"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

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.”

In other news, Don Mattingly and Joe Girardi have both had their interviews and accompanying conference calls with the media. Tony Peña goes today. Listening to both Mattingly and Girardi, I actually find myself leaning more toward Mattingly than I had before. Mattingly sounded genuinely excited about the possibility of managing and said that he’s been managing in his head throughout his four years as a Yankee coach as well as during his player days. He also talked about being influenced by Billy Martin and Lou Piniella in addition to Joe Torre. In contrast, Girardi sounded jaded and guarded, if not a bit grumpy. Even Torre, a manager often criticized for looking somnambulant on the bench, talked about the importance of the 2007 team’s youthful energy to their second-half comeback. Mattingly sounds like a man who would foster that energy. Girardi sounds like a man who might stifle it.

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