In 10 Words or Less
Another half-dozen bios of the greatest Yankees
"Yankeeography," produced by the Yankees' own television network, are 40-minute celebrations of the life and times of the greatest players to ever pull on the legendary pinstripes. Of course, since they come straight from the team, the focus is solely on the positive, or at least the non-damaging to the Yankees mystique. But despite the sunny outlook, the shows do a very good job of telling each ballplayer's unique tale, aided by interviews, archival footage, and the melodramatic music that traditional underlines such stories.
After the first set included such top talents as Babe Ruth, Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly, the second set had a high standard to live up to, and a smaller pool of legends to choose from. But since this is a series about the great Yankees, there are still plenty to honor with their own "Yankeeography." Volume Two collects the shows featuring Lou Gehrig, Phil Rizzuto, Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard, Paul O'Neill and Mariano Rivera, each hosted by Yankees radio broadcaster John Sterling.
Up first is Gehrig, "The Iron Horse." Considered one of, if not the best first baseman of all time, his episode reveals why he is better known for the disease that bears his name and claimed his life than for his outstanding baseball career. The show piles on the drama of Gehrig's life, and includes the transcendent "Luckiest Man" speech. For a baseball show, it's a real tearjerker. Like Gehrig, Rizzuto's fame as an athlete is shadowed by his post-playing years, when he made his name as the Yankees' television broadcaster. But before he became known as the pitchman for "The Money Store," he was one of the greatest Yankees shortstops.
Both of these players had talent, but it takes attitude to be a winner as well, and Mickey Mantle and Paul O'Neill had it in spades. Mantle was obviously the more talented player, displaying an ability to play the game on a level that a rare few could even dream of, on his way to seven World Series rings. But despite his ability, it was his drive that made him a champion as he overcame adversity and battled through injury. While "The Mick" could have gotten by on his pure talent, O'Neill, on the other hand, complimented an excellent swing with pure emotion, earning the label of a warrior in winning five championship rings of his own.
A pair of groundbreaking minority Yanks make up the remaining two episodes, catcher/outfielder Elston Howard and closer Mariano Rivera, each with four World Series rings of their own. Howard was the first black man to wear the pinstripes, but he was no token player, earning two Gold Gloves, nine All-Star appearances and the AL MVP award in 1963. Rivera arrived in the Bronx from much further away than Howard's St. Louis home, after being signed by the Yankees out of his native Panama as a free agent. After almost being traded for stalling in his development as a starting pitcher, he became a key set-up man, and then the best closer in the game.
Though the names, other than Mantle and Rivera, aren't the top players in Yankees' history, the stories are some of the most intriguing in New York's storied past. Some major episodes (Joe DiMaggio, Roger Maris, Goose Gossage, Roger Clemens) have yet to be collected on DVD, but something has to be saved for Volume Three. YES Network has done a good job in producing these glossy retrospectives that will satisfy any Yankees fan, and be of interest to those with an interest in America's pasttime.
"Yankeeography" Vol. 2 is presented on three DVDs, packaged in a four-flap, three-tray cardboard digipack with a pocket for a well-designed booklet that lists the chapter stops for each episode. The six episodes are split evenly over the first two discs, while the third disc holds the bonus material. The main menus are animated, while the following screens, including scene selections, are static. The audio is available in 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo Surround, except for the Rivera show, an omission explained in "The Extras."
YES made these full-screen, shot-on-video shows look fantastic, which must have taken some effort, considering the variety of sources called upon to put these clipfests together. Any problems with these episodes can mostly be blamed on the source material, as the new footage and graphics look crystal clear. The audio, presented in two flavors, sounds good either way, though the surround is obviously the higher-quality choice. You won't find much activity in the surround speakers, but there is a deeper sound to the 5.1 soundtrack.
On a third disc are three sections of bonus video for each player, "Unforgettable Moments," "How 'Bout That!," and "Sound on Tape." A mix of game footage, off-the-field moments and interviews, these clips, in a heavily cut-down form, are found during each player's episode, but can be viewed uncut here. This disc is the Yankees fan's ultimate "Sportscenter." Unfortunately, there's not much consistency to the way the clips are presented, as some moments are represented by the entire at-bat, while others are just one swing. A higher level of completion would have been appreciated. Also included on the bonus disc are credits for MLB Productions and YES Network, Special Thanks, Copyright information and an appreciated list of recommended books for Further Reading.
Also included, taking one of the 2.0 feeds' place on the second disc, is a non-screen-specific commentary for Mariano Rivera's "Yankeeography," recorded by Rivera and Sterling during the team's 2004 Spring Training. Sterling, a seasoned broadcaster, runs the show, interviewing, praising and leading Rivera in order to get him to talk. As a result, there's more Sterling than Rivera, which is likely a good thing, considering Rivera's heavily-accented English. The conversation covers much of the same ground as the show, perhaps in a bit more detail, and is a good listen for Rivera fans. If the producers taped the commentary, it could have been included as a quality separate extra, as it's doesn't really relate to the show on-screen, and ends 10 minutes before the episode concludes.
The Bottom Line
If you're a Yankees fan (that is, not a bandwagon jumper) this is a no-brainer, as there's enough material to tell even the seasoned fanatic something new. If you're a baseball fan, it's an excellent pick-up, considering how much of the history of the sport was written in "The House that Ruth Built." The tales of Gehrig, Howard and Rivera reach beyond the world of sports, while the others are among the most popular players to ever play in pinstripes.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.