October 25, 2005

Torre Endures As Yankees Struggle

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It seems so much like dejà vu. In early September 2003, after losing a game against Pedro Martinez and the rival Boston Red Sox, George Steinbrenner told the New York Post that all of the Yankee coaches’ jobs would be in jeopardy if the Bombers didn’t win a World Series. It was official – Joe Torre and Brian Cashman were on the hot seat.

Six weeks passed. Joe Torre and the Yankees advanced to the World Series thanks to an Aaron Boone walk-off home run against the Red Sox. Yankee nation rejoiced. The Boss got caught up in the emotion.

World Series MVP Josh Beckett then scattered five hits over nine innings as the Marlins defeated the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series. Torre was supposed to be skating on thin ice. But it was all just a façade.

Torre came back despite bench coach Don Zimmer leaving to take an advising position with Tampa Bay after claiming he was disrespected by the Boss. Batting coach Rick Downs was fired. Steinbrenner cited poor offense against the Marlins as the reason behind the move.

Then there was last season. The payroll got bigger and the pressure grew heavier as the Yankee faithful were introduced to the game’s best all-around player, Alex Rodriguez. The end of the season was bittersweet, as New York lost in Game 7 of the ALCS to Derek Lowe and the Red Sox. That series would go on to make Curt Schilling’s bloody sock famous. Regardless, while a Boston fan will call it the greatest comeback of all time, any baseball fan will call it the worst choke in baseball history.

Yankee fans gagged as Ivy Leaguer Theo Epstein became the youngest general manager to ever win a World Series. Steinbrenner’s conclusion: The year’s demise wasn’t Torre’s fault. He had the offense. He just didn’t have the pitching.

Then 2005 rolled around. What else can be said? Torre had everything – a $200 million payroll, Randy Johnson, the game’s top free-agent pitcher, Carl Pavano, and an All-Star at every position. The team staggered out of the gate, posting an 11-19 record – the team’s worst start since 1966. The team chased Boston for most of the year in hopes of winning its eighth consecutive American League East title, eventually sealing the deal by defeating the Red Sox at Fenway Park in the second-to-last game of the regular season. The Yankee players celebrated by rushing the mound as every television camera focused on Torre, who had started to cry. In front of millions, with tears running down his face, all he could say was, “It’s been hard. It’s been so hard.”

Just as before, the Yankee nation got caught up in Joe’s softer side. Less than a week later, the Yanks ran into a buzz-saw – the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Angels mercilessly ended the Yankee season. Pitching coach Mel Stottlemeyer quit because of Steinbrenner. Torre apparently told the media that he too was thinking about quitting. Yankee fans couldn’t believe it. Baseball fans couldn’t understand the sappy madness.

There was a meeting regarding Joe’s future. There was a rumor that it was going to be an ugly, drawn out, curse-like-a-sailor meeting – but that apparently didn’t materialize.

The meeting took 45 minutes. The kiss-and-make-up scene which took place was even more appalling. “We didn’t use the word love, but it was pretty warm,” Torre said to the public. “It was something more than cordial.”

Yankee fans cheered and fell in love with Torre all over again. Baseball fans shook their heads. The cuteness was almost repulsive.

So Joe Torre will return once again – retooled and ready to go for his 11th consecutive season as manager of the Yankees. He will get what he wants – a center fielder and more bullpen help, most likely of which will come in the form of Johnny Damon and left-handed Orioles All-Star B.J. Ryan. Again, the team will look like it should, at least on paper, go undefeated.

Torre will smile and reflect on the fact that another World Series victory will allow him to fit a championship ring on every finger of his right hand. What he has forgotten is that he hasn’t won a ring since 2000.

Steinbrenner will reassure himself that 2006 will be the year that the Yankees win again, as they probably should. Yet, he neglected the fact that Boston won a World Series last year with new manager Terry Francona at the helm. He also probably overlooked the fact that this year the Chicago White Sox currently hold a two-game advantage in the World Series under the tutelage of first-year manager, Ozzie Guillen.

However, Torre is his man – the $13.1 million man over the next two seasons. And yet, even Torre isn’t sure that he should be calling the shots for Big George. When asked about working with Steinbrenner over the last 10 years in an interview with Bob Costas, Torre responded, “If these last five years were my first five years, I don’t know if I’d have been here my last five years.”

Next year the same thing will happen. Torre’s team will be a year older and that much slower, and there will subsequently be tension. There will probably even be some coach’s head on a platter for Steinbrenner.

But Yankee fans shouldn’t worry. Torre will probably be back again – because it’s not his fault. It’s never Joe’s fault.

Tim Kuhls is a Sun Staff Writer. That’s Kuhls, Baby will appear every other Tuesday this semester.

Archived article by Tim Kuhls