Excerpt: Torre recounts his bitter final day (cont.)
Torre was putting his faith in the power of personal communication, anticipating that a face-to-face meeting with the lieutenants would bring about an honest negotiation. He held out hope that there was a way to manage the Yankees in 2008 without his head in a noose from the first day of spring training. The first thing he needed to know was if they really wanted him in the first place.
"Do you want me to manage?"
Levine and Hal told him that yes, they wanted him back, and that it was a unanimous decision by everyone in the room. Hal said they had decided on an offer: a one-year contract at $5 million, a 33% pay cut from his 2007 salary. Hal told him, "I want you to manage because you're good with young players." Torre wondered why, if that were the case, they were offering only one year.
If the Yankees reached the postseason, Torre would get another $1 million. He would get another $1 million if the Yankees reached the League Championship Series and another $1 million if they reached the World Series. Levine classified the bonus money as "incentives," implying at the meeting and later to reporters that Torre needed to be motivated. "It's important to motivate people," Levine would say, "as most people in everyday life have to be, based on performance."
Motivate? The 2007 Yankees had come back from the sixth-worst 50-game start in franchise history to make the playoffs. They had used 14 starting pitchers and still won 94 games. They roared back from a losing record as late as July 7 to play .675 baseball (52-25) down the stretch. Three fifths of their intended starting rotation was a disaster -- Kei Igawa and Carl Pavano combined for three wins, and Mike Mussina endured the worst season of his career -- and yet they won the third-most games in baseball.
Did Torre help accomplish all of that and then suddenly lose his motivation during, of all times, the playoffs? Or did the Yankees' exit have something to do with their ace, Chien-Ming Wang, throwing two of the worst games in postseason history, and a freakish attack of Lake Erie midges in Game 2?
Torre would later tell reporters he considered the incentives "an insult." In doing so, he was not referring to the idea of incentives or the money itself, but rather to the thinking of the Yankees executives that he needed such a carrot to be "motivated."
"I don't need motivation to do what I do," he told the Yankees executives at the meeting. "You have to understand that."
Said Torre, "I've always had a $1 million bonus for winning the World Series. In fact, in my last contract, when we put it together, [former Yankees general partner] Steve Swindal and myself, we had different stages, if you win-win-win. That's the way it was when I took over initially, even in my first year, that you got so much for getting to different levels. I said then, 'Let's admit it: The only thing that's worthwhile is the World Series. The only bonus I want you to put in there is the World Series.'"
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As much as Torre was bothered by the idea that he needed incentives to be motivated, what really stopped him was the term of the contract. Sure, maybe the seven executives in the room did want him back, but they wanted him back only in the exact compromised position in which he had managed the 2007 season: with a noose around his neck and a trapdoor below his feet. They wanted him to manage the Yankees only from an exposed position.
There was no way Torre was coming back under those conditions. The seven executives, meanwhile, would consider no other arrangement.
"Going back to the first question I asked -- 'Do you want me to manage?' -- the answer they gave me really wasn't honest," Torre says. "If they wanted me to manage, we would have found a way to get it done. And that was never the case. Because there was never any movement. Negotiation is something that takes place between two sides. That didn't happen. It was, 'Either take it or leave it.' And my feeling was that they felt they were obligated to make an offer only because I had been there so long."
Torre calmly tried to make a case for himself. For instance, he pointed out that over the course of his 12-year tenure, attendance at Yankee Stadium had increased 90%. He talked about ad revenues he brought to the Yankees from companies that wanted to be associated with one of the most successful managers in modern history. Under Torre, of course, the Yankees were guaranteed to be in the playoffs: a perfect 12 for 12 in postseason appearances with pennants in half of those years and world championships in a third of them. The promise of October baseball helped drive season-ticket sales and offered additional revenues when most ballparks were dark. And even when Torre's teams did not win the World Series, the Yankees were far and away the best team in baseball. During that 2001-07 "drought" without a world championship, the team was 37 victories better than the Oakland A's, the next-winningest team in baseball.
"The reason I went there to Tampa," Torre says, "is I wanted to see somebody face-to-face, and I wanted to see if any of these points I brought up made any sense. I mean, where the attendance was when I first got there and where it was now, the revenues they've made since then ... maybe all this stuff would somehow negate some of the fact that they felt I was overpaid and overstayed. And then nobody had the guts to just say, 'Get out.' That was the worst part."
There would be no negotiations. When Cashman was asked later by reporters why the Yankees refused to negotiate, he said, "It's just complicated, given the dollars."
But dollars had nothing to do with it. Torre would even tell reporters later that the $5 million salary offer was "generous." He wasn't asking to negotiate dollars. He was asking to negotiate one year of some security and peace. The Yankees would have none of it, and when the seven executives made it clear to him that theirs was a take-it-or-leave-it offer, Torre understood that the greatest pillar of his management style had been destroyed: The trust was gone. He knew his employers did not trust him. For a man who made trust the single most important ingredient of championship teams -- trust among teammates, trust from those players in the honesty and integrity of the manager and staff -- he could not continue without it. It became an easy decision: He told the seven executives he could not accept their offer.
"Yeah, I was leaving a lot of money on the table," Torre said, "but I didn't give a s---, because I knew what I went through the year before, dreading coming to the ballpark and sitting behind that desk every day. It would have been the same thing."
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