Excerpt: Torre recounts his bitter final day as Yankees manager and a surprising rift with GM Cashman
Torre set up the final, face-to-face meeting with Yankees brass
Torre: "It's not about the money. It's the second year."
H. Steinbrenner: "Door's always open. You can always work for the YES Network."
Cashman had retreated to silence with Torre's job on the line
So, do you want me to manage?
Joe Torre began the meeting with that simple question. He was sitting in the Legends Field office of George Steinbrenner. There was a time, as recently as only 24 months earlier, when Torre could look the Boss in the eye and propose that question, and he would get an answer that would let him know exactly where he stood. But Steinbrenner wasn't the Boss anymore; he was the aging patriarch of a seven-man tribunal. His family members and front-office lieutenants went through the exercise of playing to tradition and formality, anyway. Steinbrenner sat at his desk and the others sat at the table that ran lengthwise away from his desk. There was Torre, of course; and Steinbrenner's two sons, Hank and Hal; George's son-in-law, Felix Lopez; team president Randy Levine; chief operating officer Lonn Trost; and general manager Brian Cashman, who sat behind Torre's right shoulder.
On Oct. 18, 2007, 10 days after the Yankees lost the Division Series to the Cleveland Indians, 10 days of public waiting for George Steinbrenner to follow through on his Game 3 warning that Torre would not be back in the wake of defeat, the question Torre proposed was now the domain of the seven other people in the room. Steinbrenner sat slumped in his chair with dark glasses covering most of his face. Occasionally he would take them off, put them back on, take them off, put them back on ... He contributed virtually nothing to the meeting except for occasionally repeating the last sentence of what someone in the room had just said.
The strange, sad element to the setting was that the men were surrounded by old reminders of Steinbrenner's vitality and iron will to win. Steinbrenner had always envisioned himself as a cross between a Hemingway character and a military leader, a man's man who gave no quarter, who boasted of bringing a football mentality to baseball, and the room reflected his pride in that resolve. On a table behind the desk there was a picture of him as a halfback on the 1951 Williams College football team, reaching for a pass while an opposing defensive back elbows him in the back. Steinbrenner liked to tell people that he did not catch the ball, that the defensive back "knocked me flat on my ass." The message, he wanted you to know, was that the man could take a hit.
There was a picture of the horse Comanche. Why Comanche? Steinbrenner liked the idea that the horse was the Army's only survivor at Custer's last stand. He admired survivors. There also was a picture of Gen. George S. Patton, given to Steinbrenner by a member of Patton's staff. It was not your typical military portrait. Patton is seen pissing into the Rhine. There was a picture of his grandfather, the first George M. Steinbrenner, who married a girl from Germany and who started the Kinsman Shipping line of freighters, which carried ore and grain over the Great Lakes.
Of course there were the aphorisms with which Steinbrenner liked to surround himself, literally. Some of them were captured in frames, and some of them were kept under the glass top of his desk. The measure of a man is the way he bears up under misfortune. -- Plutarch
And, Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
You can't lead the cavalry if you can't sit in the saddle.
The speed of the leader determines the rate of the pack.
And his favorite:
I am wounded, but I am not slain. I shall lay me down and rest a while, and then I will rise and fight again. -- Anonymous
Times were different now. For Steinbrenner it was time to rest, not time to fight. This was his office, but it was not his meeting. It was not his decision alone anymore.
The meeting was Torre's idea. Hank, Hal, Lopez, Levine, Trost and Cashman had kicked around the idea of what to do about Torre for the better part of a week. Do they offer him another contract, and, if so, for how long and for how much money? Do they even want him back at all? While they deliberated, Torre told Cashman he wanted to meet with the group face-to-face. It wasn't much different than how he managed: You look somebody in the eye and rely on direct honesty, rather than leaks and secondhand information. The six Yankees lieutenants thought it was a good idea. By then they had decided that they would offer Torre nothing more than one guaranteed year.
The day before the meeting, as the two sides finalized arrangements for the gathering, Cashman broke the news to Torre that he probably would not be offered a multiyear deal.
"They only want to give you one year," Cashman told him over the phone.
"What about a second year?" Torre asked.
"I don't think they're going to offer you that."
"Cash, I have an idea. What about a two-year contract? It doesn't even really matter what the money is. Two years, and if I get fired in the first year, the second year is guaranteed. But if I get fired after the first year, I don't get the full amount of the second year, just a buyout. The money doesn't matter. I mean, as long as it's not just something ridiculous. It's not about the money. It's the second year."
Torre had just gone through a hellish season, with constant leaks in the press, sniping from the front office, frequent rumors about him getting fired and the feeling that people within his own organization were rooting against him. He was worn out by all of it. There was no way he was going to go through another year like that. And there was one scenario that would have set the table for exactly that kind of season all over again: working under a one-year contract. That scenario would stamp him a lame duck all over again, with the managerial death watch starting up again with the first three-game losing streak in April.
All Torre wanted was to manage one more season in relative calm, and the second year on a contract would help provide that kind of stability. The second year was nothing but an insurance policy. He planned to retire after that one season, anyway.
"I couldn't do it on a one-year deal," Torre said. "I couldn't go through what was the worst year of my professional life all over again. I couldn't put my family through it again. I couldn't put my coaches through that again. All I wanted was one year where nobody was questioning me about how you're going to lose your job."
* * *
On Oct. 18 Torre, Cashman and Trost boarded a private jet in White Plains, N.Y., for the flight to Tampa. Torre had told his coaches that he wasn't sure what was going to happen.
"At the time I thought it was going to be 60-40 that he wouldn't come back," third base coach Larry Bowa said. "You know, Joe kept everything pretty quiet. He said, 'I'll get in touch with you guys.' Selfishly, I wanted him to come back because I loved coaching there, but he had to do what he had to do.
"For a guy with what he's done for the city and that team, that's the one thing I thought was very unfair. I don't think he was treated the right way. I mean, I think Joe earned that right to go out on his own, and he should have earned the right to open the new stadium. At least they should have said, 'O.K., this year we'll give you, and for the new stadium you have an option if you want to stay or not, or go upstairs and be an adviser.' I really thought that was going to happen because of what Joe meant to the city, the players who played there and to the organization. And it didn't happen like that. It turned out to be an ugly ending."
On the plane ride to Tampa, Cashman repeated his warning to Torre about the length of the contract, again choosing his pronoun carefully as if to distance himself from what was about to go down. "I don't think they're going to go to more than one year," Cashman said. "What are you going to do then?"
"I don't know what I'm going to do," Torre said. "I'm just going to go in there."
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