Torre Says Steinbrenner Backs Him as Manager in 2007
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Joe Torre was in his office at Yankee Stadium yesterday, about to give the press his season wrap-up, when the Yankees’ general manager, Brian Cashman, walked in and handed him his cell phone.
George Steinbrenner was on the line.
“He has informed me that I will be here as his manager next year,” Torre said about 15 minutes later.
And with that, Steinbrenner ended three days of speculation that followed his team’s second straight first-round exit from the AL playoffs.
Ever since Detroit eliminated the Yankees on Saturday, reports of Torre’s imminent dismissal dominated New York press and broadcast. When Steinbrenner left Monday to return to Tampa, Fla., he said he still hadn’t made a decision.
Would he revert to his old ways, when he changed managers 20 times from 1973–95? Or would he stick with the revered Torre, who led the team to four World Series titles in his first five years but none in the six seasons since?
“Let’s just say that he echoed support and commitment to having me go on in this job,” Torre said. “I felt comfortable with the conversation.”
Steinbrenner recounted the talk in a statement issued through spokesman Howard Rubenstein, saying he told Torre: “You’re back for the year. I expect a great deal from you and the entire team. I have high expectations, and I want to see enthusiasm, a fighting spirit and a team that works together. Responsibility is yours, Joe, and all of the Yankees.
“Yes, I am deeply disappointed about our loss this year,” Steinbrenner added. “We have to do better, and I deeply want a championship. It’s about time.”
Since Saturday’s loss, Steinbrenner spent his time listening to the advice of his top executives. On Monday, Torre spoke with him about 15-to-20 minutes, and told him: “If you feel in your heart a change has to be made, go ahead and do it.” After that phone call, Torre said he felt more confident he would keep his job.
All the while, camera crews camped outside Torre’s home in suburban Westchester.
“I thought I had the cure for cancer or something,” Torre said.
The most likely successor for the 66-year-old Torre was Lou Piniella, who served two terms as Yankees manager in the 1980s.
For two days, speculation about Torre’s job ran nonstop. First he was out; then he was in.
“I didn’t read the paper,” Torre said. “But I know my sisters did and my brother did and wife did.”
Torre has led the Yankees to 11 consecutive playoff berths and nine AL East titles in a row, finishing in a tie with the Mets for best regular-season record this year at 97–65. But despite having baseball’s largest payroll by a wide margin, the Yankees haven’t reached the World Series since 2003.
“When we go to spring training every year, we talk about getting to the World Series. We don’t talk about having a good year, let’s have a good record and all that stuff. It’s getting to the World Series. So you know going in what the requirements are,” Torre said. “He requires a lot. He expects a lot and we know that. You can’t pick and choose the parts that you like about working for George Steinbrenner. You have to understand the whole package, and the whole package has been pretty damn good as far as I’m concerned for 11 years.”
Cashman said team executives gave Steinbrenner their opinions on Torre. Steinbrenner informed them of his decision just before telling the manager his job was safe.
“I believe that he is the right man for this job right now at this point in time,” Cashman said.
Some of Torre’s players lent their support.
“Always in my mind, Joe is manager of the New York Yankees,” Hideki Matsui said.
Derek Jeter’s agent, Casey Close, said the Yankees captain was “thrilled by the news.”
“Everybody knows the comfort level Derek has with Joe,” Close said.
Piniella also backed Torre.
“I’m sorry he had to go through that rigamarole,” he said. “There was no need for that.”
Torre, hired after the 1995 season, nearly quit after last season, when his relationship with Steinbrenner deteriorated. But the two got along well this year and there was no evidence of interference by the owner.
Torre has one year remaining on his contract and is owed $7 million, the highest salary for a baseball manager. He isn’t sure whether he wants to manage beyond 2007.
“When you work here, you have to understand that every year may be your last year,” Torre said.
Late in the season and during the playoffs, he made several controversial decisions. He moved right fielder Gary Sheffield to first base when he returned from wrist surgery, and put Hideki Matsui back in left in place of Melky Cabrera when Matsui came back from a broken wrist.
His most debated move was to drop Alex Rodriguez, baseball’s highest-paid player at $252 million and a two-time AL MVP, to the no.8 spot in the batting order for the season-ending 8–3 loss to Detroit.
Rodriguez went 0-for-3, dropping to 1-for-14 in the series, but Torre said A-Rod “is one of the important pieces to this puzzle here” and Cashman said the Yankees didn’t intend to trade him.
“I hate to think that if I had just batted Alex fourth that last game, we’d have won,” Torre said.
Torre talked about how narrow the difference is between winning and losing, citing when Jeffrey Maier reached over the wall and grabbed the ball, giving Jeter a home run in the 1996 AL championship series.
With 1,973 regular-season wins, Torre is 10th on the career list and third among active managers behind Tony La Russa of the St. Louis Cardinals (2,297) and Bobby Cox (2,171) of the Atlanta Braves.