Saturday, October 20, 2007

Joe Torre: The End of an Era

The departure (or should I say the ouster?) of Joe Torre as manager of the New York Yankees has a sad aura of inevitability to it. No Yankee manager has ever been allowed to exit gracefully while George Steinbrenner owns the team. The fact that Joe Torre led the Yankees to twelve post-season appearances, six American League pennants, and four World Series titles (with the four titles coming in an amazing five year span) in twelve seasons meant nothing to Steinbrenner. Actually Steinbrenner, obviously, had been burning to fire Torre long before and was simply waiting for the right time to wield the axe he had wielded against so many other managers he had hired to manage the team. Torre’s ouster was nothing more than a long awaited reassertion of George Steinbrenner’s megalomania.

And so once again Steinbrenner has taken (as he had in 1982) the first step in dismantling a proud baseball dynasty. How the Yankees will fare without Torre makes for fascinating speculation. I would even be so bold as to predict that the Yankees will not reach the post-season next year.

Where Joe Torre will go will also make for fascinating speculation. Will he go to St. Louis (especially if Tony LaRussa leaves as has been rumored)? One thing is for certain Joe Torre has earned himself a place in the baseball hall-of-fame with his twelve year reign as Yankee manager. Baseball historians should note that what Joe Torre did between 1996 and 2003 is one of the most remarkable managerial feats in baseball history. Torre assumed the managerial reins of a team owned by the most destructive, capricious owner in the history of the game (Charlie O. Finley was a piker compared to Steinbrenner) and in an eight year period won six pennants and four World Series titles including an amazing three consecutive years of World Series championships and in the process won fourteen consecutive World Series games. Torre did this while managing in the free agency era and coping with a three-tiered playoff system that Casey Stengel, Joe McCarthy, and John McGraw (three other great New York managers) never had to deal with.

If the advent of free agency did anything to alter Major League Baseball it leveled the playing field and ended the era of dynastic franchises—that is until Joe Torre took over as Yankee manager in 1996. The fact that Torre was able to keep his core group of players together for so long during that eight year span is nothing short of amazing and it speaks volumes about Torre’s managerial genius. The fact that, for twelve years, Torre held George Steinbrenner at bay is even more fantastic. The only other manager who stayed that long under Steinbrenner was the late Billy Martin and not even Martin could keep Steinbrenner from grossly interfering with the running of the team.

Simply put Joe Torre was the best baseball manager from the mid-1990’s to the present time. Yes, Bobby Cox has won more games and has lasted longer than Torre but he has only won one World Series title (twice losing to Torre in 1996 and 1999). Not even Tony LaRussa achieved the same success as Torre did (and if LaRussa does accept the Yankee job I don’t think he will be able to achieve the same results as Torre did).

If I have to choose my favorite Joe Torre moment it has to be when the Yankees won the 2001 A.L.C.S. against Seattle following the catastrophe that was 9/11. The Yankees won the pennant at home and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was in the stands. When the game was over Giuliani was invited on the field to help celebrate the pennant victory with the team. When Giuliani congratulated Joe Torre it was a truly emotional and tender moment in the history of New York City athletics. It was a signal moment for both men, both of whom as New Yorkers were affected by the tragedy of that horrible day six years ago. What was sadder still was when the Yankees didn’t win the 2001 Series even though they came within an ace of winning. (They came close in 2003 too though a lot of people don’t realize that).

Thanks, Joe Torre. You brought the pride back to Yankee fans everywhere. God be with you.

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