"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: October 2007

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Coast II Coast

Joe Girardi was introduced as the new Yankee manager yesterday while reports have it that Joe Torre has agreed to a three-year deal with the Dodgers. Presumably, Torre would bring Don Mattingly and Larry Bowa to L.A. with him. Lee Maz might jern them too.

Here’s what’s what around the web:

Joe Girardi: Tyler Kepner, Ed Price, and Mark Kriegel.

Joe Torre: Roger Angell, Murray Chass, Mike Vaccaro, T.J. Simers, Bill Shaikin, Bill Plaschke, and Jay Jaffe.

Don Mattingly: Joel Sherman, Filip Bondy, and Kat O’Brien.

Alex Rodriguez: John Harper, Adam Rubin, Ken Rosenthal, Steven Goldman, Nate Silver, and Hank Waddles.

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The Wild and the West

Looking at the Yankee roster as the season drew to a close, I didn’t figure this to be a particularly active offseason. Sure, the Yankees needed to solve the Alex Rodriguez riddle, resign Posada, and Rivera, and hope Andy Pettitte would want to come back, but beyond that, first base and the bullpen were all Brian Cashman had to worry about. That was before the team half-assed a contract for Joe Torre and wound up having to change managers, told heir-apparent and favorite son Don Mattingly that he wouldn’t be getting the job after all, and then had Rodriguez bolt town before even beginning negotiations with the team on a contract extension (and, by the way, that’s a done deal, he’s officially filed for free agency). And the latest? Pete Abe broke the story last night that the Dodgers are planning to can Grady Little and hire Joe Torre, and that Mattingly is expected to tag along as Torre’s bench coach (remember that Donnie’s son Preston was drafted by the Dodgers last June). Tyler Kepner and Murray Chass have more in the Times. Throw in the Red Sox’s second championship in the last four years (which sounds like a bad punchline from Back to the Future II), and my head is spinning.

So now the Yankees have to rebuild their coaching staff (Ron Guidry and Joe Kerrigan are not expected to return, Larry Bowa still has an offer to coach third in Seattle, and who knows who else might want to follow Torre to L.A., by which I also mean Rivera and Rodriguez) and find not only a third baseman, but replace Alex Rodriguez’s production (which is actually impossible, but they could compensate with gains on the other side of the ball, which brings it back to the bullpen and the promise in the starting rotation). That likely means a trade is going to happen, and not a small one. Who’s expendable? Melky Cabrera? Ian Kennedy? Alan Horne? Austin Jackson? Perhaps. Who’s not? Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes for sure.

Oh, and Joe Girardi, the man the Yankees have decided to hire as their new manager? He still doesn’t have a deal. Jon Heyman (the man who broke the news about both Girardi’s hire and Rodriguez’s opting out) says the Yankees and Girardi are close to a three-year, $6 million deal, which is up from the $4.5 million/3-year deal initially rumored. Thing is, Girardi’s got the Yankees by the tail. Torre’s pissed, Mattingly issued a statement that reads like a concession speech, and both are likely headed for sunny L.A. The news is out that Girardi’s been offered the job, so unless the Yankees want to burn a third bridge by reopening their search, they pretty much have to pony up and pay the man.

The length of the deal obviously isn’t the issue here. The Yankees wouldn’t offer Joe Torre a second year because they were obviously tentative about moving forward with him, which isn’t an issue with Girardi, and there’s no need to hide that fact. The money is interesting, however. The initially rumored $4.5 million would have been just less for three years than the base salary offered Torre for a single year. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. That Girardi has them up to $6 million total, thus $2 million per year, already makes him one of the six-best paid managers in baseball (tied for fourth with Willie Randolph and Bruce Bochy behind Lou Piniella, Bobby Cox, and Jim Leyland). It will be interesting to see if Girardi can break that tie and if he can push the total value of his contract closer to the $7.5 million Torre earned in 2007 alone.

Of course, what he gets paid won’t affect Girardi’s ability to manage the team, but the fact that the zoo is overtaking the Bronx once more could. Girardi played for the Yankees during their period of greatest calm and stability. He won World Series in his first year in New York and two more before leaving as a free agent after the 1999 season. As a coach, he was here only for 2005, when Alex Rodriguez was an MVP and the Yankees squeaked past the Red Sox to win the AL East. He hasn’t seen the ugliness, but he did have some of his own down in Miami. Girardi claims to have learned from his negative experience with the Florida front office, but I still worry about how he’ll handle even something as simple as another slow start like the ones the team has had in two of the last three seasons. Not because Girardi can’t rally a team–he did a great job with the Marlins, who took time to coalesce like the Bad News Bears–but because of the heat he’ll get from all comers if the team doesn’t come out of the gate looking like the 1998 Yankees all over again. Under ideal conditions, I think Girardi would be the best man for the job, but right now the conditions are far from ideal. Here’s hoping Brian Cashman can help restore order by the time pitchers and catchers report in mid-February. That’s three and a half months and, contrary to what I expected, they’re going to be wild ones.

Double-Whammy

Alex Rodriguez’s sense of timing should never come as a surprise. He’s able to put himself right smack in the spotlight at exactly the wrong moment. It takes some kind of chutzpah to do what he did on Sunday. According to numerous reports, Scott Boras informed the Yankees yesterday afternoon that Rodriguez will opt out of his contract, thus ending his four-year stint in pinstripes.

“Alex made the decision today,” Boras said. “I thought we should notify the club.”

The Daily News reports:

“We really wanted him back, but obviously he didn’t want to be a Yankee,” Hank Steinbrenner said late last night. “I just think that’s a shame. But if that’s the case, then this is goodbye.”

I’m not shocked that Rodriguez is jetting. You could see it coming. And I can’t say that I’m entirely surprised at how it came out. I knew it would come down to something weird like this. Still, a hell of a way to go, ain’t it? Just another reason to wonder what’s next? But my immediate guess is that this means Joe Girardi will be named skipper today.

Also, congrats go out to the Red Sox and, more to the point, any Red Sox fans who frequent Bronx Banter. The Sox are a deserving champion. Did the Rockies even show up? Wow.

Hey Joe…

According to the Daily News, the Yankees have made up their minds and will likely announce the new manager either later today or tomorrow. Joe Girardi, reports the News, will probably be their man. Jon Heyman thinks Joe G is the right cherce. He also has details of a possible offer the Yanks could make to Alex Rodriguez:

It is believed that the extensions the Yankees are weighing would be for five or even six years for something close to $30 million annually, or possibly just a couple million short of that. So the extension offer, which hasn’t been finalized yet, could be for about $140 million over five years or $170 million over six years. If the Yankees decide to propose a six-year deal, that would keep Rodriguez in pinstripes until he’s 41 since he already has three years and $91 million remaining on his original Rangers contract. With the $91 million that’s already coming to him, the Yankees could be committing about $260 million to A-Rod if they go the six-year route.

In the Post, George King has a different take:

When Alex Rodriguez agrees to meet with the Yankees, he can expect to receive a four- to five-year contract offer that, combined with the three years remaining on Rodriguez’s deal, will increase his average annual salary of $25.2 million.

Meanwhile, the World Serious is just about done, with Boston holding a commanding 3-0 lead. They are just a much better team than the Rockies, period. As much as I dislike the dude, got to give props to Josh Beckett (and others, of course). I thought he’d be the difference for the Sox this year. But man, has he been tough in October: Dig this.

Call it, Friend-o

Nothing much happening in Yankeeland this morning. Unless you want to just cry about how well the Sox are playing, I ain’t got much for ya. So instead, check out the trailer for Joel and Ethan Coen’s creepy new movie.

Why Mattingly Matters

Over the past several years, I’ve had more than a few skeptical out-of-towners ask me why Don Mattingly is such a big deal in New York. On a superficial level, it’s like asking a Cubs fan why Ernie Banks, or Ryne Sandburg are popular in Chicago: they were all great players on losing teams. Okay, so Mattingly didn’t have a great career, but from 1984-1989 he was a great player. It doesn’t matter that he isn’t a Hall of Famer. Hey, most fans just love guys who hit for a high average and drive in runs without striking out much.

As Joe Posnanski wrote in an e-mail:

He wore the pinstripes, and played Gehrig’s position, and he was all throwback — he wore that black under his eye, and he had that great swing, he came to the park to beat you ever day. I think he’s one of those guys who, had he played in Boston, Cleveland, Texas, Philadelphia, Seattle, anywhere, would have still been everybody’s favorite ballplayer. There really was nothing phony about him. He went up there to hit. He stood off the plate, he walked shockingly little, he drove in bleeping runs. Guy hit .314 with runners in scoring position.

I always got the feeling from friends that Mattingly was the coveted, “One Yankees player you really wish was on your team.” Not because he was good, but because he was a player you liked despite yourself.

The second half of Mattingly’s career was marked by injuries. He also played through some awful years in the Bronx, which helped increase his popularity, but the legend of Donnie Baseball started in his first full year (1984) when he won the batting crown on the last day of the season, and the following year when he walked away with the AL MVP. It is also rooted in the fact that Mattingly was an overachiever–he was a heady player with limited physical gifts, a grinder, just the kind of player fans love, especially white fans.

“By the time his career is over,” said Ron Guidry in the spring of 1986, “he could be one of the best who ever played this game. He may not turn out to be quite what Lou Gehrig was, but he’ll be closer than anybody else.”

“His play, not his words, were the thing,” says BP’s Joe Sheehan. “He was a beacon of dignity in a time when the Yankees were largely undignified.”

(more…)

…Soon…

Tony Pena interviewed with the Yankees yesterday; a decision is expected tomorrow. I expect they’ll hire Mattingly. Hank Stienbrenner spoke to reporters yesterday. Joel Sherman thinks maybe it’s time for Hank to stop talking publicly.

Torre via Costas

Joe Torre sat down with Bob Costas for the final segment on last night’s REAL Sports With Briant Gumbel on HBO and shed some more light on some of his comments from the end of last week.

One item from the interview that I found particularly interesting, but was somewhat obscured by the fact that it was communicated by Costas in a voice-over segue rather than via a direct quote from Torre, was the fact that Torre disagreed with the organizational mindset that considered anything short of a World Championship a failure. Torre, who made just one playoff appearance in his first 31 major league seasons as a player and manager, still believes (correctly, in my opinion) that simply making the playoffs should be considered, in the words used by Costas, “a significant success.” I can’t image that went over particularly well with the Tampa contingent, however.

Torre also admitted that he had already begun cleaning up his office at the Stadium, “early on [in the season] . . . when I had a bad feeling . . . that I wouldn’t be back.”

The primary revelation, however, was that the single-year term was the real deal-breaker for Torre, as he answered affirmatively when Costas asked him if he would have taken an identical deal–pay cut, incentives, and all–if it had been for two guaranteed years.

Torre’s meeting in Tampa never even got that far, however, as Torre was the first person to speak at the meeting and was met with silence when he was done making his points. Randy Levine broke the silence by pointing out that Torre would actually earn more under the new deal if the Yankees were to reach the 2008 World Series, but, as Torre told Costas, he wasn’t as upset about the cut in his base salary as by the implication that he needed incentives as motivation to succeed in the postseason, pointing out that his last contract already had a million-dollar bonus for a World Series win, anyway.

Going beyond his initial statements that he was “insulted” by the incentives and their implications, Torre told Costas he was hurt by the fact that the front office didn’t attempt to involve him in the decision regarding his return. That’s one reason why he flew to Tampa for a face-to-face meeting despite being told by Brian Cashman that the offer was likely non-negotiable. Torre attempted to involve himself in the decision in that meeting, but was met with silence and a hard-line stance on the contract he was offered, and that contributed to his decision to decline the deal. He felt he had been excluded from the team’s decision-making process.

The juiciest part of the interview came when Costas read Hank Steinbrenner’s remarks to him. One could see the fury in Torre’s face as Costas read Hank’s words (I swear his lip was twitching). Joe took a good swipe at Hank in response, but did it in his usual smooth, laid-back fashion. “For some reason he thought I was disrespectful because I was insulted,” Torre said of Hank, “but the insult came from the incentive-based situation, and unless you understand what sport is all about and how important winning is to you, I don’t think you understand the insult part of this thing.”

As for his refusal to talk about coming back to the Stadium for any ceremonial purposes, Joe continued to refuse to comment. One was able to discern from his dance around the issue, however, that he is upset and would like to tell the Yankees where to stick it, but, true to his reputation, is going to let himself cool off before he makes any public statement about when he might be willing to return. “I’m not saying there’s no anger there,” Torre admitted. “I’m sad. I’m sad.”

(more…)

Fortunate Son

Derek Jeter released a statement this afternoon:

“Out of my great respect for Mr. Torre*, I have refrained from comment until he had a chance to address the public.

“In my eyes, Joe Torre is more than a Hall of Fame manager. He is a friend for life, and the relationship we have shared has helped shape me in ways that transcend the game of baseball. His class, dignity, and the way he respected those around him – from ballplayers to batboys – are all qualities that are easy to admire, but difficult to duplicate.”

This is classic Jeter. Scripted, predictably bland, but not phony. You get the sense that Jeter really does knows how fortunate he’s been, and you know the bond between him and “Mr T” is genuine. Here’s the beauty part, which gets to the heart of the matter:

“I have known Mr. Torre for a good majority of my adult life, and there has been no bigger influence on my professional development. It was a privilege to play for him on the field, and an honor to learn from him off the field.”

I think that’s the truth right there. Jeter, Posada–their baseball father is gone now. I often wonder how Jeter’s career will play itself out. I could see him aging poorly, like Cal Ripken in his later years. I hope I’m wrong. Regardless, it will be fascinating to see how he goes about getting along with a new manager next spring. Not that it will necessarily change his game much (and it’ll be easy for him if it’s Mattingly of Girardi who takes over), just that it will be so new, so different.

Aren’t you curious?

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Yankee Panky # 29: After the reign

"All things end badly, or else they wouldn’t end."
— Bryan Brown, as Coghlan in "Cocktail"

I apologize for the Bill Simmons-like "Cocktail" reference to open this column, but I thought it appropriate, given what’s gone on here in New York over the past week. The last five days have been borderline apocalyptic for many Yankee fans, between the end of Joe Torre’s managerial tenure and the Red Sox coming back from 3-1 down to advance to the World Series. I was tempted to post on Saturday, following Friday’s media frenzy regarding the Torre news, but decided to be patient to gauge whether the tone would change once the analysts had time to move past their knee-jerk reactions.

The newsrooms had to be jumping Thursday afternoon and evening. I was involved in that atmosphere, and I’m continually amazed at how quickly the outlets can pump out information on so tight a deadline. Each local paper had a unique take on the scope of the event. They got into the meat-and-potatoes of the Tampa summit; put 12 years of success — or perceived success, depending on your perspective — into historical context; played the “who’s right, who’s wrong?” card; went into the public relations mess that the Yankees find themselves in based on how Randy Levine and Hank and Hal Steinbrenner handled the conference call; and more than anything, played up the cause-and-effect of Torre’s departure on players like Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez.

The media excelled in presenting Torre’s exit as a case of history repeating itself. Torre noted this in his own press conference — how the Yankees were seen as bullies and not demonstrating the greatest people skills, going back to their dynastic years of the 1940s and 50s. Newsday, as part of its 16-page special section, made the apt comparisons of Torre’s exit to those of Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel, while the Times’ Richard Sandomir one-upped Joe Gergen, noting that Torre’s ouster occurred 47 years to the day of Stengel’s.

I enjoyed reading the contrarian viewpoints presented by the Times’ Murray Chass, whose Friday column gave the impression that he sided with the Yankees and Steinbrenner. On a second read, I can see where he makes sense, especially on the premise that Steve Swindal’s exit left Torre vulnerable. Chass said that if a player can hit .220 and get a raise, then by that standard, Torre should have also, but Torre did not live up to his boss’s expectations. Did that merit a raise? By that logic, no. The Yankees, first and foremost, are a business, and the contract was presented in a corporate, business-like manner. Michael Kay also played the pro-Yankees card on his 1050 ESPN Radio show, adding that Torre being gone will not affect the moves made by the Yankees’ top-tier free agents.

I’m not going to get into the press conference, because Cliff Corcoran did an admirable job breaking down the inferences in this space Friday. Like many of you, I was riveted. I’m also thankful that the Yankees allowed YES to carry it live. Given what was presented as an acrimonious departure, I was curious to see how the Torre presser would be played.

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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Joe Girardi interviewed for the managerial job yesterday with the Yankee brass down in Tampa (Pete Abraham has audio from Girardi). Hank Steinbrenner and his brother, Hal, are suddenly in the spotlight. Donnie Baseball is up next; Tony Pena follows tomorrow.

Here are updates on Mo, Jorgie and Alex.

Meanwhile, Randy Levine does not think he has been treated objectively by the media in the past week. Richard Sandomir has more in the Times.

The Jorgie and Mo Show

According to Jon Heyman at SI.com:

The Yankees are moving fast to try to lock up both Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera to new contracts, but the early word is that more progress is being made in Posada’s case.

Baseball people see the Yankees offering bookend $40 million, three-year deals for each longtime star. Such offers would make them the highest-paid players at their respective positions…

…The idea that Posada and Rivera would leave the Yankees because Torre is gone is downright laughable…

…People close to the situation would be shocked if Posada went anywhere else. The Mets are in the market for a catcher, but even a Mets person said, “You honestly think the Yankees are letting him come here?’

In a word, no.

Okay, here’s my question. Which one of these guys will be wearing pinstripes come 2008: Mariano, Jorgie, Andy Pettitte, Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez?

A Bitter Pill

Bigger, Better, Bullies

As much as I hate to say this, I will. Congrats to the Red Sox for winning the pennant. Tough team, man. Couple of the greatest hitters in the game, the best money pitcher going, an outstanding closer, and more. They deserve to be the AL champs.

Most of all, congrats to all of the cool Sox fans out there (and this means you, Josh). After Josh Beckett dominated the Indians in Game 5 did anyone think the Sox were going to lose? I pinned all of my hopes on Fausto Carmona, and when he got spanked on Saturday night, I knew it was over.

Before Game 6, I got an IM from an old Sox friend of mine who boasted, “We’re winning this thing.” He was dead-serious too. My, how times have changed. In the post ’04-World, anything is possible in New England. The Sox have been a very good team for years now, the Patriots practically own the NFL, even the Celtics have a promising season ahead with the additions of KG and Ray Allen. Yup, a new world.

Disgusting, isn’t it? (Especially in New York, where Red Sox gear has infiltrated every yuppie neighborhood in the five boroughs.) So while the Sox–and their fans–become more and more like the Yankees and their fans (elitest, entitled, overbearing, obnoxious, hated throughout the rest of the country), we can do nuthin but watch (Hey, maybe Season 4 of The Office will start getting good any week now…). A bitter pill, indeed. After the last couple of games, I might not have the stomach to look at the World Serious. Not to see the Sox roll over the Rocks, no thank you.

But there will also be enough continuing drama in Yankeeland to keep our minds of things, that’s for sure. Time to commiserate. Whatta ya got?

We Want the Airwaves

For those who are on-line, I’m going to be on Yankee Fanclub Radio at around 6:20 this evening. Give a listen or watch their live videocast below:

Listen to the archived show here. I come in at the 21:00 mark.

Boras Seizes the Moment

“I would say that state of flux is a grand issue. I’m not saying that information and time can not resolve it. But it’s going to take time for us to know how these things are resolved. We’re talking about a long-term contract here, and to make that decision is difficult, knowing there are that many issues up in the air.” –Scott Boras

Alex Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras, is good at his job, and he’s seized upon the turmoil of the last few days to apply pressure to the Yankees not only to drive a dump truck full of money to Alex Rodriguez’s front door, but to hire a manager, convince Andy Pettitte to come back, and send trucks of money to Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada’s houses as well. Sez Boras, “Without Pettitte, Rivera and Posada, it’s not the same team.”

Rivera and Posada seem determined to test free agency, but Rodriguez’s deadline to opt out of his contract will arrive six days before free agents are allowed to sign with other teams (see sidebar), so something will have to give. That said, it seems a given that the Yankees will name a new skipper and pick up Bobby Abreu’s $16-million option comfortably in advance of Rodriguez’s opt-out date (for those doubting the Abreu move, Bobby hit .309/.396/.520 over the final four months of the season).

Meanwhile, Joe Torre has turned down an offer from FOX to join Joe Buck and Tim McCarver in the broadcast booth for this year’s World Series citing family commitments. I assume those are commitments he made after the Yankees were eliminated from the postseason.

Sweeping Up the Crumbs

The Record‘s Ian O’Connor, the reporter who obtained the now infamous George Steinbrenner interview during the ALDS defends himself in his column today:

Other writers in the market are closer to Steinbrenner than I am, and have a better understanding of how the organization functions than I do. But I got lucky. For one night, anyway, Jeffrey Maier reached over my outfield wall.

Mike Francesa and Chris Russo, the popular and powerful “Mike & the Mad Dog” hosts, couldn’t accept simple serendipity as a plausible explanation for the “get.” They went off to the races with a complete fabrication planted by someone positioning me as [Randy] Levine’s double-play partner in an attempt to take down Joe.

Never mind these annoying little facts: I have absolutely no relationship with Levine. I have ripped Levine for advocating Torre’s ouster. And I have repeatedly written that Torre should be/should’ve been retained.

On deck, the comical rumor — spread by another Yankee doodle dummy — that I did a Frank Caliendo-esque imitation of Reggie Jackson to get through to The Boss.

Francesa and Russo just had a bad source; I’ve had my share. Sometimes sources have hidden agendas. Sometimes they’re just plain wrong.

I’m willing to take O’Connor at his word, but just because it appeared to be serendipity to him doesn’t mean that there wasn’t someone behind the scenes pulling the strings. Mike Vaccaro extends that man-behind-the-curtain metaphor in unofficially annointing Levine the new Boss (same as the old Boss), while Bob Klapish anticipates a Yogi-Berra-like freeze-out of the Yankees by the spurned Torre.

Over at the paper of record, the graphic accompanying this Murray Chass article shows that Torre made more than the next two highest paid managers in baseball in 2007, and Tyler Kepner reminds us that Torre was willing to except a one-year extension back in spring training, but the since-ousted Steve Swindal told him to wait until after the season (and, by the way, said a pay cut would be mandatory). Of course, a one-year extension in spring training would have meant Torre was, in essence, working on a two-year contract, so his stance was actually consistent there, though it does bear a striking similarity to Gary Sheffield’s inability to play in the final year of a contract without insisting on an extension.

Kepner also quotes Brian Cashman as saying that he wasn’t the only one who wanted Torre back:

“Everybody in that room wanted him back; I have to disagree with him there,” Cashman said Friday night. “Joe knows I’m an ally because there’s a bond there. But I’ve got to speak for everybody else in the room, and they did want him back, too.”

As Steinbrenner cedes control to his sons, he is more intent on seeking consensus for major moves. Levine said all of the executives wanted Torre back.

“Every single one of us made that offer with the hope that he would return,” Levine said. “We were all disappointed that he did not accept it. Reasonable people can differ.”

Maybe they did want him back (I still have very strong doubts about Levine), but only on their terms. To me the most telling part of the entire affair is the team’s unwillingness to negotiate with Torre. That his meeting with them lasted only about 20 minutes is, to me, the most damning fact of all.

Finally, Cashman has confirmed that he has reached out to Don Mattingly, Joe Girardi, and Tony Peña in his search for Torre’s replacement. Peter Abraham spoke to Cashman directly:

Cashman said the process could be culminated swiftly. But he also warned that it could take until after the World Series. “I’ll expand the pool of candidates if that is what I need to do,” he said.

At the same time, he said, he will be negotiating with the in-house free agents. He does not yet know whether the departure of Joe Torre will make that more difficult.

“Nobody has told me that,” he said. “We’ll find that out.”

Picking Up The Pieces

Joe Torre held a press conference at the Rye Town Hilton in Rye Brook, New York at 2pm today. At 4:30 he spoke by phone with Mike and the Mad-Dog on WFAN. From those two appearances as well as the Yankees’ official conference call on Thursday, I’ve been able to piece together the following sequence of events leading to Joe Torre’s departure from the team.

In both of his appearances, Torre stressed a need for trust and commitment from the organization and said on WFAN that he felt that trust and commitment begin to disappear following the Yankees’ 2004 ALCS loss to the Red Sox, saying, “from that time on, it started going downhill.”

Confirming the tone of his press conference after Game 4 of this year’s ALDS and the reports of the mood in the clubhouse that night, Torre said that he did indeed assumed that night that he had managed his final game for the Yankees. However, the lack of news from the team in the week that followed led him to believe there was a chance he could keep his job.

General Manager Brian Cashman contacted Torre a few days before the actual offer was made and told him there would indeed be an offer forthcoming, but that it would involve a pay cut.

On Wednesday evening, Cashman told Torre by phone what the actual offer was: one year, $5 million, with million-dollar incentives for making the postseason, the ALCS, and the World Series for a maximum total of $8 million.

Torre traveled to Tampa with Cashman the next morning with the intention of negotiating with the team (though Cashman did tell him that, in Torre’s words, “he felt that this offer was it, that there was no wiggle room in it”), or at the very least coming to a face-to-face understanding with the organization. Torre’s main goal was to get the team to look beyond this year’s playoff loss to his twelve-year record of success. Among the arguments he was determined to make were that none of the last five World Series Champions made the postseason the year after winning the title, something the Yankees did all four times they won the World Series under Torre, and that the Yankees were the only team to make the postseason in both 2006 and 2007.

In Tampa, where it is assumed he met with the same group who took part in the conference call (Cashman, team president Randy Levine, COO Lonn Trost, George Steinbrenner–who was not on the conference call–his sons Hank and Hal, and his son-in-law Felix Lopez), it was immediately made clear to him that the offer was indeed non-negotiable, at which point Torre officially declined it. Torre said that his arguments were “dismissed real quickly. At that point I realized that it was the offer or nothing, so at that point is when I said goodbye. . . . There really was no negotiation involved. I was hoping there would be, but there wasn’t.” The meeting lasted about 20 minutes, according to Torre.

Torre wanted a two-year deal that would have shown a commitment to keeping him as a manager rather than what he saw as a lame duck. “It’s not totally money. It’s commitment, and commitment is a two-way street. . . . I think players put undo pressure on themselves when they think they have to save the manager’s job. That’s the type of pressure I’ve tried to take out of the clubhouse. . . . Two years would have opened the door for further discussion, but it just never happened.”

He also “took exception” to the incentive clauses, which he “took as an insult,” and the suggestion that they were required as “motivation,” said he “resented” that he would have to accomplish certain things to get back the money taken away from his base salary, saw it as “a punishment.” “If someone is reducing your salary, it tells you they’re not satisfied with the job you’re doing. . . . I didn’t need to be reminded that getting to the World Series is what this organization is all [about]. And that this may make you try harder . . . that insulted me, there’s no question. . . . It was a generous offer, but it still wasn’t the type of commitment of trying to do something together instead of, ‘Let’s see what you can do for me.’”

It was widely assumed on Thursday that the Yankees’ offer was designed precisely so that Torre would reject it, allowing the organization to save face by framing Torre’s departure as his own decision. Most saw through that immediately, as did Torre, who would have preferred that the team told him flatly and immediately that they didn’t want him back. “I think that would have been a lot more honest,” he said on WFAN. Torre said he began Thursday’s meeting by asking if the team really wanted him back. They said yes, but he clearly didn’t believe them. “If someone wanted me to be managing here, I’d be managing here.”

Torre said he did believe that Brian Cashman wanted him back, but was unsure if anyone else did. He said he had a mutual respect with George Steinbrenner, but never had any direct dealings with Randy Levine.

One of the more telling moments in Torre’s press conference was when he indicated that he believed that George Steinbrenner’s statement during the ALDS and the fact that The Record‘s Ian O’Connor was able to reach him by phone was orchestrated by the organization. Francesa and Russo pointed their fingers squarely at team president Randy Levine as the man who orchestrated the Steinbrenner statement. Francesa, an unapologetic Yankee fan, was particularly virulent, painting Levine as an interloper from the business side of the organization who is attempting to thrust himself into the power vacuum in the Yankees’ front office. It was Levine who announced the offer and Torre’s decision in the conference call yesterday, and it is believed that it was Levine who led the movement to get rid of Torre. Francesa called for Levine to be fired, saying that Levine, who joined the team in 2000 after Torre had already won three World Series and was on his way to a fourth, is exploiting his role in the plans for the new stadium to insert himself into the baseball side of the organization despite a lack of knowledge about the game.

Finally, though Torre handled the himself with his usual class, dignity, honesty, emotional openness, and humor today, it’s telling that he refused to say that he’d be willing to come back for any ceremonial purposes. Pressed on that point by Francesa and Russo he said, “all of a sudden you just have the feeling that they don’t want you around, and the way it was done, it’s going to take some time.”

Who’s Next?

And so the Joe Torre era is over. There are two immediate responses to this. The first is to honor Torre and his twelve years as the Yankee skipper, the third most successful managerial term in Yankee history:

Manager Games W-L Pct. Pennants Championships

Joe McCarthy 2348 1460-867 .627 8 7
Casey Stengel 1851 1149-696 .623 10 7
Joe Torre 1942 1173-767 .605 6 4
Miller Huggins 1796 1067-719 .597 6 3

McCarthy, Stengel, and Huggins all made the Hall of Fame based on their success in pinstripes. Joe Torre, whose number 6 will join Stengel’s 37 in whatever version of Monument Park exists in the new Yankee Stadium, will join them in Cooperstown largely because of the last twelve years.

The second response is to ask what effect Torre’s departure will have on the 2008 New York Yankees. That’s a much more difficult question to answer, in part because it depends on both whom the Yankees chose to replace Torre as manager, and on how that choice impacts the contract decisions made by Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Alex Rodriguez. Only those four men know the answer to the latter. As for whom the Yankees might hire to replace Torre, here’s a look at a some likely (and far less likely) candidates.

(more…)

Irreconcilable Differences

The Joe Torre Era appears to be finally over. Unless the Yankees or Torre have a sudden about-face, which seems unlikely, it’s done. “And that’s that,” as Martin Scorsese’s father said in Good Fellas over Joe Pesci’s fallen, and bleeding body.

Torre became an icon as manger of the Yankees, a native son who was one of the most popular and famous coaches New York has ever seen. He was far and away the most successful manager under George Steinbrenner. And he managed more than twice as many games as anyone under the Boss. Torre made the playoffs in each of his twelve years in New York. But the Yankees have not won the World Series since 2000 and Torre makes more than twice as much as any other manager in the game. Today, the Yankees made Torre an offer he could refuse. It was not an outrageously insulting offer, but it is one they could reasonably expect him to turn down.

Torre did and now is out, but on his own terms. “He finally showed some balls,” barked a friend of mine. I didn’t think Torre would ever walk away from the Yankees, but I like him more for it. And he still comes out smelling like a Rose. To be honest, I agree with Joe Morgan and several other talking heads I’ve heard tonight in seeing both sides of the equation. I understand why Torre turned them down. After all of his success you’d think he’d get more than a one-year deal. But I also understand that the Yankees would still be paying more well more than any other manager is earning. It’s not bad business on their part.

I don’t know if the Yankees have any idea of what they are doing (Also, I find Randy Levine to be crude without having any of Steinbrenner’s charm). It’s funny, but even hardcore Yankee fans are skeptical about the idea of Don Mattingly as manager. Some are terrified. Which is about how I feel too, even though I loved Mattingly as a player. But I thought Torre was a bum when they hired him too, so one never knows…

I’d still expect to see Posada and Rivera back, even without Torre. Who knows with Alex Rodriguez and I’m not so certain about Pettitte either. I’m okay with the Yankees moving on. It makes things exciting. But it also feels uneasy. So much change: the loss of Bernie and now Torre, the decline of Steinbrenner. Who knows what the roster will look like on Opening Day?

I will also miss Torre very much. I grew accustomed to his face, as the song goes. I love watching him on TV–he gives great press conference–and am a flat-sucker for the Poppa Joe routine. I was 25 and had just moved to Brooklyn when he was hired. Torre looked like an undertaker or the butcher from the neighborhood. His time with the Yankees will always stand out as a way to look at a certain time of my life–from being single and working in the film business, to being married and writing about baseball. In fact, it was the great Yankee run of the late nineties that compelled me to start writing about baseball in the first place.

Torre has been a wonderful manager and I’ve never been especially bugged about his shortcomings, though I recognize he’s got plenty. I’ll especially love the days with Don Zimmer, not only because the Yankees were winning all the time, just because those two were so amusing. Torre sure loved being Yankee manager and without the pinstripes he may be a little bit like Superman without the cape and suit. But I’m sure he’ll land back in the broadcast booth–if he doesn’t go and manage the Dodgers or something like that–and still be appealing.

Thanks for the memories, Joe. You done good.

Pass

The Yankees offered Joe Torre a one-year contract for $5 million. With that, Torre would make an extra million bucks for each round of the playoffs they Yankees won next year. Finally, there was a team option for 2009.

Joe turned them down.

Whatta ya hear, whatta ya say it ain’t so Joe!

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver