Friday, November 02, 2007

In any case, here's some more on Torre. Alex Belth of Bronx Banter was kind enough to provide me with his thoughts about Torre, on and off the field:

Clearly, his greatest asset in New York was being able to handle (George) Steinbrenner - who, until recently, was as fiery as ever - the media, and the enormous egos in the Yankee clubhouse. When you consider how many managers worked for Steinbrenner before Torre, his longevity is truly remarkable (of course, it was Torre's great initial success that allowed him to keep George at bay for so long).

He's a hands-off guy. He doesn't come in early to study statistics on the opponents. He shows up, trusts his instincts, and lets his players play. In fact, I think that is why he was ideally suited for the Yankee job when he took over in '96 - that was a team stocked with veterans who essentially policed themselves. Unlike in the '80s, clubhouse disagreements didn't land on the back page any longer. When Buster Olney was writing his book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," Jorge Posada told him about a beef he had had with Tino Martinez several years earlier. Olney, who was a beat writer when the rift occured, had no idea it ever existed. And Posada told him (I'm paraphrasing), "Exactly, that's because we didn't want you to know about it." It is also commonly believed in New York that Don Zimmer had an enormous impact on the in-game desicions during the early Torre years with the Yankees. They were a perfect match. Zimmer, the quintessential red-ass, and Torre, the stoic diplomat. I'd like to believe - though I don't know this for sure - that they were co-managers, at least during the games, with Torre constantly looking to Zimmer for strategy.

For the most part, I think guys liked to play for Torre. Sure, he had his whipping boys - Kenny Rogers, and Jeff Nelson, both stubborn bastards who didn't always throw strikes, come to mind - but the Papa Joe routine wasn't just a front, or a schtick. The players bought it. Who knows? Maybe if Torre didn't win the first season, the players wouldn't have admired him, and he would have quickly been out of job.

But the biggest deal, again, was how he dealt with George. How he was able to diffuse Steinbrenner's tantrums. He didn't sidestep the Boss. He wasn't intimidated. Torre was deferential to Steinbrenner, always praising him publicly, and privately, from what I've read, he was able to disarm Steinbrenner by gently busting his chops, without further antagonizing him. But then again, Torre is a pro - remember, he was a major presence with the player's union during his playing days. He sat in on a lot of contentious meetings during those volatile days of union v. management in the late 60s and 1970s. (Torre also worked on Wall Street during the off season during this time.) John Gaherin, the owner's legal counsel, once said that Torre was "the original Godfather, talking from behind a cloud of smoke." Gaherin praised Torre as someone who was able to keep his calm in charged situations. That ability served him well with not only the Boss, but the New York media as well.

I don't really know how things in Los Angeles compare. I don't know if fans are as obessessed with MLB in L.A. as they are in New York - though judging by the amount of comments you get, I'd say there are at least some bonafide fanatics. In NYC, we don't have college programs of any note, so it's Yankees 365 days a year. Torre understood this, and he was rarely ruffled. I mean, he did a weekly spot with Mike and the Mad Dog - the most popular sportstalk radio show in town, and the epitome of hype and histrionics - like it wasn't nothing but a thing.

I don't really know how Torre will do without a great club. For the first several years in New York, it seemed as if every move he made turned to gold. Then, the past few years, when he didn't stellar starting or relief pitching anymore, he made more wrong moves. I don't think anyone believes that he is a great tactician, or maybe even a great manager, but he was the right man at the right time for the Yankees. And the run the team went on from '96-'01 is an anomaly, something that likely won't happen again in our lifetime. I think Torre contributed to that success. It wasn't all because of him, but he helped.

Look, I think the term "classy" is as overused as most sports cliches, but it is entirely fitting when applied to Torre. The Yankees love to think of themselves as a class organization, but class is not something you can buy, and Steinbrenner never had much of it. I don't know if that class will translate to the Dodgers, but hey, at least he's Italian! So Lasorda has got to be happy, right?

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