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When Joe Torre was not brought back to be manager of the New York Yankees after the 2007 season, the common perception was that Joe was wrongly ousted from town; he was a good guy and that the organization had done him wrong. Joe, after all, was the quiet, calm guy who seemed to guide the ship of characters to many winning seasons and never drew attention to himself. Thanks to Tom Verducci and the book The Yankee Years, we’re learning that there’s a side of Joe Torre that we did not know about.
What Joe Torre decided to do with the book is to air out all of the laundry from his time as Yankees manager. However, what Joe has done is prove that he is no less petty than any other player in baseball, that he is not the classy leader we thought he was, and that as his time with the Yankees went on, he clearly wasn’t able to adjust with the times for managing the game.
The first example of this is seen in Jack Curry’s overview of the book, where Torre clearly had no idea of what the Yankees got in Randy Johnson. Joe was surprised by how easily rattled Randy was? He clearly didn’t see Randy shove the camera guy before his first press conference with the team. And Torre seems to think that Randy would’ve been easy to rattle in 2001, when Johnson was still physically pitching at the top of his game. Part of what made Randy easy to rattle when he was with the Yankees was his physical limitations that developed from age and his back and knee.
Another example of Joe Torre not being that classy leader figure is demonstrated in the Carl Pavano saga. Now, Pavano did miss an extraordinary amount of time from injuries and even as a fan I was frustrated by it. But the correct reaction is not to try and have his teammates harass him.
We also see Torre as sometimes contradicting himself, where in one of the excerpts the press has talked about, he was unhappy with the Yankees for bringing in Jason Giambi, since Giambi did not play good first base defense. Yet, later, when the Yankees tried to take care of it by shifting Giambi to DH in 2007, Torre got upset for a variety of reasons. The first of these was that this meant Bernie Williams, a favorite of his, would not have a guaranteed roster spot. The other was that the Yankees were taking a chance on a platoon combo of Josh Phelps and Doug Mientkiewicz to produce reasonable output. Now, Phelps failed, but didn’t Mientkiewicz provide the defense Torre found to be sorely missing from Giambi’s game? Torre sure played him as if he did. And here, Torre is unable to acknowledge that in prior years he had shown signs of favoritism to “proven veterans” even when it was time to move on. That is why Cashman felt the need to only offer Bernie an invitation to spring training and a minor league contract.
It is also what we have heard about Torre’s interactions with Cashman that have revealed Torre’s inability to admit to his own faults. Torre was unhappy about Cashman wanting to keep track of Ron Guidry’s progress as pitching coach and Cashman’s further reliance on statistics. Now, Guidry had never coached at all and I think Cashman was correct to keep an eye and make sure that the pitching coach, a pretty important position to hold, was doing his job effectively. Maybe Cashman took it to too intense of a level, but we cannot verify that without having been with the team for the 2007 season.
As for Cashman’s increasing reliance on statistics, while we don’t know whether the suggested lineups were provided often, or just for lefty/righty platoon advantages, we do know that the game has had an increasingly statistical reliance since Joe Torre’s first year managing the Yankees, in 1995. Torre refused to want to evolve his managerial style despite the game having evolved around him. We know this to be true as well from his bullpen management.
After Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton departed/stopped being effective, Torre was always searching for guys to put in the hard cast role of set up guy, lefty specialist and other roles. This led to the tiring of arms such as Steve Karsay, Paul Quantrill, Tom Gordon, Scott Proctor and Luis Vizcaino amongst others.
When rookies came up for the bullpen Torre lost confidence in them (unlike with veterans) after their first bad appearance even if they had minor league success. This was evidenced by Edwar Ramirez’s season where he had a great debut in July, then gave up a run in his next appearance. Joe Torre then waited FOURTEEN DAYS to next bring him in to a game, which was setting a short reliever up for failure. Sure enough, Edwar gave up three earned runs and allowed a runner he inherited to score. It’s not as if there were not games decided by more than three runs in this period. There were three chances, a 12-0 game, a 7-3 game and a 6-1 game, all of which would have been good opportunities to give Ramirez a confidence booster. For those doubting my story, check out the July 6th to July 20th stretch of the Yankees schedule of 2007.
Finally, the excerpt about the contract negotiations that was leaked to the press proves Torre’s greed and desire to control his public image. Joe refused to take a one-year contract, he knew that would give the Yankees incentive to fire him when he showed he was the same old manager and a bullpen arm injury could be pinned on him again, or a young player not playing enough could be pinned on him. So, Torre wanted to be able to either go out in the offseason, where it would put the Yankees under more scrutiny for firing him, or if he went out during the regular season, to at least get more money out of it. Of course for the Yankees, this made no sense. In writing this book, Torre once again showed a desire to profit off of the Yankees by airing everyone else’s faults, but not his own.
Joe Torre managed to find a good way to have the public opinion of him in his old town turned around. He managed to show that he is just as egotistical and greedy as the players he had to handle. It’s quite ironic to read the following excerpt about Alex Rodriguez:
Torre added that he could relate to Rodriguez because, like Rodriguez, he was the type of player who tied his self-esteem to what he did on the field.
“It feels like that’s what’s going on with him,” Torre said. “He could never walk away from this game and, all of a sudden, have people talk about somebody else.”
Torre, in releasing this book, had to make sure that people were still talking about him. He’s just hoping that having Tom Verducci’s name on the cover and the supposed third person story-telling will deflect the blame.