(Long Island, NY) After twisting in the wind since the Yankees were ousted by Cleveland in the American League Division Series, Joe Torre turned the tables on George Steinbrenner and rejected the team’s one-year contract offer. The man that led the Bronx Bombers to playoff appearances in every one of his 12 seasons as the field boss decided that he wanted to walk away on his own terms.
It all began after the Yankees lost the first two playoff games to the Indians, causing Steinbrenner to say that the team needed to come back and win the ALDS for Torre to be asked back next season. The questions surrounded the manager and front office upon the team’s ouster, with speculation regarding The Boss’ statement.
The Yankees’ brain trust met in Tampa this week to discuss their options. Bench coach Don Mattingly reportedly said that he was not ready to take on the job, which his agent quickly rebuffed once it became public. No decision on Torre was made until Thursday afternoon when a one-year, $5 million offer was put on the table. The offer included a $1 million bonus for each playoff round reached, which would have maxed it out at $8 million.
This would have been a $2.5 million pay cut from Torre’s 2007 salary, postseason not withstanding. What seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would accept the offer and come back became the shocker of the day. Torre apparently decided that he did not want to accept a substantial (29 percent) pay cut and rely on performance-based incentives after proving his worth since 1996.
Under this offer, he would continue to be the highest paid manager in major league baseball,” team president Randy Levine said to reporters. “We thought that we needed to go to a performance-based model, having nothing to do with Joe Torre’s character, integrity or ability. We just think it’s important to motivate people.”
The end of that statement is the most troubling part. Not trying to read into it, but is Levine insinuating that Torre was not motivated enough to win this season by having his $7.5 million deal guaranteed? Arguably the best manager in the Yankees’ long and illustrious history deserves better than that.
Addressing the media after the Yankees were eliminated, Torre sounded like a man that would not return. “This has been a great 12 years,” he said to reporters. “Whatever the hell happens from here on out, I’ll look back on these 12 years with great, great pleasure. The 12 years just felt like they were 10 minutes long, to be honest with you.” Possibly the skipper knew in his heart that it was over and time to move on.
Now where do the Yankees turn? The brass cannot be totally happy with these events, but possibly relieved. The Steinbrenners (George and sons Hank and Hal) would have looked like Public Enemy Number One if they just tossed Torre aside. This way, they can always stand on their offer and that Torre was the one who decided against returning. They need to make a quick but proper decision for their new manager. Mattingly is still considered the favorite choice of George Steinbrenner, and after Torre decided against returning, may rethink
his earlier ‘statements.’ Another front-runner is Joe Girardi, the former Yankee catcher who won the 2006 National League Manager of the Year award with the Florida Marlins.
Other names mentioned have been Tony LaRussa, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, and former Mets’ manager Bobby Valentine, currently a folk hero as a field boss in Japan.
Whoever gets the job will have Herculean shoes to fill. A 1,173-767 record, eighth in the All-Time list and second to Casey Stengel for the team record are next to impossible to match. Factor in the four World Series titles, 10 AL East flags and two-time Manager of the Year (1996 and 1998) awards, and Joe Torre is irreplaceable.