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Just Out of Reach: The 1980s New York Yankees Paperback – January 8, 2014
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"I thoroughly enjoyed reading 'Just Out of Reach' by Greg Prato. A true insight from players of the Yankees during the 80's. This book is a must read." --Phil Niekro, Yankees pitcher 1984-1985, Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee 1997
"'Just Out of Reach' brings back many forgotten memories about the great times we had back then with great friends and teammates. I think 'Just Out of Reach' is a great read that not only Yankee fans but baseball fans will enjoy, also." --Rudy May, Yankees pitcher 1974-1976 & 1980-1983
"The parts of the book I have read I found very enjoyable and interesting. Brings back lots of memories." --Dave "La Lob" LaRoche, Yankees pitcher 1981-1983
"I think 'Just Out of Reach' is a great read for Yankees fans and baseball fans alike. It's also a really nice trip down nostalgia lane for anyone who grew up as a NY sports fan in the 80's." --Demetri Adarahtas, sports radio talk show host (WFAN)
"Whether you are a fan of the New York Yankees or not, this is a fantastic read. As a baseball fan and a Mets fan, I learned so much about the Yankees and a time period in which I grew up in. It's another great job by Greg, and extremely informative about a period of time in Yankee history you do not find a lot of material written about." --John Panarese, SportsTalkNY (WGBB)
"Greg's book signifies the 1980's to a tee. The compilation of interviews describes an ego-filled, frustrating time for Yankee fans that turned in the 90's, but unfortunately, didn't get our hero Don Mattingly a title in the 1980's." --Mike Lindsley, PinstripePassion.com
"An absorbing recollection of now-it-can-be-told, behind-the-scenes flashbacks organized loosely by years and individual personalities. More than 25 observers, ranging from Hall of Famer [Goose] Gossage to role players such as Barry Foote and Brian Fisher, as well as a broadcaster, newspaper reporter, sports memorabilia store owner and a stand-up comedian who's a Yankees fan share their stories of an era that has been largely overlooked. Until now." --Paul Hagen, MLB.com
"Prato trains his literary focus on the 1980s-era New York Yankees and the decade that almost was. The author is a master at seeking out little wrinkles in the great and exalted fabric of professional sports. Using the oral narrative, he stitches, sews and stretches the cloth until he's created an historic blanket without a single loose thread." --Steven Rosen, Curledup.com
"There is a clear nostalgia sweet spot for the book, namely Yankees fans younger than me who don't clearly recall the teams of the mid-to-late 1970s and those old enough to know Yankees history did not begin in 1996. Prato has assembled an impressive array of players from the era, many of whom don't mind being honest about those times now that enough years have gone by." -Neil Best, Newsday
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Apart from that, this is an entertaining Kickstarter-style book. The author reminisces about his first games at Yankee Stadium -- a memorable August 1982 doubleheader loss to the Chicago White Sox which got the Yankees then-manager, Gene Michael, promptly fired. He then explains how this experience led him to write a book about the 1980 through 1986 Yankees, seven very talented teams that never managed to win a title. However, the author's input is largely editorial: 99% of the book is comprised of interviews with Yankee players from that era, along with Billy Martin's son, and sportswriter Steve Jacobson. The players (and Martin Jr., and Jacobson) tell their own stories, with minimal text added by the author. The players (particularly Tommy John, George Frazier, Dave LaRoche) are very funny, and they make this also-ran era of Yankee history quite fun to read about.
The player interviews are about as good as their memories. It's usually a feature of baseball biographies that most player anecdotes about their most memorable games can be quickly proved wrong with 45 seconds of research on Baseball Reference and Retrosheet. While there are some such scattered errors here, most of the details are surprisingly accurate, particularly Steve Balboni and Andre Robertson describing their eventful first games in the major leagues, and Dave LaRoche describing a famous strikeout of Gorman Thomas (a popular clip which can still be viewed on YouTube). While the author does correct some factual errors in brackets during the quoted interviews, he allows other whoppers to stand uncorrected; Ron Davis brazenly asserts that Ken Griffey Sr. had a better year in 1982 than Reggie Jackson, which.... no. Not in real life; not even in Nintendo RBI Baseball.
The choice of interviews is also very telling. Prato only manages to land two Hall-of-Famers, Phil Niekro and Goose Gossage, for his piece. That means that you don't hear from the Yankees' top-line stars of that era: no Guidry, no Winfield, no Randolph, no Don Baylor, no Rickey Henderson, no Don Mattingly, no Reggie. However, there are plenty of Steve Kemps, Ron Kittles, Rex Hudlers, and Brian Fishers. Which actually works to the book's benefit, as you typically get a lot more insight and self-reflection from the has-beens and second-stringers than you do from the big names. Andre Robertson in particular is given much focus, as the effective ending of his career in an August 1983 motor-vehicle accident is retold at length. However, the author doesn't engage in much critical statistical analysis; he merely allows others to ruminate as to what a wonderful player Robertson might have been ("He had the makings of being a superstar", asserts Frazier), while the limited statistical evidence of Robertson's career totals really doesn't justify such conclusions.
On the whole, I found "Just Out of Reach" very enjoyable. Like the author, I'm a Mets fan who grew up in Yankee territory, and knew most of the stories in this book by heart before I even read the thing. It was a funny trip down memory lane, and led me to look up a lot of old game results on Retrosheet and Baseball Reference that I hadn't thought about in years. It's not quite as exhaustive or well-researched as it could have been with more time, money, and access, but it certainly was never a dull read.
What keeps this from being a five star effort though is that Prato fails to provide some helpful contextual and connective narrative between the recollections. Instead everything just kind of unspools in an unedited fashion in a chapter section with just a few parnethetical observations that leave out key details like where the Yankees finished in a given season etc. Since I knew all this info already it didn't bother me much, but it might be a little confusing for the uninitated. As a result, while this is an outstanding reference work of raw history about the Yankees in this neglected period, we could still use a solid narrative history of this era as well. But despite this one reservation, thank you Mr. Prato for taking the first big step forward and I recommend it highly to Yankee fans!