Root, root, root for their old team

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.

Joe won’t go home again

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.

Looking back on the Torre Years

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.

Torre, Bronx-bound in 2010, blames Proctor for injury

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.

Dodgers’ contracts contain NDA provisions

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.

Do you trust Girardi to take this team to the Series?

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.

As Torre backpedals, Moose calls out former boss

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.”


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.