Ten signature moments from Joe Torre's years with the Yankees
Joe Torre managed the New York Yankees for 12 seasons, 1996-2007
The Yankees won 10 division titles, six pennants and four World Series in that time
Torre made some questionable moves during his last few postseasons in New York
When the Yankees face the Dodgers tonight at Dodger Stadium it will be the first time that Joe Torre will manage against his former team since parting ways with the Yankees after the 2007 playoffs. Torre managed the Yankees for 12 seasons, reaching the postseason every year, winning 10 division titles, six pennants, four World Series, and punching his own ticket for the Hall of Fame. Only Joe McCarthy helmed more games for the Yankees than Torre, only McCarthy won more games as Yankee manager, and only McCarthy and Casey Stengel, both Hall of Famers, had higher winning percentages (minimum three full seasons) or won more pennants or World Series as Yankee skipper. Here, then, is a look back at Joe Torre's tenure as Yankee manager via 10 of his signature moments with the team.
When Torre was hired as Yankee manager prior to the 1996 season, he had 32 years of major league experience as a player and manager but had never been to a World Series in either capacity. The Yankees, meanwhile, despite having won more world championships than any other team in American professional sports history, had not won a title since 1978, and their Division Series loss to the Mariners in 1995 was their first postseason appearance since 1981. Under Torre in 1996, the Yankees moved into first place for good on April 28, and quickly dispatched the Rangers and Orioles in the first two rounds of the playoffs to send Torre to his first World Series. As the underdog against the defending world champion Braves, Torre's Yankees lost the first two games of the '96 Series at home by a combined score of 16-1 but rallied in Atlanta, winning three thrilling games to remain undefeated on the road that postseason, then returned to the Bronx to nail down the title.
After losing in the ALDS in 1997, the Yankees lost four of their first five games in 1998. It would take them 29 games to lose four more as they unfolded perhaps the greatest team performance in baseball history, tying the then-American League record with 114 regular season wins, and following it up by going 11-2 in the playoffs, including a sweep of the Padres in the World Series, to post a cumulative record of 125-50. No other team has ever won as many games in the regular and postseasons combined, and of the four teams to win as many or more regular season games -- the 1906 Cubs (116), 1954 Indians (114), and 2001 Mariners (116), only Torre's 1998 Yankees followed through by winning the World Series.
The Yankees swept the Braves in the 1999 World Series and won the first two games of the 2000 Fall Classic against the Mets, giving them a record 14-game winning streak in World Series play under Torre, including wins in the last 10 World Series games to have been played. That streak was snapped when the Mets won Game 3, but that was all the Yankees would allow as they wrapped up their third consecutive world championship and fourth in five years under Torre. The only other teams ever to win four championships in five years or fewer were the Yankees under McCarthy (four straight from 1936-39) and Stengel (five straight from 1949-53).
The Yankees were pretty clearly overmatched by the Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series. They were out-scored 37-14, hit a mere .183/.240/.288, and posted a 4.26 ERA over the seven games. Nonetheless, a pair of stunning and eerily similar comebacks in Game 4 and 5 gave them a 3-2 lead in the series, and an Alfonso Soriano home run off Curt Schilling in the eighth inning of Game 7 allowed Torre to hand a 2-1 lead to Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth with the Yankees just three outs from their fourth straight world championship.
Every bit as shocking as those twin comebacks in the Bronx, the Diamondbacks rallied against Rivera, who aided their efforts with a throwing error and a hit batsman. Arizona won one of the most thrilling World Series in memory on Luis Gonzalez's broken-bat flare over the Yankees' drawn-in infield with one out and the bases loaded.
As manager of the defending American League champions, Torre managed his first All-Star Game in 1997, skippering the Junior Circuit to the first in a still-active streak of 12 straight All-Star Game victories. The AL hasn't won every All-Star Game since 1997, however. In 2002, Torre and Diamondbacks' manager Bob Brenly were the key parties in the most embarrassing moment in the exhibition's history.
Conscious of both trying to get every player on their roster into the game as well as being careful not to overtax their pitchers, Torre and Brenly burned through eight and nine pitchers, respectively, in nine innings only to find themselves in a 7-7 tie with just one man left in each bullpen. Both called on that last man, but after another scoreless inning and a half they were effectively out of pitchers. After an on-field meeting with commissioner Bud Selig, it was decided that if the National League didn't score in the bottom half of the 11th the game would end in a tie, which is exactly what happened.
The next year, in an attempt to give the managers more incentive to play for a win, Selig, in agreement with the Players' Union, decided that home-field advantage in the World Series, which previously had simply alternated leagues year-to-year, would be decided by the winner of the All-Star Game.
The Yankees made the playoffs every one of Torre's 12 years with the team, but the last great moment for the Torre Yankees came in his eighth year at the helm. In the final game of a literally knock-down, drag-out American League Championship Series against the rival Red Sox, the Yankees fell behind Boston ace Pedro Martinez 4-0 early, but a pair of solo home runs by Jason Giambi and a crucial Houdini act by Mike Mussina in his first career relief appearance kept them in the game. Down 5-2 in the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees rallied against a tiring Martinez, tying the game, after which Torre called on Rivera, who kept Boston scoreless for three innings. That was just long enough for Yankees pinch-hitter Aaron Boone to send a first-pitch knuckleball from Tim Wakefield into the left field stands in the bottom of the 11th to send Torre to his sixth and final World Series with the team.
Though battered by the ALCS against the Red Sox, the Yankees took a 2-1 lead into Game 4 of the 2003 World Series against the Marlins. Down 3-1 in the top of the ninth of that game, they rallied to tie on a pinch-hit, two-run triple by Ruben Sierra, but ALCS hero Boone, who was hitting just .172 overall that postseason, was unable to plate Sierra from third. In the 11th, Bernie Williams led off with a double and the Yankees soon had the bases loaded with just one out, but Boone struck out and backup catcher John Flaherty popped out to end the threat.
At that point, Torre elected to use not Rivera, who had thrown two innings the night before, but Jeff Weaver, who had posted an 8.29 ERA in his final 11 regular season appearances and had yet to throw a pitch that postseason. Weaver worked a 1-2-3 11th, but the first batter he faced in the 12th, Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez, homered to left to tie the Series. Torre's Yankees would never win another World Series game.
The 2004 ALCS brought a rematch with the Red Sox, but to everyone's shock, the Yankees made quick work of their rivals in the first three games and had Rivera on the mound with a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth of Game 4, needing just three outs for a stunning sweep. Then it all fell apart.
Uncharacteristically wild, Rivera walked leadoff man Kevin Millar on five pitches, and three tosses later, the Red Sox had tied the game via a stolen base by pinch-runner Dave Roberts and an RBI single by Bill Mueller. The Red Sox went on to win Game 4 in 12 innings, Game 5 in 14 after Tom Gordon set up another Rivera blown save, and cruised to a win behind a stitched-together Curt Schilling in Game 6.
Facing a historic collapse, Torre handed the ball to temperamental starter Kevin Brown, who had given up four runs in just two innings in Game 3 and had been struggling with a bad back, for Game 7. Torre later said that Brown lied to him about the condition of his back heading into that game, but the manager didn't help matters by bringing home-run-happy Javier Vazquez, who later turned out to be injured as well, in to replace Brown, down 2-0 with the bases loaded in the second. Vazquez's first pitch was hit for a game-breaking grand slam by Johnny Damon and the Red Sox went on to a 10-3 victory, making Torre's Yankees the first team in major league history to blow a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series. Torre later said that things were never the same for him with the Yankee brass after that collapse. He would never win another postseason series with the Yankees.
Above and beyond his in-game strategy, Torre's strength as Yankee skipper was his ability to manage the media and the personalities both above and below him in the organization. It's striking, then, that perhaps Torre's biggest failing as Yankee manager was his handling of superstar third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
Nothing better captured that failing than Torre's decision to drop Rodriguez to eighth in the batting order with the Yankees facing elimination in Game 4 of the 2006 Division Series against the Tigers. After winning the first game, the Yankees had dropped two straight to put themselves on the verge of a second-straight first-round exit. Desperate to break his team out of its funk, Torre made the ultimately infamous decision to drop Rodriguez, who was 1-for-11 with four strikeouts in the first three games and had hit just .105 without a single RBI in 11 postseason games dating back to Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS, to the eighth spot, exacerbating the situation by failing to notify Rodriguez of the demotion prior to posting the lineup in the clubhouse.
That came just weeks after an SI cover story by Tom Verducci in which Torre and several of his players were critical of Rodriguez. After Torre's departure from the team, he and Verducci collaborated on a book on Torre's time in New York called The Yankee Years that further soured things with Rodriguez, who tellingly refused to comment on Torre in anticipation of this weekend's series.
If Torre were to be asked if he would have done anything differently in his dozen years as Yankee manager, he'd likely give this answer: He would have pulled his team off the field when the midges descended on Joba Chamberlain in Game 2 of the 2007 Division Series in Cleveland. The Yankees were down 1-0 in the series and clinging to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning with rookie sensation Chamberlain on the mound when the bugs descended on Jacobs Field. Unnerved and unable to see through the swarm, Chamberlain walked leadoff man Grady Sizemore on four pitches, moved him to second on a wild pitch, then, with two outs, brought him home on another stray toss, tying the game at 1-1. The Indians went on to win that game 2-1 in 11 innings and the series in four games, the last of which was Torre's final game as Yankee manager.