Torre was convinced last season that Steinbrenner was attempting to force him to quit. Torre admitted the job was not as fun anymore, not with Steinbrenner keeping him out of the loop and taking swipes at his coaches. He expected this year to be his last.
Then Steinbrenner walked into Torre's office on the first day of spring training. "What would you like to do next year, Joe?" Steinbrenner asked.
Says Torre, "Everything changed."
Steinbrenner invited him to dinner and told Torre how much he wanted him to remain as manager. Torre, after Steinbrenner assigned Swindal to handle the negotiations, signed a three-year, $19.2 million extension last month.
Cashman, the G.M., also thought he was about finished with Steinbrenner. His contract included an option for 2005, and he was ready to work someplace else—someplace a little more sane. One bad game by the Yankees, one bad day by a player Cashman had obtained in a trade, and Steinbrenner, using as leverage the rare off days he ever allowed Cashman, would tell him, "And you can forget about that Saturday off!"
After the Yankees beat Boston in an emotional seven-game American League Championship Series last year, Steinbrenner called Cashman to a meeting at a New York restaurant. Cashman girded himself for a confrontation. When Steinbrenner walked in, the entire restaurant stood and applauded. Steinbrenner broke down, crying uncontrollably. There would be no confrontation. In December, Steinbrenner picked up the option on Cashman's contract. He agreed to allow his G.M. designated vacation time. He doesn't threaten to take away off days. Sometimes a day or two actually will pass without Steinbrenner calling Cashman.
"It's been great, better than it's ever been," Cashman says about his relationship with Steinbrenner this year. "I've been in this organization since '86.1 was trained here and know what's expected. I think he's established a level of trust with me doing the job."
Steinbrenner last month also signed assistant G.M. Jean After-man to a contract extension. He did likewise with Rick Cerrone, the team's media relations director. Michael signed a six-year extension last year. Steinbrenner's Yankees have never had such stability. "It's been a happy time for me family-wise, and it's been a very happy time for me Yankee family-wise," Steinbrenner says. "We have a great staff, and they've performed well. It's been the best organization I've ever seen on a staff anywhere."
It was after midnight on April 1 when the Yankees returned to Tampa from their season-opening trip to Japan. Steinbrenner always wants his players and staff dressed in sports coats when they travel, but this was a charter flight landing at an obscene hour. Cashman figured no one would be at the airport. He walked off the plane unshaven, wearing blue jeans and a sweatshirt. But there was one person standing there waiting for the plane: Steinbrenner. He had driven himself to the airport in the middle of the night to greet his team, to welcome the kids back from camp. He had a comment for every one of them, including a crack for Cashman about his outfit.
He grabbed YES announcer Michael Kay and told him, "Great job. That's the best I've ever heard you!"