Archive for Joe Torre

Joe Torre and Lou Piniella talk during a 2001 game. Credit: AP Photo, Ron Frehm

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.

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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.

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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.

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Jul
10

Joe won’t go home again

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As late as next summer and as early as October, the Yankees and Joe Torre will have a reunion of sorts. Next year’s preliminary schedule has the Bombers visiting the Dodgers while this year, the Yankees find themselves just three games worse than the Dodgers.

While that eventual meeting is sure to generate more coverage than any of us could stomach, even a simple Dodger trip to Citi Field leads to a few Torre articles. This one from Newsday caught my eye this week because it seems fairly clear that Torre and the Yanks are on icy terms at best.

Earlier this week, Torre and Anthony Rieber chatted about Torre’s thoughts on both the new and old Yankee Stadiums. The former Yankee manager was unequivocal in stating that he will not be going back to Yankee Stadium. Writes Rieber:

Torre didn’t want to leave the Yankees after 12 seasons and four World Series titles. When he turned down the Yankees’ please-don’t-take-it one-year contract offer, he decided to not look back.

He said he already made his goodbyes to The House That Ruth Built after his final days as Yankees manager following their defeat in the 2007 ALDS to Cleveland. He hasn’t been back since. With the ballpark being slowly torn down, he’ll likely never get another chance. He’s OK with that. “When I left there, I would have been very surprised if it wasn’t my last time,” he said. “I took everything in. I had so many great memories there.”

Torre said he bought a couple of Yankee Stadium seats, something he has also done for other defunct stadiums he managed in (Shea, Fulton County in Atlanta, Busch in St. Louis). But he didn’t want any other memorabilia from Yankee Stadium other than what he packed up from his office.

“I’ve been asked, and even some people from the Yankees have called me, ‘Is there anything you want here?’ ” he said. “I already made arrangements for a couple of seats . . . Aside from that, everything that went on there was enough for me. It really was.”

Torre also told Rieber that he doesn’t want to visit the new Yankee Stadium unless of course it is with the Dodgers in October. He might just get his chance to visit anyway.

These sentiments from Torre are a part of the continuing feud he has with the Yankees. It was clear from his book that he has little respect for the men running the show right now, and while he should carry some of the blame for the messy divorce and probably outlived his years in New York, the Yankees and, in particular, Hank Steinbrenner messed that one up in 2007.

Joe Torre will long be remembered as a great Yankee manager. He won four rings and 1173 games. He never missed the playoffs, but since leaving after 2007, he hasn’t come back. He missed the closing ceremonies at Yankee Stadium and the All Star Game. He shouldn’t have, and that one is on Hank.

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Jun
01

Looking back on the Torre Years

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9780385529389 When Joe Girardi went with Phil Coke and then David Robertson in the ninth inning of a tie game on the road yesterday, my thoughts turned to Joe Torre. While this strategic decision isn’t unique to either of the last two Yankee managers, it was a move we saw Torre make over and over again. The most egregious example came in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series when Mariano Rivera, the Yanks’ best reliever, never entered the 12-inning game, and Jeff Weaver gave up the game-winning home run to the light-hitting Alex Gonzalez.

These days, Joe Torre seems like a distant memory of days gone by. We laugh sadly and knowingly when hearing news of Scott Proctor’s impending surgery, and we see how, across the country, Torre’s Dodgers currently own the best record and a whopping +87 run differential as they run away with the NL West. Maybe an October homecoming for Torre is in the cards.

Earlier this year, as Yankee fans grew more accustomed to life under a different Joe, Torre thrust himself back into the spotlight when he and Tom Verducci published The Yankee Years. Ostensibly a Verducci book in which Torre takes on the third person as though being interviewed by the Sports Illustrated scribe, the tell-all memoir takes a path back through the rise and fall of Torre in the Bronx. The rise is, of course, Torre’s doing; the fall is not.

I read the book shortly after it came out in February, and I’ve been sitting on the review since then. At the time, I wondered why Torre bothered, and after reading it, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say. It seemed like a vindictive way to get back at the Steinbrenner family for unceremoniously booting Torre out of New York, and the book was quickly subsumed by the Selena Roberts revelations concerning Alex Rodriguez‘s drug use. Appropriately, Torre and Verducci’s book is far outselling Roberts’ tome on Amazon, and that’s simply because it’s a better book.

Now, I’m not in the camp of fans that think it’s a must-read. For the most part, if you were a fan from 1996 until the present, the book unveils nothing new. Torre claims ignorance to the drug use that, according to the Mitchell Report, was rampant in the Yankee clubhouse in the late 1990s but knows that the players called A-Rod by the less-than-flattering “A-Fraud” nickname. He had a good rapport with most of his players and couldn’t get along with others. Who would have guessed?

Between the chapters focusing around the Torre narrative, Verducci writes about the state of the baseball world, and those sections bothered me. First, Verducci treads familiar ground in talking about steroids in the game. Anyone who has read Game of Shadows, Juicing The Game or Juice will find nothing new. Verducci also tackles both Moneyball and the rise of the Boston Red Sox as the paragons of baseball’s new way. The parts on the Red Sox were particularly galling because Verducci paints the team as doing no wrong while the Yankees did everything wrong.

As the book progresses, Torre reserves his worst criticism for George Steinbrenner‘s meddling, Brian Cashman‘s Red Sox envy that led to some supposedly wacky ideas from the Yanks’ GM and everyone but himself. It was Steinbrenner who pursued Randy Johnson. It was Steinbrenner who went with Gary Sheffield over Vladimir Guerrero. It was Cashman who tried to convince Torre to bat Giambi leadoff to maximize the number of runners on base, and it was Cashman who did not support Torre in the ill-fated final meeting after the Yanks’ 2007 playoff loss.

Torre says that his worst mistake while with the Yankees came a few weeks before his dismissal, when he did not pull Joba and the team off the field during an attack of the midges in Cleveland. It was perhaps his worst personal mistake because it cost him his job. But was it really more costly than the Jeff Weaver decision? The way the 2004 ALCS was managed? Hitting A-Rod eighth in 2006? I don’t think so.

In the end, Torre says he’s still rooting for the Yankees. “I have to pull for them,” he said. “People think because you leave the Yankees and supposedly you’re unhappy with each other that you’re supposed to pull against them. But I can’t pull against the individuals over there, least of all Girardi who played for me, coached for me.”

Torre seems to be at peace with himself for his book and for his ouster. I have to wonder, though, why the rest of us had to suffer through what is, in effect, a public outing of his personal dislike for those running the team. We know Joe Torre is a better person than the Randy Levines and Lonn Trosts. Writing a book about them — even though the book is mostly an entertaining romp through a dynastic era — just stoops to their level.

You can get Joe Torre and Tom Verducci’s The Yankee Years at Amazon. That link contains our affiliate code. So you can buy the book and support RAB at the same time.

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Known for his high workloads with the Yanks (102.1 IP in ’06, yikes), Scott Proctor had Tommy John surgery last week after battling elbow issues for parts of the last two seasons. Now, his longtime manager Joe Torre says that Proctor’s stupidity is to blame. “There’s playing hurt, and then there’s playing stupid,” Torre said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with someone’s intelligence. If you can endure pain and still are able to do what you do, that’s one thing. If you’re willing to play, which means you certainly are brave, but you can’t be the player that you need to be, then it’s not very smart to do for your own health, and you’re not helping the team either.”

Now, I understand that Joe is trying to say that Proctor should have spoken up about when he needed a break, but it’s not like the guy forced his way into 166 games in a two year span. Joe is usually an excellent communicator, but some things are better left unsaid.

In other Joe Torre news, The Post reports that the 2010 preliminary schedule features a trip to the Bronx by Torre and the Dodgers. It would be the Dodgers’ first visit to the Bronx since the 1981 World Series and Torre’s first since his uncomfortable departure in 2007. Derek Jeter told the Murdoch-owned tabloid that it would be “awkward” to play against Torre.

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As the Joe Torre story broke a few weeks ago, news emerged that the Yanks were considering adding non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements to their standard contracts. When Joe wrote it about at the end of January, his post generated some interesting debates over the contract provision. Many criticized the Yanks for attempting to control the P.R. spin while others approved of the term.

Today, we learn that the Yanks would not be alone in keeping a lid on the clubhouse. The Dodgers, Torre’s current employer, already include a NDA in their contracts. Jayson Stark dropped this tidbit into his Rumblings & Grumblings column this week:

The Dodgers apparently have no reason to worry about Joe Torre’s writing a gut-spilling, sanctity-violating book about his current team. A friend of Torre says the Dodgers included a confidentiality clause in Torre’s current contract. So sadly, we’ll probably never get to read the Dodgers’ catchy clubhouse nicknames for Manny or Derek Lowe.

When the Yankees do it, they’re accused of violating their employees’ First Amendment privileges, but when the Dodgers do it, it becomes accepted industry practice and hardly registers in the news. Nope. No double standard in baseball.

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For the past half hour I’ve been looking for something Yankee related to riff on, but there’s just nothing turning up. We’ve hit a real lull in terms of news, and that has us focusing on topics around the league. I did stumble across this Matt Gagne article in the Daily News (does he pronounce it like Eric or Greg?), which isn’t much, but it’s something to talk about as we await the RAB Radio Show this afternoon.

Gagne talked to some Yankees fans at Joe Torre’s book signing regarding their faith in Joe Girardi compared to the old skipper. The way Gagne presents it, most fans only trust Torre to take this team to the playoffs. Some selected quotes:

“It would be as close to a guarantee as you could get,” said Tammy Weinrib, 33, incredulous that Torre no longer wears pinstripes. “I’m still furious by what happened….He was the best coach they ever had.”

“I don’t think the Yankees are going to make the playoffs this year,” said Brandon Cohen, 35, of South Amboy, N.J. “I don’t know if Girardi can get all these guys together. With Torre, no question. They wouldn’t necessarily win the World Series, but they’d get there.”

This is a bunch of baloney. Dislike Girardi if you will, but to say that Torre can take this team to the Series and Girardi can’t is giving way too much credit to Torre and way too little to Girardi. These specific fans, and fans who think like this, are viewing the issue at only the surface level: Torre made the playoffs every year from ’96 through ’07, and in Girardi’s first year on the job he broke the streak. Ergo, Torre can do it and Girardi can’t.

Say what you will about a manager’s effect on a baseball team, but I don’t think Girardi was at the center of the issue last year. The Yanks had poor timing. They got some quality outings from their starters early in the season but couldn’t score runs. Then they picked up the offensive production, but dropped off in the pitching department when Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner took the spots of Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain.

As Mike showed, the Yankees runs scored vs. runs against was about even for the first half. They made some separation at the end of July, but in August the numbers grew closer again, and that’s what prevented the Yankees from making the playoffs. You can make proclamations about how it all came back to Girardi, but I can’t agree with that. Injuries did a number on the team.

I have full faith that Joe Girardi can lead this team to the playoffs. Maybe Joe Torre could have, too. I don’t think there’s any real way to say, though, without getting into total anecdotal speculation.

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The Joe Torre Book Tour gets started tomorrow afternoon at the Barnes & Noble at 46th and Fifth Ave., and the general consensus is that this book tour will make or break his Yankee reputation. He isn’t off to a great start.

The big issue right now revolves around his critiques of A-Rod. As Neil Best writes today, Torre is attempting to backtrack on his A-Fraud comments. On his Friday appearance on Larry King Live, Torre claimed that his less-than-glowing nickname for the Yanks’ third baseman was simply a joke. I don’t buy it and neither, it seems, does Mike Mussina.

In the Bob Klapisch column linked above, Mussina opines on this debacle, and his words ring true:

“Joe has started something that a lot of people are going to have to answer to,” Mike Mussina said by telephone on Thursday. “Joe’s going to have to answer to it too, but it won’t be as bad for him because he’s with the Dodgers now. But it’s going to be bad for the guys he left behind.”

[snip]

Mussina said, “it’s not just what goes on in the clubhouse, it’s sitting on the bus, or if you’re out having lunch. As a ballplayer you need to know who you have to watch out for and who you can trust. First and foremost, you should be able to trust your manager.

“I mean, people knew that Brown was out there, and that Randy was ornery all the time. And Pavano is whoever he is. But if you’re their manager, you can’t go out and write about them like that.”

This gets back to an issue that will plague Torre in two weeks. He will show up for Spring Training in Glendale, Arizona, and confront a bunch of players who have, for weeks, heard about Torre’s throwing the guys he doesn’t like under the bus. Would you trust your manager with that knowledge? I don’t understand why Torre wrote the book, but things aren’t looking good for Torre’s reputation.

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One of the more obvious aspects of Joe Torre’s book is the former Yankee manager’s dislike of Carl Pavano. At least that’s the one remaining thing upon which Torre and all the people he reportedly skewers in the book can agree. Pavano, on the other hand, isn’t too happy about it.

Writing on the ESPN Radio 1050 AM blog, Andrew Marchand notes a statement by Pavano concerning the book:

“I am extremely disappointed that someone I had a lot of respect for would make these type of comments in his upcoming book,” said Pavano, in a statement released to 1050 ESPN New York through his agent, Tom O’Connell. “I wish nothing but the best for Joe Torre and my former Yankee teammates, but with that said it does explain why I haven’t received any Christmas cards from Joe the last few years.”

Now, I can understand why plenty of Yankees past and present — such as David Wells who called Torre a punk — may take exception with the excommunicated St. Joe’s words. But Pavano shouldn’t look his gift horse in the mouth. The Yanks paid him $40 million to be a fraud. He should take his money and stay out of this, no matter how right he may be in calling out Torre.

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