"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.
Deadspin wanted to see Torre go Tasmanian Devil and rip the Yankees, but knew that he would be mature, measured and direct in his presentation. As many writers noted, the class and deftness in handling the throngs of reporters is what’ll be missed most. Several reports stated how in 12 years here, he became a New York icon. Initially, I thought that was a stretch, but now, reviewing everything, I don’t think it’s an overstatement to how important Torre was to the Yankees’ return to prominence.
For me, the highlight of the entire weekend was Torre’s interview on Mike and the Mad Dog. You had Francesa, who loves the Yankees, and Russo, an unabashed Yankee hater who on countless occasions in the past five years has commented how Torre “loves money.”
Their half-hour interview was riveting, from the questions they asked — Russo kept his composure and asked pointed questions, but not in any way pushing an agenda other than engaging Torre to provide information to the fans — to Torre’s answers. It was a side of Torre that I hadn’t seen when covering the team. He sounded relieved to be rid of the unrealistic expectations that he tried to live up to and protect his players from, but could not.
The most telling aspect of his relief was when he discussed Ian O’Connor’s column on Steinbrenner, and his belief that the team may have orchestrated it. Who knew Torre was a conspiracy theorist? I don’t believe it’s out of the realm of possibility, especially when O’Connor and Randy Levine both went on MMD to defend themselves.
PROS OF THE COVERAGE
• The number of angles presented. The item that I don’t believe wasn’t visible enough was the role, if any, that Brian Cashman played. Steven Goldman had a pointed blog on Friday, and Newsday’s Ken Davidoff had his own take Sunday.
• In Newsday, Jim Baumbach’s timeline of Torre’s hectic Thursday was excellent.
• Newsday’s Anthony Rieber coming clean as the man who wrote the CLUELESS JOE headline back in 1995. Hilarious stuff.
• The breadth of quotes from former colleagues and competitors. For me, one of the most telling and surprising nuggets came from two-time ex-Yankee reliever Jeff Nelson, who did not exactly get along with Torre. He told Davidoff, "If I’m the owner, and I’m not, I’m the type of guy where you say, ‘You manage the team as long as you want.’"
• The acknowledgement by ESPN that Torre’s story was bigger than Game 5 of the LCS. (More on this later)
CONS OF THE COVERAGE
• The latest salvo in the Yankees vs. ESPN battle: The Worldwide Leader broadcast Thursday’s conference call live, against the wishes of the team. I’m sure it made for interesting TV, which is what ESPN wanted, but it crossed the ethical line. I’m interested to see how ombudsman Le Anne Schreiber analyzes this in her upcoming post.
• Reporters staking out Torre’s house and news helicopters tailing his car from the airport.
• Local news (not sports) anchors commenting on the situation as if they know and understand the significance of it. Few people ask the sports reporters and anchors to comment on the news, right? Leave the news to the newsies and the sports to the sports folks.
• I’m singling out this column, not because it upset me, but because two paragraphs ruined the whole thing for me: Shaun Powell, in Friday’s Newsday, had two graphs midway through the column where he opined that for the first time in a long time, Torre’s situation wasn’t about the money. He wrote: "Torre did his job well. He also did it with class, and when it counted, the Yankees refused to return the favor. It’s that simple. In fact, this might be the first documented case in which a man who was offered $5 million, the highest salary of anyone in his profession, was screwed. It also was the first documented case in sports in which, finally, it wasn’t about the money. It was about the insinuation that came with the pay cut. It was the Yankees, who generate millions, suddenly and suspiciously becoming tightwads. It was the Yankees selling Torre short and showing him no class." … You can’t say it’s not about the money, and then write three sentences that derail your argument. Powell is a solid columnist, but he and his editors missed this.
• The mudslinging that ensued. Sure, you knew it was coming and you knew it would sell papers, but Sunday’s Post exclusive featuring Hank Steinbrenner’s quote that he will never live down: "Where was Joe Torre’s career before he came here?" was the epitome if why players may look at the Yankees now and steer clear of signing with the team. Joel Sherman has a strong retort in today’s Post.
• Advocacy. I’m old-school in this way. I don’t care if a paper or a writer endorses a candidate. It leads to bias. Kevin Kernan saying that the next manager should be Don Mattingly, while it may be indicative of the majority opinion and fall in line with the traditional "eyes and ears of the public" view of reporters, is wrong. And it presents the managerial issue as if Mattingly’s hire is a foregone conclusion, when there are numerous reports indicating the opposite.
STORIES TO WATCH, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
• The ever-evolving A-Rod contract saga.
• Girardi, Mattingly, or Peña? (Ten bucks says Bill Madden writes a column endorsing the return of Lou Piniella.)
Until next week … let the comments fly, and Rocky Mountain High.