When the Yanks won the World Series against the Phillies a mere 10 days ago, Yankee fans all over breathed a collective sigh of relief. The team had finally beaten down the ghosts of 2001, 2003 and 2004 and the lack of pitching depth in the years after.
In a sense, this year’s victory let Joe Torre off the hook for his lack of postseason success over his final years as a Yankee. Our lasting postseason images wouldn’t be Jeff Weaver pitching in Florida before Mariano Rivera, A-Rod’s batting eighth in a playoff game or midges swarming Joba Chamberlain in Cleveland as Torre stood idly by. Rather, we can toast Hideki Matsui, A-Rod, CC, Andy Pettitte and, of course, Mo. We could feel confidence in Joe Girardi and look back fondly on the Joe Torre Era while recognizing that it probably had to end when it did, if not sooner.
The divorce, though, between Torre and the Yanks was an ugly one, and it followed a decade-long tradition of ugly divorces between the Yanks and their coaches. Don Zimmer had a public split with George Steinbrenner; Mel Stottlemyre continually felt undermined by the Yankee brass and left on bad terms. Torre and the Yanks engaged in public battle over their one-year offer following 2007, and no one felt too good about it.
But time — and World Series wins — heals all wounds. Speaking yesterday at the annual Safe at Home gala, both Torre and Zimmer revealed that they were rooting for the Yanks to beat the Phillies. Torre called it “surreal” to watch his Yankee friends playing in the Fall Classic. “To watch what they’ve done with Joe Girardi at the helm really made me feel good, even though I’m supposed to be a National League fan and all that stuff,” he said. “When you’re as close to these guys as I’ve been for all these years, I was just really pleased for them.”
Torre spoke at length about his trepidation at facing the Yankees. He and Derek Jeter have a tight bond, and it would have been weird, to say the least, to see Torre managing to get Jeter out. Still, the Yanks head to Los Angeles next June, and those games should make for compelling baseball.
Zimmer, who has known Joe Girardi since the Yanks’ manager was a rookie with the Cubs in 1989, was even more emotional in his support for the Yanks. “I was pulling so hard,” the Rays’ adviser said. “I spent the first 10 years he was in the big leagues, we were together. Joe’s quite a man and a very good friend of mine. I was happy for him and I was happy for the Yankees.”
In a way, now, the ball is in the Yankees’ court. The team should retire Joe Torre’s number 6, and they should have Zimmer — and all of the rest of the dynasty-era Yankees — at the ceremony. It sounds to me as though Torre is more than willing to thaw out this relationship, and it’s only a matter of time before the Yankees do too.