Friday, October 19, 2007

Joe Torre quits... a Nation mourns

All during the round the clock coverage of Torre turning down the Yankees offer, I was reminded of Princess Diana in the tunnel or John John and his missing plane.

It was less of a manager saying goodbye and riding off into the sunset and more like a funeral where the departed was allowed to give their own eulogy.

Unless Brian Cashman or one of Steinbrenner's nitwit sons actually read this blog (and if you do, please post on the comment section) nobody reading this will ever know what was happening during that meeting in Tampa. And we will never know if Torre's public appearance as a sympathetic figure is as insincere as Ellen's recent plea to that animal shelter.

But one thing that was clear during that hour long fascinating press conference... the Yankees lost the manager best equipped to be the manager of the Yankees.

I am not talking about line ups, in game strategy nor handling of pitching staffs.
Most major league managers not named Grady can do that or defer to their coaching staff.

I am talking about handling the beast of the New York media... which is hard to comprehend unless you see it first hand.

Someone as experienced as Randy Johnson couldn't understand it when he arrived... when he thought he could strong arm a camera man and say "I told you to back off" and expect that to fly in a town with two 24 hour sports radio stations, four regional sports TV networks and daily backpage wars in the newspapers.

Watch him have every news outlet eat out of his palm that day. They came out to Rye, for God's sake!

He was humorous, introspective, gracious to the Yankees, careful not to step on the toes of his potential successors, all the while remembering the first names of reporters and giving them a knowing smile or look after 12 years of interaction.

There was a reason Suzyn (sic) Waldman cried that last day. This guy knew the importance of having the press not take an anti management stance but rather an active pro Torre stance.

And it was fascinating to see how he seamlessly slipped in his grievances without ever falling to the level of anger.

This smiling humble man who reminds me of my grandfather on the Italian side of my family was able to make it clear without changing his tone that the deal was insulting, Randy Levine was the enemy and he was in no hurry to return to the Bronx... even sending an assistant to clean out his office.

A lesser man prepared for the media onslaught (Mattingly? Girardi? LaRussa???) would have either cowered back or lashed out.

But Joe has known what to do here from the start. When he replaced another popular Yankee manager whose leaving was treated as if the sky was falling (the immortal Showalter) Torre guided the team with ease.

Of course three things helped:

1) He was from Brooklyn

2) His brother needed a heart transplant during the World Series and rooting against him seemed like you wanted Frank Torre to die.

3) He improbably beat the Braves in the World Series.

There was no stopping his legend after that.
And who knows how much crap he stopped coming into the clubhouse from George and company?

His teams always seemed calm and focused, even during his biggest regular season crises (the terrible starts of 2005 and this season.) The knuckledraggers who kept saying "we need someone with some fire" during those times should remember it was Torre's lack of outward fire that probably kept the team cool and let them into the playoffs.

How did the firey Ozzie Guillen fare when things got bad this year?

He probably sandbagged front office pressure away from the players in ways we will never know. The fact that players who clashed with Torre (especially Jeff Nelson and Jim Leyritz) have been singing his praises all during ESPN's coverage.

You can't help but feel bad for the next guy in there...
They won't be as saavy in the press as Joe and they won't have the obvious bluster of George to deal with. Joe is leaving as the pressure from above no longer comes from the comical George but the Machiavellian Randy Levine.

I'll make a safe bet:
When the next Yankee manager gets fired... there won't be 24 hour coverage of his press conference!

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