NEW YORK -- Think back to the day Joe Torre was hired as manager of the New York Yankees. After being fired as the skipper of the St. Louis Cardinals, Torre assumed his managing days were behind him and that his future was in broadcasting. After 14 years of managing without a single appearance in the World Series, Torre figured his chance to get to the Fall Classic had passed him by.
Then, in November 1995, he became the 14th manager in George Steinbrenner's tenure as the Yankees' owner. He was on the hottest seat in baseball, returning to his hometown for the opportunity of a lifetime. He was not inheriting a rebuilding project, he was taking over a work in progress, one that had been to the playoffs just one month before his being hired. All of a sudden, he had another shot at his dream. Another shot at the World Series.
The New York Post found fault with the decision to hire Torre, shouting "CLUELESS JOE" across the back page in big, block letters.
Turned out the Post was right. Torre was clueless -- he had no idea about the kind of success he would have, winning four world championships in five seasons. Now, as he and his players look to become just the third team ever to win four consecutive titles, Torre says his job becomes a little less taxing every season.
"My managing is becoming easier, because when you have had success with a lot of the same people, you don't have to do any selling," Torre said. "Everyone knows what their job is. The people that come on board -- David Justice, Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina for example -- they feel their way around. When you get traded, you feel like an outsider coming to a new team, especially the Yankees. With the pinstripes, the success we've had, being in New York can be overwhelming at times. But every player that has ever put on this uniform since I've been here has been welcomed with open arms."
Years as a manager: 20
Regular-season record, career: 1476-1390 .511
Postseason record, career: 53-21 .716
Division titles: Six Pennants: Five World Series titles: Four Managerial style: Respected by his players for his honesty, being fair and laid-back approach to the game of baseball. Depending on the matchups, Torre usually goes with the hot hand during the postseason. For example, he benched starter Tino Martinez for a couple of games in favor of Cecil Fielder during the 1996 World Series. Torre also is known for keeping owner George Steinbrenner at distance when the Yankees are on a losing streak.
That last statement may sound like Torre patting himself on the back, but it's simply the truth. Each and every player in the Yankees clubhouse has tremendous respect for the man they call "skip." Well, almost all of them refer to him that way. To Derek Jeter, he's simply "Mr. Torre."
"He's the only manager I've known here," Jeter said. "I was here for a few weeks when Buck Showalter was here, but I didn't play much. Mr. Torre is the only manager I've known, and I can't imagine coming here and playing for anyone else."
Torre's players -- both those that have played for him for six years as well as those that have been with him for just a few months -- all say that he is a player's manager, and that his respect for them translates into their respect for him.
"The way he treats us as individuals, as people and not as the 10th or 11th pitcher on the team, he makes you feel part of it," said Mark Wohlers, who was acquired by the Yankees in late June. "He makes you feel like you have an important role, and that means a lot to a player. Early in the year, when I struggled, he was right by my side. A lot of times I felt like he was trying to make excuses for me, but that's better than the alternative."
"Joe has the perfect blend, he treats the players with respect and the players respect him," said David Justice, now in his second season under Torre. "He commands respect with his knowledge, the way he treats players and the fact that he was a great player himself."
Torre's playing career, in which he hit .297 with 252 home runs and 1,185 RBIs over 17 seasons, was not enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. But after winning four (five?) titles, Torre's induction after he retires would seem to be a formality. As far as his players are concerned, it shouldn't be any other way.
"He struggled before he had success, he realizes how difficult this game is," said Andy Pettitte. "He's very loyal to his players, and that's the ultimate when you have a guy that's loyal to you."
In fact, Torre has been accused of being loyal to a fault, playing "his guys" when others may give him a better chance to win. But how can anyone question a manager whose touch seemingly turns everything into gold?
"Joe is like the silent general that trusts his players in the locker room, knowing they'll do the job," said Jay Witasick, another midseason acquisition. "The first day we met, he said 'Once you put this uniform on, I'll back you 100 percent.' Hearing a manager tell you that gives you a confidence factor of knowing he's in your corner at all times."
"I know that if I don't pitch well on a certain night, I'm still going to be out there next time, and if someone goes 0-for-4, they'll be in the lineup the next day," said Mike Mussina. "He has loyalty to his players, and in return, the players believe in him and the decisions he makes."
Mussina, who played for a half-dozen managers in his decade with the Baltimore Orioles, says that he saw immediately how Torre's personality has helped shape the personality of his ballclub.
"The way a team handles things is a direct reflection of how its manager handles things," Mussina said. "Joe is level-headed, he takes losing in stride and takes winning in stride, so that you don't get too emotional one way or the other. You don't take winning for granted, or get down too far if you lose a game or two. Because of that, you can come out on a daily basis, play consistently and trust in yourself."
Trust is a big word in Torre's clubhouse. But words do not define Torre, who chooses to let his players do most of the talking. Some of the most famous managers and head coaches in sports history have been motivators, inspiring their men with pep talks and pregame speeches. Not Torre. He prefers to speak softly and carry a filled-in lineup card.
"He knows when to talk and when not to talk," said Mike Stanton, a Yankee since 1997. "Through the few streaks that we've had in the past when we haven't played very well, it's not like we've had meetings every day. He knows that we're veteran players, and that we know how to get out of it. He also doesn't play with something that's going good. We don't have meetings to talk about how good or bad we're playing."
"When he speaks up you know he means business," said Shane Spencer. "Because he usually lets everyone go and do their thing to prepare for games."
"You can talk to skip, his office is open," Justice said. "He'll give you an honest answer about anything. He'll help you. It's very comfortable to walk into his office."
Whether the Yankees win their fourth straight World Series or not, Torre feels that this Yankee team deserves to be placed on the same level as any other dynasty in baseball history.
"We should rank up there with any one of them," Torre said. "To get to the World Series four years in a row, and five out of six, with all of the layers of playoffs you have to go through, it's impressive. When I came into the league, you won your league and you went to the World Series. Then I started managing and you had to win one series to get to the World Series. This ballclub, being able to go through all of these playoffs -- I don't care what teams you talk about -- takes a back seat to no one in its ability to get to four in a row."
As far as his players are concerned, he should be placed on a different level as well. After coming to the Yankees with a 894-1003 record (.471 winning percentage), Torre has gone 582-327 (.640) in six seasons, with an incredible 16-3 record in the World Series.
"He's the best manager in the game," said Tino Martinez. "He's proven it year in and year out, through the difficult times we've had, the good times we've had, he's found a way to remain the same. He's been a consistent professional, he knows how to manage and carry this team."