup catcher Austin Romine pitched), Bob Boone’s son will have the job for at least a decade. Klapisch at least presumes to continue to cover Yankees baseball, and he cannot afford upsetting such entrenched powers that be.
Like many fans, the authors of “Inside the Empire” can’t decide whether to bury Cashman or to praise him, and since they really don’t have a say in the matter, what emerges is a sort of mix: part panegyric and part pablum. Whether we like it or not, these are Brian Cashman’s Yankees, and they will be for a long, long time. From the “Inside the Empire” viewpoint, we better get used to it and accentuate the positives. It does make you wonder how many more barren years Yankee fans will have to endure before a change is made at the top. As long as these Yankees are good enough — good enough to sell Aaron Judge jerseys, good enough to make the Wild Card game year in and year out, good enough to inspire nobodies like me to write an entire column about them — the job is Cashman’s. It doesn’t hurt (as Klapisch and Solotoroff detail in what emerges as their most compelling chapter) that despite a lack of recent postseason success, this general manager’s version of the Yankees is making Hal Steinbrenner very, very rich. (Well, richer. He was born very, very rich.)
Ultimately, “Inside the Empire” serves mostly as a useful mouthpiece to Cashman and Hal, which, as a quick read during the springtime of more-or-less meaningless baseball, is perfectly fine. The authors are able to vent just enough frustration and skepticism with Cash’s results to differentiate it from a ballclub-issued media guide. But at the end of the day, they, like the team’s brass, want you to know that these Yankees really want to win, guys. In today’s age of participation trophies (let alone tanking), shouldn’t that be enough?
Book Review: “A Concise History of Hungary”
People are looking to move. I have no idea if the numbers back this up, but anecdotally at least there is talk in the air about leaving the United States for greener pastures. As the most powerful institutions in America grow ever more hostile to those adhering to traditional ways of living, it’s difficult not to ask: “Is there a better place for me?”
Many people are looking to Hungary. Not only is it one of the only countries in the Western World not to be completely subsumed in the acid bath of modernity, but it also encourages repatriation by those with Hungarian ancestry. In Ireland, famous for its lax bloodline citizenship laws, you need to have had grandparents born in the Old Country. In Hungary, there is no limit to how far back you can go to prove your Hungarian heritage.
There is a catch. The Hungarian government only wants new citizens who are committed to being Hungarian. As such, you have to pass a language test in order to be eligible. And you should probably demonstrate more than just cursory knowledge about the country you are trying to be a part of. Being familiar with paprika and goulash is not going to cut it. You’ve got to try to learn about the history.
That’s where the book “A Concise History of Hungary” comes in. Given the upsurge in interest in migrating to Hungary, it is a shock that there are so few English-language books about the storied nation.
Do a search on Amazon for books about Hungarian history, and you will find your results to be limited. No matter, because Miklós Molnár’s work is an excellent place to start. This historical survey traces the story of Hungary all the way back to before King Saint Stephen became Hungary’s first king, to even before the Magyars conquered the Carpathian Basin. It tells about the many wars in which Hungary has been embroiled, from the wars against the Ottomans to the World Wars in the 20th century.
I don’t know much about Miklós Molnár, but after reading his bio on the book jacket, I was skeptical of his ability to be unbiased. The blurb notes that he was the editor of a communist newspaper (“Irodalmi Ujság”). Those familiar with the intricacies of Hungarian history will not be surprised there is no love lost between Molnár and the Soviet Communists who ruled his country for four decades; in fact Molnár fled the country like Imre Nagy after the Revolution of 1956.
So readers should not be worried about the author being to sympathetic to communists. However, there is some animus in this book, especially toward the Habsburgs, who controlled Hungary for two centuries. Also, as the events depicted get closer and closer to present day, Molnár’s descriptions of political parties and movements become more clouded by his own thinking.
Overall, I do recommend “A Concise History Of Hungary,” if only because there is so little else out there. Until it reaches the 18th century, the book is remarkably even-handed, almost academic in tone despite its eminent readability. If I am to be a Hungarian citizen, I would like to have read more books on Hungary than just this one. But I think it is a great place to start.
Read These Christmas Books On Christmas Eve
There’s only one more sleep ’til Christmas. I’m not sure exactly how we got here, but Christmas Eve has come at last. For obvious reasons, this entire Christmas season has been more subdued than most; all across the world the phrase “Silent Night” may never have been so apt.
With all sorts of traditional holiday traditions being in flux, this got me thinking to a quieter way to spend the night before Christmas. This year provides a great occasion to re-read and re-familiarize yourself with some Christmas classics.
If you don’t know where to start, I’ve listed some of my favorite Christmas books below. They include a mix of both short children’s books and longer novels. And although you won’t be able to order any of them now and have them arrive before Christmas Day, Kindle and Audible are both available options.
A Christmas Carol: and Other Holiday Treasures by Charles Dickens
“A Christmas Carol” had to top the list. Everyone is familiar with Dickens’ tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the three ghosts, but how many have read the source material? A good collection of “A Christmas Carol” will include some of Dickens other Yuletide stories, including “The Cricket on the Hearth,” which earned him the epithet “The Man who Invented Christmas.”
The Night Before Christmas by Charles Dickens
When I was growing up, it was a tradition for everyone to gather around on Christmas Eve for a reading of “The Night Before Christmas.” Like “A Christmas Carol,” Clement C. Moore’s poem will never get old.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas’s prose poem “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” may not be as universally well known as “The Night Before Christmas,” but it is just as highly regarded.
Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Don’t let the creepy Tom Hanks movie turn you off to the book version of “Polar Express,” which belongs on every child’s bookshelf.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
The Jim Carrey rendition of Dr. Seuss’s Mt. Crumpit dweller was panned when it first hit theatres two decades ago, but constant airtime has turned it into a minor holiday classic. After re-reading “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” it is impressive how much depth and detail Ron Howard’s team was able to add to such a refreshingly simple work.
Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
While we are on the topic of books turned into films, let’s talk about John Grisham’s “Skipping Christmas.” You know this story better as “Christmas with the Kranks.” This novel is a departure for the master of the legal thriller, but if you like Grisham’s writing style (and can’t get enough of Luther, Nora, and their rooftop Frosty), then give “Skipping Christmas” a read.
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
“The Corrections” is my favorite Christmas book, as well as one of my favorite books of all time. Despite reading it nearly every December for the past seven years, I still can’t make it to the end without crying.
Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
A late edition to this list, I’ve actually never read Tolkien’s beloved Christmas letters. But a special 100th anniversary edition of “Letters from Father Christmas” was published this year, so it may be time to see if lives up to its reputation.
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
The first time I read “The Gift of the Magi,” I was surprised at how short it was. If you know the general story of impoverished couple Della and Jim, then you know the entire contents of O. Henry’s classic tale. Unlike “A Christmas Carol,” the written version of “The Gift of the Magi” is not filled with details that never make their way to the screen. If anything, that sparsity of extraneous information adds depth and poignancy to the story’s resolution.
Did I miss any of your favorites Christmas books? If so, let me know in the comments, and I will update the list. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
Sparking Interest in Chess, ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ Offers Hope
“The Queen’s Gambit,” the latest hit show from Netflix, could not have come at a better time. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of people are not only starving for content but also for more active diversions to help them occupy their time.
“The Queen’s Gambit” fills both of these voids. To start, it is a short but meaty 7-episode mini-series, beautifully shot and rife with interesting situations for a viewer to imagine herself in. Perhaps more importantly, it introduces a whole new generation to the game of kings. According to news reports, chess sets have been flying off the (virtual) shelves since the series dropped on Netflix. The New York Times even features on article on how to make your own chess set at home, for those who can’t find one available online.
The numbers are jarring. Sales of chess sets were already on the rise at the start of the pandemic. You may remember a slate of articles from the spring detailing celebrities, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who were spending their time in quarantine playing the game. (Chess’s famous fans were not limited to those with impossible to spell names; presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were also said to have played.) But since “The Queen’s Gambit,” chess set sales have skyrocketed anywhere from 125% to 1,048%.
This is nothing if not an extremely positive development. After reading dispiriting stories about how the nation’s young ones are wiling away the hours on online video game platforms like Roblox and Fortnite, or else watching other people’s content on TikTok and YouTube, it is nice to see people take up a hobby that requires them to use their brains. You don’t need to be able to think as many moves ahead as Beth Harmon or Benny Watts to get something out of playing chess. Furthermore, chess is a game that bridges generational gaps. Whether you are a Zoomer or a Boomer, your learning curve will be exactly the same. If there is something our society needs more of, it is spending time with those with different life experiences. Chess can help facilitate that.
I’m not sure when they starting making “The Queen’s Gambit,” but I sure am grateful they did. I suppose we also owe a debt of gratitude to Walter Tevis, who wrote the novel the show is based on. Also the author of “The Hustler” and “The Color of Money,” Tevis had a knack for cinematic storytelling. I am looking forward to reading “The Queen’s Gambit” to see if it can provide yet another outlet for recreation and leisure when we need it most.
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