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My Perspective on Joe Torre

By Mike Silva ~ March 19th, 2011. Filed under: Mike Silva, New York Yankees.

The perception of Joe Torre by Yankees fans is one of the more interesting dynamics we have seen in this town. You have two camps which I will call the “St. Joe Acolytes” who believe Torre walked on water and was integral to the team’s success. The other side is the “Clueless Joe” crowd who think he was a manager that was in the right place at the right time. I believe each side has valid talking points that fall somewhere in the middle.

There is no doubt that Torre was given a pass by the media. I have learned the media is easy to get on your side in this town if you know how to make their job easy. Make yourself available and quotable, and winning becomes a byproduct. Torre did all that and won. He not only won, but won at a record pace. In four of five seasons from 1996-2000 he ended at the top of the baseball world. The tears were special the first championship, but for outsiders it got old in titles two through four.

Torre was by no means a brilliant X’s and O’s manager. He blew out bullpen arms (see Paul Quantrill and Scott Proctor), didn’t always adhere to lefty/righty matchups, and wasn’t the type of manager to embrace kids starting over veterans. What wasn’t an issue earlier in his tenure became one when it was necessary for the team to start bridging the past with the future. Clearly, the Yankees focus on player development after 2005 wasn’t going to align long term with Joe Torre‘s thought process.

With that said how many Yankees managers have a longer tenure than Torre’s twelve years? One. That’s Miller Huggins who ran a squad that featured Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, and Urban Shocker. How many managers could have lost with the 1927 Yankees?

Torre, unlike Huggins, had to deal with multiple rounds of playoffs, the pressure that comes with being part of the Yankee brand, and a certain owner named George Steinbrenner. Yes, George did lose his fastball later in Torre’s tenure, but he was still George during the early years.

Don’t forget the incorporation of superstars into the mix. Torre didn’t do a great job with Alex Rodriguez, but that was just as much A-Rod and Derek Jeter‘s fault than anything. Time after time the Yankees would bring stars into the mix to help the team. Players such as Cecil Fielder, Darryl Strawberry, and Tim Raines accepted diminished roles to play for Torre. He was able to be the ultimate buffer between the unreasonable expectations of the Yankee front office. The Yankees weren’t always the most talented team on the field, especially during the nineties run, but they were the most balanced both in terms of personnel and approach to the daily grind of the game. That has something to do with the type of people brought on to the roster, but Torre was at the center of all of it.

That’s why I was surprised to read this quote by our good friend Steve S. of The Yankee Analysts regarding Torre’s return during the unveiling of the George Steinbrenner monument:

I wasn’t at last night’s game, but if I was I would have sat on my hands when Torre waved to the crowd. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I was very unhappy with the way Joe chose to leave the Yanks. I think it’s inarguable that the Yanks made Torre, not the other way around…..Reading ‘The Yankee Years’ there were sections that were clearly designed to settle scores. He can call it “giving his side of the story” all he wants, but we got his side for 12 years from the local beat reporters and pundits. That book was the work of a bitter man who felt he deserved better…This is the key element of putting his acrimonious exit behind us for me. If the principals involved are no longer mad at him, it would be silly of me to still be upset on their behalf….Welcome back, Joe.

Again, “The Yankee Years” was probably a combination of fact and Torre’s frustrations all in one book. Working for the Yankees isn’t a picnic. With all the money and fame comes the price of pressure. There is also the unreasonable expectation of “World Series or failure” that just isn’t realistic in modern sports.

I can’t blame Joe Torre for the way his exit was handled. I believe the Yankees, specifically Brian Cashman, didn’t want Torre back. They knew it would be a public relations disaster just to let him go. Torre wasn’t ready to take a ceremonial “step down,” so it came down to the organization boxing him in a corner. Perhaps this was two prideful individuals attempting to win a spitting contest. In the end, neither side really came out for the better.

Torre went to Los Angeles where he saw some success, but worked for a dysfunctional Beverly Hills couple. Cashman saw his first managerial hire, Joe Girardi, nearly implode during his first season on the job. Girardi did rebound in 2009 to win a championship, but importing CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett had just as much to do with that. Look how much Torre had to work with in 1996 versus Girardi in 2009. Compare the rosters and you will see that Girardi has benefitted from resources made possible by the sweat of Torre’s Yankees. There has also been as much criticism of Girardi during his tenure as there was of Torre. The only difference is it’s taken a different form. Does anyone believe Girardi will last a dozen years at the Yankee helm? I would be shocked if he did.

Back in September I asked the fans to vote on Joe Torre‘s Q Rating. As of this writing a whopping 73% said they had a favorable view of Torre. I suspect he will be greeted loudly this season when he makes his first appearance at Yankees Old Timer Day. I also predict he will be the star of the show. His even tempered personality will continue to charm the media and fans alike. Whether you believe his shtick or not, the only people that mattered were the players. It’s hard to find a player with a negative word to say about Torre. Most, regardless of how successful they were under him, appreciated the open and honest way he communicated with them.

I never will understand why there is this seemingly large contingency of Yankees fans that dislike everything about Joe Torre. The Yankees aren’t the financial power today without the work of his teams. The players won the titles, but Torre steered the ship. The next time the Yankees are able to expand their payroll to acquire the best free agent available think about Joe Torre and say a silent thank you.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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