Torre leaves distinguished legacy
Manager likely Cooperstown-bound for brilliant Yanks run
NEW YORK -- In what turned out to be Joe Torre's final day on the job he so dearly loved, the longtime Yankees manager displayed little else than the outward calm that helped him get through 12 seasons in that very position.
His lineup card for what proved to be the decisive game of the American League Division Series buried on his desk, Torre dutifully fulfilled hundreds of autograph requests, scribbling the eight letters of his name across black-and-white mugshots.
"Just taking care of some business," Torre said, his chin pinned to his chest.
The Yankees were about three hours from playing the game that could very well decide Torre's managerial fate, his employment threatened for the umpteenth time by the ever-present voice from above. Yet Torre's grip on the situation was the same cool touch that defused so many volatile situations in a tumultuous work environment.
"He's always the same," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. "That's the reason he's been so successful. He relays that to us in good times, bad times, and he's got the perfect mentality, I think, for a manager."
By the time the Yankees' 2007 season was complete, with Jorge Posada flailing at a pitch in the dirt to send the Cleveland Indians on to the AL Championship Series, Torre had already cemented a place for himself in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park -- if not the current building, then certainly the facility rising across the street.
Torre guided the Yankees to 1,173 regular-season victories over his 12 years in New York, becoming the winningest manager in pinstripes since Joe McCarthy, while also locking down a Major League-record 76 victories in the postseason.
At various points during the 2007 season, Torre whizzed past Leo Durocher and Casey Stengel on the all-time managerial lists, giving him New York-based opportunities to pause. His 2,067 career victories give him sole possession of eighth place on baseball's all-time managerial wins list, the first person to win 2,000 games while recording 2,000 hits as a player.
"Anytime you're in the top 10 of anything, it's pretty impressive," Torre said.
Not bad for a Brooklyn boy who overcame an awkward beginning to make good in the Big Apple. Over the years, Torre's office underneath the field-level seats at Yankee Stadium became something of a love letter to baseball, with well-wishers and friends dropping off mementos of people and experiences Torre had along the way.
Torre's winning legacy
|Over 12 seasons, Joe Torre managed New York to 12 playoff appearances. His consistent success has him in high standing on the Bombers' all-time managerial wins list.|
In a way, though, Torre always carried that with him, a see-I-told-you-so to waggle in the faces of those who doubted he could ever be successful in this position. That day's column decreed that Torre had no idea what he was getting into as he held up a pinstriped jersey in the Bronx, and perhaps that was true.
After 2,209 games in the big leagues and 1,897 more filling out lineup cards in the National League -- mostly in futility -- Torre could have never imagined he would rise to become one of the most legendary managers in the rich history of the Yankees, a franchise he gave as many at-bats as he played World Series games: none.
"For a guy that never got to the postseason as a player, I'm having a hell of a lot of fun when you look back on the whole thing," Torre said.
An All-Star catcher, third baseman and first baseman who won the 1971 National League batting title, Torre was a notable personality long before he made his first pitching change. His brother, Frank, reached the World Series in 1957 and 1958 with the Milwaukee Braves, and a then-pudgy Torre -- the product of a home rife with domestic violence, which hurt Torre's self-confidence early and later spurred him to found the successful Safe at Home Foundation -- recalled watching his brother hit a pivotal home run to sink, of all teams, the Yankees.
Yet the World Series would elude Torre himself until 1996, despite a close call: rumor has it Torre could have been part of the Yankees' 1977 or 1978 World Series clubs by way of trade, but turned down a potential deal from the Mets in favor of remaining in Queens and jump-starting his managerial career with the struggling franchise.
That possibility became a reality when Torre was hired in favor of the deposed Joe Frazier in May 1977, beginning a new spot in the dugout but continuing a career-long search for the World Series that continually ended in futility. Filling out lineup cards for the Mets, Braves and Cardinals, Torre reached the playoffs just once -- in 1982, his first season with Atlanta -- before finishing his career as a National League manager with a losing record, 894-1003.
Resigned to the fact that few were likely to come calling for a manager with marginal credentials, Torre was shocked when his 1995-96 offseason was interrupted by a call from the Yankees, who were parting ways with Buck Showalter. A decision to work for George Steinbrenner, announced on Nov. 2, 1995, to tepid response, turned out to be one of the most charmed moves of Torre's career.
|"I can tell you one thing, it never gets old," Torre said. "It never gets old. It's exciting. The 12 years just felt like they were 10 minutes long, to be honest with you."|
|-- Joe Torre|
Falling behind 0-2 in the Series, Torre assured a panicked Steinbrenner that the Yankees would come back, and they did. The Yankees defeated the Braves in an emotionally charged six-game Fall Classic, memorable as much for the on-field plays as the drama that took place off of it.
Frank Torre received a heart transplant in New York one day before Charlie Hayes squeezed the final out in foul territory off the third-base bag, ending the first World Series of Torre's career, which began in 1960. The year was one of discovery for Torre, who recalls thumbing through a book written by football coach Bill Parcells, and looks back on it as a turning point.
"I saw this one little passage where it said, "If you believe in something, stay with it,'" Torre said. "And that sort of locked me back into who I was. Because you try to be somebody else. ... Eventually it's going to be exposed because you're here every day.
"So what I try to do is make sense, try to be as honest as I can possibly be and be able to communicate. I think that's the most important thing. Whether you're managing a baseball team or running a business, I think it's all about people."
Having reached October glory, Torre could not have anticipated that he would soon make it his hallmark. The Yankees' 1997 run met its end when Mariano Rivera served up a pivotal home run to Cleveland's Sandy Alomar, knocking New York out in the AL Division Series, but the derailment proved to be a key opportunity for Torre to show his cool managerial touch.
The next spring, Torre recalled, he and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre led the young Panamanian closer to a seat on a tarpaulin at Legends Field in Tampa.
"It was time to find out, what do we have?" Torre recalled. "It was ancient history. You're going to be put in those situations, and you're not always going to come out with a smile on your face. From here on out, it's just depending on where do you go?"
Rivera responded to the challenge, serving as one of the pivotal pieces that would help Torre enjoy four World Series titles in a five-year span from 1996 to 2000, while securing his own place as one of the finest closers in the history of the game.
While Torre rarely received accolades among the game's most brilliant tacticians, he was blessed with the personality skill sets to juggle star-laden clubhouses and manage the egos that go along with them.
Sometimes, like in 1998, his rosters made his job look easy, hitting cruise-control and coasting to 114 victories and a sweep of the Padres in the World Series. In 1999, Rivera -- by now recognized as one of the great late-inning performers of all time, helped lock up the Yankees' third World Series in four years by recording two saves and a Game 3 win to sweep the Braves, lifting a Yankee club that had endured Torre's own battle with prostate cancer -- a return from which earned him a standing ovation at Fenway Park.
"The only thing I've ever tried to do here is be loyal to an organization, and put in a day's work," Torre said. "I've been very lucky. I've been blessed working for an organization that spends a lot of money and puts great players on the field.
"Not only the fact that they're highly skilled, but the fact that there's a lot of quality inside, too. Which means winning once isn't enough. And these guys want to continue doing it, and especially doing it in this big fish bowl that we play in."
But there were years when the Yankees had to get out of their own way, like 2000, when the Yankees lost their final seven games and 15 of their last 18 to back into the playoffs. There, though, the October magic picked up again as the Yankees defeated the A's in a five-game ALDS, slipped past the Mariners in six games and beat the Mets in the only Subway Series meeting between the two clubs, winning in five games to celebrate the final World Series of the Torre era down the Canyon of Heroes.
"This is a great organization, history-wise, to be associated with," Torre said. "With the success we've had, I'm always going to be associated with this organization."
Though the championship run, unbeknownst to anyone, dried up that October day amid flurries of ticker tape, the next seven years of Torre's tenure would deliver their share of memorable moments.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, the red-eyed Yankees drew their Fall Classic with the D-Backs to the limit before falling in seven games, and were victorious in one of the most memorable postseason series as Aaron Boone cracked a Tim Wakefield knuckleball into the left-field grandstand at Yankee Stadium to win Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS over Boston, before the Yankees lost a six-game World Series to Josh Beckett and the Marlins.
The slide that led to Thursday's events at Legends Field, in retrospect, may have began as the Yankees blew a 3-0 lead to those same 'Idiot' Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS, forever entrenching the Bombers on the wrong side of history and reinforcing the importance of momentum.
"Going into the eighth inning of Game 4, even though we were up three games to none, [I remember] knowing I wanted to win right now," Torre said. "You just don't want to let that get away from you."
The Yankees struggled miserably to open the 2005 campaign, but rebounded to make the playoffs; in 2006, Torre appeared all but gone when the Yankees were dispatched from the first round by the Tigers, but general manager Brian Cashman stepped up to ownership and saved his manager's job for one more year, an inspiring 2007 that opened sluggishly but ended with the Yankees as the AL Wild Card, before falling in the first round.
In the end, those 2007 Yankees -- in overcoming a foreboding 21-29 start on May 29 -- displayed the characteristic hallmark of Torre clubs. The roster, like many before it, showed a certain strong resilience in the face of adversity, the calm, confident demeanor that led him to two AL Manager of the Year awards and a Major League-record 76 postseason wins.
"I can tell you one thing, it never gets old," Torre said. "It never gets old. It's exciting. The 12 years just felt like they were 10 minutes long, to be honest with you."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.