Exclusive SSTN Interview with Peter Botte!
We recently had the great opportunity to interview New York Post reporter, former Yankees beat writer, and the author of The Big 50: New York Yankees, Mr. Peter Botte. We ran an excerpt from Peter’s new book as our main feature yesterday. Our readers can get this book at 27% off the cover price by visiting Triumph Books and typing in “Yankees27”.
It was a great honor to discuss baseball with Peter Botte. Thank you for talking with us!
SSTN: Please begin by telling us about your great new book about the Yankees.
Peter: When I was first approached by Triumph Books to author the Yankees’ version of their “The Big 50” series, I immediately knew that narrowing down the gloried history of the most prolific organization in sports would be a daunting challenge. Obviously, this is a franchise with 27 championships, dozens of Hall of Fame players and countless unforgettable moments. For some teams in baseball and in other sports, you’d have to reach and stretch things out to find 50 worthy moments. Some of the Top 50 for these other organizations would not crack the Top 500 with the Yanks.
With that in mind, I decided the only way to not gloss over any integral aspects of the century between the trade for Babe Ruth in 1920 and the “Baby Bombers” era of 2020 was to combine all of the feats for each legend – Ruth, Gehrig, Joe D., Yogi, Derek Jeter, Mariano, etc. – into their own chapters and then do the same with some of the World Series years – the 1949-53 five-peat, for example. I feel like the book covers all the bases, so to speak, and will provide Yankees fans and baseball fans of all generations a diversion during the pandemic shutdown, as well as an invaluable reference for years to come about the vast history of the team.
How can fans buy copies of this book?
It presently is available anywhere you can buy books online – i.e. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, the Triumph Books website and more. I know many of the major bookstores in New York are presently closed, or limiting customers, but I always would suggest to support your local independent bookstores, as well.
When you listed the 50 players and moments, how did you rank them? Was this done by a formula or just your feelings about each and the history around each?
No specific formula, but in the beginning of the process, I wrote out a rudimentary list of probably 80-100 figures and moments that I believed merited inclusion. I shifted around and pared down this list as I went along. Not breaking any big ground here, but the Yankees as we know them began with the trade for Ruth, so he obviously is Chapter 1, with his teammate Lou Gehrig fittingly right behind him.
The rest of the Mount Rushmore marquee names – Steinbrenner, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Mo, Jeter, are next, before I start getting into some individual achievements such as Don Larsen’s perfect game, Roger Maris’ 61 in 61 and Reggie’s three-homer World Series performance. I didn’t realize until afterwards that some of the subsequent chapters actually aligned with the players’ respective uniform numbers such as Chapter 15 (Thurman Munson), Chapter 16 (Whitey Ford) and Chapter 23 (Don Mattingly).
I also squeezed in one personal labor of love chapter (No. 49) on the “Seinfeld” character George Costanza and the show’s co-creator Larry David, but I brought it back to the pinstripes with an eye to the future with Aaron Judge and The Baby Bombers to conclude the book.
Many of the great moments happened prior to our lifetimes, but have become part of our lives as Yankees fans. If you could go back in time to witness only one of the events in your book, which would it be, and why?
This is a good one. As a reporter, I would probably say Lou Gehrig’s speech, I couldn’t fathom what that must have been like to attend. Obviously, from a baseball standpoint, the first game at Yankee Stadium in 1923 – with Ruth hitting a home run – would have been amazing. Maris’ record-breaking home run in 1961, too. And I wish I had the chance to see the legends my Dad always told me about when I was younger – players like DiMaggio and Mickey and Yogi. That would have been very cool.
Similarly, if you could meet any one of the players discussed in your book (that you have never met), who would that be, and why?
The Babe, definitely. I have so many questions. Those were the days before Page Six and TMZ, but what a fascinating and larger-than-life figure, both on and off the field.
As a Yankees beat reporter who truly knows the game and the players, which Yankee player did you find the most easy to talk baseball with?
I covered the teams of the late-90s for the Daily News, and as most Yankees fans can tell from the current broadcasts, David Cone was definitely a go-to guy and very insightful for the reporters of that era. Paul O’Neill could be ornery, as many water coolers could attest, but he was always great to the beat writers who were around regularly, in terms of both availability and honesty. Other players I enjoyed covering were Jorge Posada, Darryl Strawberry, Chili Davis, Tim Raines, El Duque, a few others. Also, Bernie Williams, who wrote an extremely thoughtful foreword (along with actor Chazz Palminteri) for my book, always was a personal favorite.
In the book and the movie The Natural, the main character wants nothing more than to walk down the street and have people say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.” Who was the best player you ever saw?
I always have said Ken Griffey Jr. was the best all-around player of my lifetime, as well as Barry Bonds, regardless of what you think about his issues with PEDs. But I will say that Mike Trout is right there with them now, he can do everything and do it an extremely high level. Among the Yankees, I’d probably say it’s A-Rod, although he comes with the same proviso as Bonds. And I always respected Thurman Munson for his leadership and toughness. Don Mattingly, too.
Our final question is really just a collection of short answer-type questions:
What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
I actually grew up in a National League household on Long Island, so I will let you fill in that blank.
Who was your favorite player?
Tom Seaver in the ‘70s, Doc and Darryl and Gary Carter in the 80s. Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn, Manny Ramirez, Pedro, Greg Maddux from other teams over the years.
What is your most prized collectible?
I honestly do not own a single piece of memorabilia aside from a few scorecards I’ve saved from games I’ve covered (Wells’ perfect game, Roy Halladay’s playoff no-hitter, etc). Not an autograph, a jersey, a bobblehead, nothing. I do have some of my old baseball cards in the attic from when I was a kid, if that counts.
Who is your favorite musical group or artist?
Depending on my mood, U2, R.E.M., The Beastie Boys, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Public Enemy, The Cure, The Chili Peppers. Those are some of my go-to groups.
What is your favorite food (if it is pizza, what is your favorite pizza restaurant)?
Seafood, all of it. Snack-wise, I always have been more of a chips guy than sweets.
Please share anything else you’d like with our audience:
I just hope fans enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed researching it, reporting it and writing it. I had been laid off by the Daily News after 21 years in 2018, and this was the perfect time for me for a project like this before I was rehired at the Post in October. I tried to interject some personal anecdotes and insightful interviews to put a fresh spin on the already well-documented history of the team.
I also really want to thank you guys for having me and for letting me share some thoughts on the book. I hope everyone out there is being smart and staying safe, and I look forward to eventually getting back to some normalcy and back to the ballpark.
THANK YOU PETER BOTTE! Good luck with your new book. We also cannot wait for baseball and normalcy.