I may be a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan, but I am first a fan of quality baseball. (Though I will never — that’s right, never — cheer a play by Derek Jeter. Or Johnny Damon. Or Roger Clemens. The list could continue … oh, right, Alex Rodriguez.)
Despite the former, and because of the latter, I had mixed feelings when the Cleveland Indians eliminated the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series. Surprisingly, it had little to do with missing out on the drama of another Sox-Yankees American League Championship Series. Rather, I sympathized with the Yankees manager, Joe Torre, whose job security (per Yankees owner George Steinbrenner) depended on the Yankees winning the ALDS. Shocking, I know — this may be the first time I’ve ever sided with a Yankee, and it will probably be the last, unless I am somehow involved in a Civil War reenactment.
Yes, Joe Torre greatly benefited from the highest payroll in baseball, which provided him with plenty of players-for-hire. He was lucky to retain the same core of players from 1996–2000, who earned him four World Series championships in a five-year span.
Yes, he had a less-than-stellar record as a manager for the New York Mets (1977–1981), the Atlanta Braves (1982–1984), and the St. Louis Cardinals (1990–1995). He posted a combined record of 894 wins and 1,003 losses in the National League, a .471 average.
However, those who claim Torre had a clear-cut path to success forget that Torre did some of his best work in the 2006 season. Though stars such as Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield spent significant amounts of time on the disabled list and injuries and ineffectiveness ravaged an already-thin pitching staff, the Yankees still finished with a 97-65 record and the AL East title.
Torre also lasted a remarkable 12 years under famously hot-tempered Steinbrenner, by far the longest-employed manager in Steinbrenner’s tenure as owner. Based on that fact alone, Torre deserves admiration.
At any rate, Torre posted extremely consistent results with the Yankees in earning four World Series, 11 consecutive division titles (a streak that ended this year), and 12 straight postseason berths. He was damn close to winning the 2001 World Series, except Luis Gonzales hit a bloop single off ace closer Mariano Rivera to lift the Arizona Diamondbacks over the Yankees. Against the Sox in the 2004 ALCS, the Yankees were just three outs away from securing another trip to the World Series when Bill Mueller’s single tied the game in the bottom of the ninth. It’s hard to fault Torre for electing to put Rivera on the mound with a lead. For a results-at-any-cost organization, Torre was quite effective at putting his players in a position to succeed.
Steinbrenner may have fired Torre by the time this article is published. The Red Sox fan in me is thrilled because the dominant Yankees era seems to be over. However, the baseball fan in me is mourning the loss of a great division rivalry. Sure, the Yankees will undoubtedly find a solid replacement manager, and they’ll probably load their team with overpaid free agents, but I’ve grown up associating Joe Torre with the Yankees. I’ve enjoyed every minute of despising those pinstripes, and it saddens me to think that I’ll have to adjust the object of my scorn.
It goes deeper than that, actually: I want reassurance that a person is not judged based on one series but on the sum of his actions. Clearly, that idea is wrong in our what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world. Regardless, I’ll hold on to hope that the sports world is closer to a fairy tale than the real world — or at least more fair — until Steinbrenner reaches a decision.