"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

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.”

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