Picks and Pans Review: The Last Yankee
by David Falkner
This biography of Billy Martin is absurdly credulous, shallow and platitudinous, right down to the "We will not see his like again" ending, which readers are likely to follow with a "Thank God."
Even the title is an affront, suggesting that Martin somehow was carrying on the tradition of excellence established by such earlier Yankees as Lou Gehrig and Joe Dimaggio, when in fact Martin's career was most notable for the occasions on which he embarrassed himself and his teams. Falkner cites Red Smith's description of the graceless, puerile Martin as "a mouse studying to be a rat." But he mostly uses lame psycho-historical techniques to defend Martin's behavior as the result of growing up in a broken home in a poor area of Berkeley, Calif. Never mind that Martin was a petty tyrant, a bully, a cheap shot artist, a mean alcohol abuser and an irresponsible manipulator who at 48 was "dating" a 16-year-old girl.
Falkner, a New York Times contributor, did a lot of interviewing, but the bulk of it was with people sympathetic to Martin. Falkner even makes the outrageous claim that Martin was "the best manager of his era, possibly of many eras," despite the fact that only one of Martin's teams, the 1976 Yankees, won a World Series, even when he had a constant stream of all-star free agents supplied by team owner George Steinbrenner, with whom Martin conspired to turn the proud New York franchise into a pitiful laughingstock noted mostly for the number of times Martin was hired and fired by Steinbrenner—five. (Simon & Schuster, $22)
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