Via Bryan Hoch, former manager Joe Torre has accepted an invitation to attend the 2011 edition of Old Timer’s Day. He was at GMS Field for the first time since leaving the Yankees today, presumably taking care of some stuff given his new position as MLB’s VP of Baseball Operations. Torre returned to Yankee Stadium for the first time late last year, when the team unveiled the George Steinbrenner monument in Monument Park. After a somewhat ugly divorce, it appears the two sides are mending fences, and I’m glad to see it.
As the Yanks sit upon the precipice of a playoff spot, it’s highly unlikely that Joe Girardi, despite a rough patch in early September, will be dismissed as the Yankee manager. The Yanks’ Front Office supports him, and the younger generation of Steinbrenners doesn’t seem so prone to rash personnel moves. Still, if Girardi himself chooses to take another job — say the opening in Chicago’s North Side — the Yanks will have to find a new manager. To that end, Jon Heyman, ever the rumormongerer, says that Bobby Valentine “likely would be one candidate to replace him in the Bronx.” Joe Torre’s name too has been bandied about by columnists looking for a narrative.
I say no way, no how on either candidate. Steve S. at TYU dispatches Torre while Rob Iracane at Walkoff walk seems to think that anyone advocating for Valentine’s return to the bench is delusional. The hand-wringing over Girardi’s contract is simply that. With the Yanks holding a secure playoff, the narrative of Girardi is one story to watch after the Word Series, but he’ll be back.
The unveiling of a larger-than-life George Steinbrenner plaque in Monument Park wasn’t about any single member of the so-called Yankee family last night. While the typical luminaries and club veterans made their ways to Yankee Stadium, the only people who warranted introductions were the members of the Steinbrenner family. David Wells simply walked down the field; Don Mattingly, alone, strolled out to Monument Park; and Joe Torre and his wife Alli, making their return to the Bronx for the first time since 2007, were pelted with cheers only after a camera found them.
Yes, last night was about George M. Steinbrenner, and the way he turned the Yankees and himself into something (and someone) who towered over the baseball and city landscape for the better part of four decades. But earlier in the afternoon, the day was about reconciliations for Joe Torre, the one man who, during his prime, was capable of taking the backpage away from the Boss, and the Yankees, an organization which spurned him and which he spurned in return.
For Torre, a George Steinbrenner memorial just a few days he called it quits in Los Angeles served as the perfect excuse for a homecoming. Based on the narrative of the time, Joe Torre was, by the end, Steinbrenner’s guy through and through, but by 2007, the Boss wasn’t living up to his nickname. After another first-round playoff exit, the Yanks wanted a change at the helm, and they brought it about by low-balling Torre. The four-time World Champion manager repaid the favor by burning every bridge he had built by writing a largely unnecessary book. He returned yesterday not to make nice with the men who fired him, but to honor the guy who gave him a chance back in 1996.
The media response to Torre’s turn in the Bronx is as any Yankee fan would expect. The press embraces Torre as they always did, but the writers and columnists note, as Tyler Kepner did, that this isn’t Torre’s time any longer. No one knows that better than baseball fans 3000 miles away. After Torre was ousted from the Bronx, he headed into the sunset and found himself in Los Angeles, atop another franchise struggling through years of mediocrity.
The Dodgers haven’t won much of anything since 1988, the longest such drought since the team fled Brooklyn for Hollywood, and Joe Torre was supposed to change that. He took the job in Los Angeles to turn around a stagnant franchise just as much as he did to try to teach the Yankees a lesson. I’ll win anywhere, he wanted to tell them, and he fell just a few wins short of his goal.
In his first two years with the Dodgers, Torre’s team reached Game 5 of the NLCS before petering out. This year, the team is bound for fourth place and a sub-.500 record. Come March, Don Mattingly, another former Yankee great, will be at the helm in Chavez Ravine, and although Torre, 70, says he’ll listen if the Mets come a-knockin’, his managerial days are probably behind him.
Yesterday, at Yankee Stadium, Torre and Cashman seemed to bury the hachet. “When I left, that was a very dark time for me,” Torre said. “I was hurt, and yet if you try to be rational about it, you had two parties not knowing how to say goodbye. That’s what it turned out to be.
Cashman, who Torre acknowledged was hurt by the book, is ready to let bygones be bygones as well. “I think we’ve agreed to just put it behind us,” the Yanks’ GM said. “We had a long, terrific run. I would put our relationship while we were working together up against any GM/manager combination in the game. We both agreed it’s just not healthy. It’s time to turn the page. Whatever happened on that side, it’s a small sample compared to the huge sample of all the good stuff that took place.”
The Yankees can afford to let Torre’s words slide. They’ve won a World Series without him, something they could not accomplish in his any of his last eight seasons as manager. They’ve ushered in a new stadium and feature a young core of players who can lead the team more wins. Plus, they’re doing so with their own Joe who just so happens to be a disciple of Torre’s at the helm.
So the Yankees can turn the page. Last night, when the camera found Torre, the crowded roared in recognition. They know that Torre will be back, maybe even next year, for a ceremony retiring number 6. They know Torre will probably be enshrined with a Yankee cap on in Cooperstown for his work as the team’s manager. They know they don’t need to carry much of a grudge because life and baseball have gone on without Torre.
Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten the same round of applause if he had been formally announced. Maybe the boos would have been there. But why not send him off in style? When all is said and done, it is what Joe Torre deserves.
The Yankees are set to pay tribute to George M. Steinbrenner III prior to their game against the Rays tomorrow evening, and according to Bill Madden, both Joe Torre and Don Mattingly will be in attendance. The Dodgers are off tomorrow, and it will be the first time that either Torre or Mattingly will return to Yankee Stadium (new or old) since leaving after the 2007 season. I expect them both to get roaring ovations, especially Donnie Baseball.
The Yanks will be unveiling a monument honoring Steinbrenner in Monument Park, the first new one since 1999.
Here’s some Sunday morning links while we wait for Yankees-Orioles followed by Pats-Jets (my pick: Pats 27, Jets 13).
In light of the recent news that Joe Torre is stepping down as Dodgers manager, Chad Finn at the Boston Globe takes a look back at the 1998 Yankees. Finn takes shots at the Yankees from time to time but it’s all in good fun and he’s one of the Boston writers who I can actually read when it comes to baseball. He gets a shot in at Joe Morgan and calls Tim Raines a Hall of Famer, so he’s good in my book.
Within a piece at AOL Fanhouse Andrew Johnson has an interesting take on the Jeter situation comparing him to the Dave Matthews Band. Once you read it, it does make some sense. The best line of the whole piece however, is this “I’m a sportswriter, not an ethicist.” If only more people that write or talk about sports for a living understood that.
Carl Crawford was upset for the criticism he took after getting thrown out at third base to end Tuesday nights game. Personally I’m not buying that the Yankees will be all in on Crawford in the offseason, but if he got upset by this and he ends up in pinstripes, he’ll have quite an adjustment to the New York media. It’s also interesting that the writer notes Crawford seemed pretty stung by the criticism coming from the Yankees.
Ken Burns is back in the baseball business as his new documentary “The Tenth Inning” is set to air on PBS on September 28th and 29th. “The Tenth Inning” is a sequel to Burns’ 1994 “Baseball”, and will cover new things that have happened in baseball since the last film. For many of the readers here the past 15 years or so covers a lot of the time we’ve been avidly following the game, so it is sure to be a very interesting watch.
Last night in Philadelphia, the Dodgers lost a game that summed up their season. Jonathan Broxton, the once-untouchable closer, allowed four runs without retiring a batter in the 9th, and Joe Torre’s previous bullpen machinations failed. Minus Mariano, it was a familiar story for Yankee fans as Torre used five relievers to try to get the final seven outs of the game.
With their loss, the Dodgers dropped to 59-56, nine games behind the Padres and in fourth place. They’re just 6.5 out of the Wild Card but behind five teams, and the team is treading water as the season nears an end. Their manager too is just treading water, and Los Angelenos are awaiting to see if Joe Torre will come back for another stint in Chavez Ravine or call it a career. Fans, it seems, are ready to let him go. Jon Weisman for Dodger Thoughts opines:
There’s also the fact that Torre has always felt like something of a visiting professor here. There was a ticking clock –partly self-imposed by Torre — from the moment he hastily replaced Grady Little in the fall of 2007. Torre has been liked by many and loved by some — but he hasn’t penetrated the hearts of Los Angeles’ baseball community in a meaningful way. His ties to New York’s string of World Series titles can’t be broken by a couple of NLCS runs. It took Jackson several NBA crowns before Lakers fans could begin to feel that the former Chicago Bulls coaching legend was really theirs. Torre is never going to reach that level in Los Angeles, and the people here intuitively know this. It’s noteworthy that the single act Torre might be most remembered for as Dodgers manager could be coaxing the greatest Los Angeles Dodger of them all, Sandy Koufax, into a rare public conversation earlier this year…
Things might have been different if the Dodgers had been able to take advantage of their chances to even the 2008 and 2009 NLCS at two games apiece. But Torre’s magic couldn’t save Los Angeles those years, and now the odds are against him doing any more.
“My feeling is that Torre won in New York because of an unlimited payroll, though he couldn’t do it every year,” another Dodger Thoughts commenter said. “That’s not necessarily to say he’s bad under a more financially constrained regime, but I consider him replaceable in every aspect except his celebrity (which he owes to his time in New York City). I would not miss him, but I’d like to see him go out with a World Series championship – which, however, would probably bring a clamor for him to stay.”
Since leaving New York, Torre has had to face a legacy not of success but of late-career failure. After setting himself up with impossible standards, Torre hasn’t won anything since 2000. A bitter defeat in 2001 wasn’t really his fault, but both the World Series defeat in 2003 and the ALCS collapse in 2004 bore his managerial signatures. A post-New York tell-all memoir didn’t endear him to fans who demand nothing short of a World Series trophy every year. If he retires after this season, he will be feted in New York, but we continue to grapple with the complexities of the Torre Years.
A few thousand miles closer to New York but years removed from Torre, another ex-Yankee manager is calling it quits after this season plays out. Late last month, Sweet Lou announced his intentions to depart from Chicago after the 2010 campaign. Piniella got his managerial start in New York in the mid-1980s, captured a World Series title in Cincinnati in 1990, and hasn’t been able to push the Mariners, Devils Rays or Cubs past the finish line. He’ll retire with over 1850 wins and three Manager of the Year awards.
When the Yanks picked Piniella to take over from Billy Martin in 1986, the choice was controversial. Lou had a fiery temper but no managerial experience, and few in the Yankee organization knew how this approach would play at the Big League level. He led the Yanks to a 90-72 second place finish and earned himself a two-year deal. Following the 1987 season, Piniella was promoted to GM while Martin returned until he was fired again in mid-June. Following the 1988 season, Piniella would be gone from the Bronx.
Over the years, Lou and the Yanks would be forever intertwined. As he headed up the Mariners from 1993-2002, a fierce East Coast/West Coast rivalry emerged. The Mariners stunned the Yanks in 1995, and the Yanks returned the favor in both 2000 and 2001. Piniella’s name briefly popped up when Joe Torre’s tenure ended, but the two sides never had their long-awaited reunion.
As these two men prepare for what comes next, both will be linked forever with the Yankees even if both left on less than ideal terms. As a player, Lou won some memorable titles, and as a manager, he served as the perfect foil for Joe Torre’s victorious Yankees. That they will probably retire at the same time is fitting indeed.
He started out in the tabloids as Clueless Joe, the mediocre manager with a sub-.500 record who wouldn’t put up a fight against George Steinbrenner. On the way to a bitter divorce, he became one of the Yanks’ all-time winningest managers with four World Series championships to his name. Along the way, he managed the biggest post-season collapse in baseball history and watched his once-reliable team sputter through some Octobers. Then he burned many in a book and hasn’t been back since.
Last night, that man — Joe Torre — found himself in an odd position. For the first time since leaving New York amidst the turmoil of a midge-inspired playoff to the Indians in 2007, Torre faced off against his old teammates. The coverage has see-sawed from bittersweet to hyperbolically over the top. In other words, it’s just another day in the world of New York sports.
Two of the better takes come from opposing sides of the Torre Divide. Buster Olney, in a piece to which Joe linked yesterday, looks at Torre’s “bittersweet reunion” with his former team while Mike Vaccaro remembers the good times. Nothing sums up the city’s mixed feelings over Joe Torre better than those two conflicting takes. Is his legacy The Yankee Years, a book I called unnecessary last year? Or is his legacy the return to greatness for a Yankee franchise that had been saddled by George Steinbrenner?
As is often the case, the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but there appears to be a growing sense among Yankee fans that Joe Torre outlived his welcome in New York City. He was never as good a manager by himself as he was when he had a strong cast of supporting coaches. In fact, after Don Zimmer’s departure following the 2003 World Series, Torre seemed to lose a lot of his golden touch. Working with flawed teams, he reached the playoffs every year, but after the 2004 collapse, he couldn’t guide the team past the first round.
While pondering Torre yesterday, I asked my Twitter followers if they thought Joe should have been fired after 2004 instead of after 2007. Even though we could argue that the 2004 Red Sox were a far superior team to their 2004 New York counterparts, the Yankees were up 3-0 and couldn’t put the team away. Mariano Rivera struggled to close the door in Game 4, but Torre then went with Tom Gordon in the 8th inning of Game 5 to disastrous effect. Mo had to get six outs anyway, and he couldn’t squeeze out of a first-and-third, no-out jam.
The responses were varied. Some thought Torre should have been fired after 2003 when he went with Jeff Weaver over Mariano Rivera in the 11th inning of a pivotal Game 4. Others thought that if not 2004, maybe after 2006 when he dropped A-Rod in the batting order and generally seemed to have no idea how to escape from Detroit. By the time the midges descended on Cleveland and Torre didn’t want to waste a mound visit to try to pull his team off the field, the ship had sailed. The Yankees weren’t going to fire Torre outright, but they weren’t going to play nice either.
After the book came out, sentiment turned against Saint Joe. He burned Alex Rodriguez, the player with which the team has a love-hate relationship but who drives fans to the team; he threw Carl Pavano and Kevin Brown, admittedly easy targets, under the bus; he slammed Brian Cashman. It was an ugly, ugly affair.
Today, I have very mixed feelings about Joe Torre. As last year’s team and this year’s show, the Yanks don’t need that Joe win; they have another one who is perfectly capable at handling the team’s owners, the New York media, and his high-priced superstars with their fragile and not-so-fragile egos. Yet, I’ll always have a soft spot for Torre. He came onto the scene after 12-year-old Ben lived through his most heartbreaking moment as a Yankee fan, and then, Torre turned the team into winners. He had a way with the Yanks that made him a commanding and comforting presence. I wasn’t, though, sad to see him go. He had outlived his time in New York and burned a bridge with that book.
When Mariano Rivera took the mound last night and threw 10 of 13 pitches for strikes, as the Dodgers’ 4-5-6 hitters failed to put a ball on play, Torre grew disgruntled. His team had beaten him, and it was great.