Torre’s tenure was too long

Damon predicts a hot start
Girardi lighting a fire under Yanks

Everyone’s talking about change these days. Presidential candidates on all sides of the aisle want change. Baseball officials want to change the perceptions of a drug culture surrounding baseball. And, hey, there’s a new manager in New York, and things have changed.

Now, as you can pretty well guess based on the headline, I’m not about to write some nostalgic piece pining for the days of Joe Torre or noting how weird he looks in Dodger blue. Today, in my office, a few people were commenting on Torre’s appearance in a Dodgers hat, and to me, it wasn’t that big of a deal. But then again, I signed off on Joe Torre shortly after midnight on Thursday, October 21, 2004.

In the comments to Mike’s short piece about Torre’s appearance on ESPN’s Sunday Conversation, opinion seemed divided on Joe Torre and whether he should be considered the “right” person to manage the 2008 team or should have been let go long enough. It seems now that the writing was on the wall for longer than we thought.

Yesterday, in a piece that nicely complements the ESPN interview, Torre talked with Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News about his tenure with the Yankees. Here’s what the man once dubbed Saint Joe by the New York press had to say:

The last 3 years were difficult. I think it started probably with losing to the Red Sox. Because that becomes a mortal sin,” he said. “And even though the Red Sox were obviously a very good team that year, we got lucky early. They didn’t play well. Then we had two leads in Games 4 and 5 we couldn’t hold onto.

“Since that time, it may be a little too strong to say [the Yankees] wanted to make a change. But for me it wasn’t as comfortable. It could have been self-induced. I don’t know. Last season was very uncomfortable, especially with the bad start we had. There were a lot of questions and stories I had to address.

“I’m sure it took its toll on me, but when you walk into the clubhouse and all of a sudden the players aren’t sure what they should say, what they shouldn’t say, your coaching staff, that made it doubly uncomfortable for me. I just think over the last few years it was gradually getting to the point of not being a helluva lot of fun. The baseball was still fun, but aside from that…”

I know that Joe Torre wasn’t responsible for the way the team played during that 2004 ALCS, but his decisions impacted the game. He decided to all but ignore Kenny Lofton on the bench; he decided not run on Jason Varitek while the Red Sox catcher tried and failed to catch Tim Wakefield’s knuckleballs. He decided to allow Tom Gordon to pitch to David Ortiz in a pivotal at-bat late in game 5. Sure; hindsight is 20-20, but I vividly remember screaming at the TV while the games were played. It is just as easy to second-guess Torre for his managing during the ALCS as it was then, and my critiques have not changed.

Meanwhile, Torre’s impact on the team grew to the point where he openly feuded with key players. He played favorites with the bullpen; he gave guys like Miguel Cairo way too many at-bats long after they ceased being usable. In fact, Brian Cashman had to step in and trade Joe Torre’s guys away from the Yanks because Joe kept using them despite obvious ineffectiveness.

It was, in other words, long past time to go for Torre in 2007. It was well past time to go for Torre in 2005, but his saintly status kept him on.

Now, I know this sounds harsh. That’s the problem with taking an unpopular opinion, and it certainly understates Torre’s impact on the Yanks. His 1173-767 career New York record (.605 winning percentage) and his 12 straight playoff berths have long earned him my admiration. He did a masterful job handling the Yankees in the late 1990s with Don Zimmer at his side and always dealt well with the media even after Zimmer left.

But there was something about the way 2004 unfolded that seemed to bode ill for the future. Torre’s trust in his team was gone, and a lot of people started viewing his moves with skepticism.

I love Joe for what he brought to the Yankees; I don’t expect Joe Girardi to duplicate 12 years of unparalleled Major League success. But there comes a time for every team and every manager when they part ways. The 2007 split was far from ideal, and both the Yankees and Torre didn’t seem to handle it well. It was, in fact, a rare misstep for Torre who didn’t come out looking too sympathetic one way or another.

I’ll miss Joe for what he symbolizes — the winning ways of the Yankees during my high school years in the late 1990s when the Yankees were supposed to win the World Series because that was the way things were. I’ll wish him luck in Los Angeles and hope that the eventual mediocrity won’t tarnish his Hall of Fame credentials.

But I will look forward to the next Joe Era, the one of Girardi, the one in which players come to camp ready to compete and ready to get along better with their manager. It won’t be perfect, but it’s something new. And the Yanks have needed something new since that fateful night in October of 2004 when I sat alone and watched history unfold incredulous and shocked.

Damon predicts a hot start
Girardi lighting a fire under Yanks
  • iYankees

    Great read Ben. And yes, 2004 signaled the end for Joe Torre. Granted, it was a long and arduous process before change finally did happen, but, I agree, it was for the best and we’re all looking forward to the Girardi campaign.

    2004 is one of the strangest years for me, in terms of baseball. It’s something that I’ll always remember and love for what the team did, although the end result still sticks with me like nothing else. being a sophmore at the university of massachusetts definitely played a part in that too (when it happened).

  • Trish

    I agree that 2004 was truly the end of the Torre Era. I have the … um … misfortune of being friends with a lot of Red Sox fans (long story), all of whom were gleefully taunting me during that spectacular crash and burn, but my strongest memory was of Torre sitting on the bench just looking like he didn’t particularly care. Granted, Torre is not the most animated guy on the planet under the best of circumstances but I was like “Dude, your team is self-destructing! Act like you give a s—!” I personally am excited about Girardi (you know you’re getting old when you remember managers when they played) but it’s spring so hope is always there …

  • steve (different one)

    don’t forget pitching Gordon with a 19-8 lead in game 3.

    • Rob_in_CT

      That’s the most damning move of that ALCS, for me (right up there with using Jeff Weaver in the ’03 series while Mariano sat in the bullpen). Gordon was obviously tired.

  • Al the Man

    Wow…very well said. Who wrote the post a few days ago about how Joe Torre should be still managing the Yankees? Change of heart?

  • Tim Sherman

    I couldn’t agree more. Torre’s effectiveness had begun to wane even before the collapse in 2004 and his decision making just got worse and worse over the past couple of years. I was happy to see him go. I respect him as a man, but as a manager, he just wasn’t getting it done anymore. I look forward to a new staff with a new outlook. I would love to see the team play with a bit of passion, enthusiasm and energy, which always seemed to be lacking with Torre on the bench. Great article.
    Tim Sherman

  • Samiamsports

    There are allot more torre haters than you lead to believe. And im one of them.dont get me wrong im thrilled that hes gone.i dont have to sit there saying to myself ”why the hell is torre pitching this guy with a 4 run lead” or ”why is cairo getting another at bat”or ”does he have a personal vendetta against ,for example proctor” but we all must remember when we were winning joe was golden.and every move he did was the right one. Since 04 i dont know if he got lazy or he just didnt care anymore.or maybe a little of both ,the change of joes is for sure necessary and needed.and whomever says otherwise is just in denial.

  • frankd

    Thank you for this article. I did not realize that even Torre knew he stayed too long. I wonder why Steinbrenner and his “baseball people” didn’t. Even friends of mine that loved the guy agreed that he has lacked energy for a long time and I don’t remember when that started. He rarely argued calls. Even some of the most flagrant brought only a brief conversation. Joe seemed happiest sitting on the bench holding someones bat waiting on a long ball. Regardless of what Joe G. does this year I am happy for the change.

    • RichYF

      He held Jeter’s bat. I forget why, but that was something that he did for a while. It was some sort of good luck thing. I remember reading about it somewhere. Jeter asked him to do it, it’s not like he wanted to sit there holding a bat…Well maybe he did, but he had a reason for it at least.

    • steve (different one)

      I wonder why Steinbrenner and his “baseball people” didn’t.

      who knows what internal discussions went on over the past few years?

      Torre held a LOT of sway with George, but i would not be surprised if the organization had various pro/anti Torre factions for years.

      also, even though many of us were happy to see Girardi hired, don’t forget that letting Torre go was a huge PR disaster. i could see how the organization put off that sort of decision as long as they could.

      my guess is that they were hoping he would win one more WS in 2006/2007 and quietly move to a position in the FO.

  • mustang

    WOW !!!! RAB nail this one dead on. Could not agree with you more.
    Just one thing can someone give me a example of this:
    “In fact, Brian Cashman had to step in and trade Joe Torre’s guys away from the Yanks because Joe kept using them despite obvious ineffectiveness.”
    I just can’t recall anyone.
    Great article !!!!!

    • LCW

      Scott Proctor, for one.

    • Brian

      Mike Myers, Miguel Cairo–not traded but released, I believe.
      And then there’s the simultaneous not-playing of guys he didn’t know enough about, like Chris Britton, Edwar at first.

  • Count Zero

    Nice piece. You expressed my sentiments about Joe very well.

    This happens to people all the time in business — there comes a point where they are just trying to hang onto the job. They stop being aggressive in their decision-making — they stop attacking. Once that happens, you’re toast. You can’t deal with risk by trying to avoid it — you have to meet it head on.

    For the last three years, Torre (and the entire team as an extension of his personality) have been playing in fear of losing. The media and the Boss had a lot to do with creating that fear, but that still doesn’t excuse it. Look at the Jints and their attitude at the end of the season. I am confident Girardi is going to restore the aggressor mentality to this team.

  • Rob

    I couldn’t agree more. Fantastic post.

    Kenny Lofton in CF is a perfect example where the team went out the window when the manager played favorites. Let’s not forget that decision impacted 2005 as well. Bubba Crosby started a deciding playoff game and collided with his RF on a critical play. All that because it took Torre too long to realize that Bernie’s defense had expired as early as 2003. Instead, he was still getting playing time over Melky in 2006 when Damon was resting. That’s three years where his affinity for one player directly affected the team’s chances of winning.

  • Rich

    Torre wants credit for the wins and no blame for the losses.

    That was basically the line of defense that Jeter, many fans, and some members of the media have taken when they have defended him, so it’s unsurprising that he believes that.

  • Rob

    P.s. Kenny Lofton was traded for a F’ed-Rod, even as he was on a cheap contract, because Torre made clear he was never going to play him in CF. The numbers he put up in 2005 with the Phillies?

    .335 .392 .420 in 367 ABs

  • mustang

    I don’t agree with Scott Proctor and RAB seem to back me up on this one:

    Brian Hoch reads RAB
    By: Mike A.
    ” It contains a brilliant quote regarding the Proctor-Betemit deal: “Our people were right,” Cashman said. “We had Proctor in other forms. It was just that [fans] didn’t know the names yet.” Word up”

    I just think Betemit was need more.
    Anyone else ?

    • steve (different one)

      the Betemit/Proctor trade was a little complicated because no one knew what A-Rod was going to do.

      if A-Rod left, there was really nothing available after Mike Lowell, and the Red Sox had the ability to make sure Lowell never became a free agent.

      Cashman partly acquired Betemit to make sure the Yankees had at least a replacement level 3Bman this year, WORST CASE scenario.

      that doesn’t mean he wanted Betemit to be handed the starting 3B job, but he made sure 3B wasn’t going to be a sucking black hole.

      it was a very conservative trade in that respect.

    • Joseph P.

      It’s a combination. Proctor and Cairo had to go last season, so the Betemit move was logical.

  • mustang

    Can anyone come up with an example of this:

    “In fact, Brian Cashman had to step in and trade Joe Torre’s guys away from the Yanks because Joe kept using them despite obvious ineffectiveness.”

    • Ben K.

      Stop posting the same thing in the same thread over and over again.

    • dan

      People already did: Proctor, Myers, Cairo. And his refusal to play Josh Phelps, Kenny Lofton (who, as Rob pointed out, his .335/.392/.420 the following season), Edwar Ramirez, and others that I can’t think of right now.

      Read this:

  • mustang

    Just asking a question sorry

  • Rob

    Seriously. Another perfect example: Cashman couldn’t even sign Bernie as a 5th OF/ RH DH in 2007 cause he knew Tea would abuse is role. I had happened for the three previous seasons.

  • mustang

    Thank you… Rob.. That a good example, but Cashman didn’t really trade Bernie away he just didn’t sign him but i get your point. I was looking for a Cashman trade of a Torre a guy or guys. But i best just stop asking. LOL

    • Ben K.

      Scott Proctor. A few people have said that. Cashman traded Scott Proctor when it became clear that Torre would keep using him. He also sent down Brian Bruney for the same reason and released Miguel Cairo. All of this has been said already.

  • Yankee Fan in Chicago

    I’ll go you one better. Not only ought Torre to have been fired after the 04 collapse, his body parts ought to have been scattered across the Meadowlands.

    Pour encourager les autres.

  • Curramba

    Completely agree with you that it was time for Joe and Yankees to move. It was annoying how he stuck to his favs and didn’t give others the OPS to fail or succeed.

    • Jon W.

      And the thing is that nobody is saying Torre is a bad manager, or he won’t do well with the Dodgers. But for reasons that have already been mentioned, he was no longer the best manager for the Yankees. If the players come to camp in better shape, and re-energized by potential opportunities, it’s a sign that this was a good move.

  • mustang

    Seriously if your going to make statements you need some facts to back them up. The one trade you can come up with is Scott Proctor and that is question by your own site. Maybe if you got off the Cashman bandwagon for while you could see that.

    • Ben K.

      What exactly is your problem? Because we’re getting really tired of your attitude.

    • Clayton

      How bout trading Womack and getting rid of Crosby and Sturtze ’06? Or trading Quantrill and Heredia in ’05? Or did you need more examples?

  • mustang

    I have no problem. But as much as I love the Yankees I tried to back whatever i say about them with facts because if I don’t I just look like a homer. I was just questioning your statement never meant for you or anyone esle to take it personnal. But your site your rules i will back off. Sorry if I offended anyone.

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  • Bronx Cheer

    How about Terrence Long? The guy was our starting RFer for about 3 weeks, then was released by Cashman. The GM had to take away Joe’s favorite toy of the moment to get him to play other guys (in this case, Melky).

    O’neil should have gotten more rest against lefties his last year, but Joe kept running him out there cause he “earned” trust.

    Don’t forget Cash having to bring up Cano and mandate that Joe play Cano every day over Womack.

    Cairo at 1B and the snubbing of Lofton are probably the most glaring examples, though.

  • David

    How about the guy platooning Todd Zeile with Nick Johnson. God that was annoying. Torre should have been gone long ago. I’m so excited to have a season without him.

  • Curramba

    Personally, I think Torre was a better manager when Zim was his bench coach.

    • Sciorsci

      I’m glad you mentioned this. I’ve often wondered if much of Torre’s managerial skill was tied to Zimmer’s baseball knowledge. Together, they were a well-oiled machine. Torre was masterful at handling the personalities in the clubhouse and appeasing the media. Zimmer was an excellent sidekick who was not afraid to offer his opinion in tough situations.

      When Zimmer left, and Torre was left to handle basically all of the managerial duties on his own (or at least with far less experience from his bench coach), we started to see some of his weaknesses; namely, failing to spread the workload evenly in the bullpen, not utilizing the proper roles for players (was Mike Myers ever anything more than a LOOGY before he became one of “Joe’s Guys”?), playing favorites (batting A-Rod 8th? Seriously?), etc.

  • Rob_in_CT

    It’s too bad about Proctor, in a sense. Scott Proctor is a useful pitcher, and he gave his all as a Yankee. He’s not a world beater. He’s a useful middle reliever. I was (and remain) all for the Betemit trade because I think Betemit > Proctor, and further at the time it looked like ARod was probably gone. But that doesn’t mean Proctor is useless. He’s not.

    Did Torre abuse Proctor? Some, yeah. But typically he wasn’t passing over better options when he went to Proctor, if I recall correctly. Some of the available options were really bad, and the team needed innings b/c the starters weren’t going deep enough into games.

    Examples like Lofton, Sturtze (who, unlike Proctor, is simply awful), Cairo, Phelps, Edwar… those work a lot better. Torre probably does think Proctor is better than he really is, but the gap between Torre’s belief and reality wrt Proctor is DWARFED by the gaps in those other cases.

    • Sciorsci

      “Did Torre abuse Proctor? Some, yeah.”

      He had Proctor throwing over 100 innings out of the pen. That ought to be punishable by law.

    • Sciorsci

      WRT Sturtze, Proctor, etc…

      You can probably name a reliever every year or two that Torre basically abused to the point where the guy’s arm was about to fall off. Sturtze, Quantrill, Mendoza, Karsay, none of them were the same after the workload they handled under Torre. The jury’s still out on Proctor and what the long-range effects will be after his overuse (which is about to continue in 2008, of course).

      I don’t know how many arms Torre burned through looking for the second-coming of Rivera circa 1996, and the advantage he gave the Yanks by throwing so many quality innings, but at some point, he should have realized that Rivera was the exception, not the rule.

      Look at the pitching stats for 1998. Pretty clearly the best season under Torre’s watch. What jumps out at you? To me, it’s the incredibly balanced use of the bullpen that year.

      • Sciorsci

        I do realize that the outstanding rotation had something to do with the bullpen not getting abused in 1998, but I still think it’s a good thing to spread the workload out under any circumstances.

  • http://rivaveblues Brian C

    I lost respect for Torre when he used Jeff Weaver (after 1 month of inactivity no less) in EXTRA INNINGS of game 4 against the Marlins with the Yanks up 2-1 in the series. The series and the Yanks were never the same since.