Jorge Posada swung and missed on a curveball in the dirt, and just like that the season was over. Posada, who won four World Championships with the Yankees between 1996 and 2000, walked slowly back to the dugout. And when he peered inside, he saw Derek Jeter and Joe Torre, both still standing on the dugout steps and taking in the sights and sounds of yet another playoff failure. Then the three men turned and left for the Yankee clubhouse. Twelve years after the Yankees celebrated their World Series victory against the Atlanta Braves, only four members of that team remained. The four men, remnants of one of the greatest baseball teams of the twentieth century, knew that changes were going to be made.
Some members of the Yankees were not ready for change. The Yankee captain walked back to his locker, hung up the pintstripes, quickly pulled on a jacket and tie, briefly answered a few questions from reporters and drove home. Jeter’s bats, gloves, practice jerseys and cleats were all still in his locker when he left. Other players had taken time to clean their lockers out. Most of them would probably trade in the baseball bats for golf clubs and board planes for home the next morning. Jeter didn’t. His locker looked like he was ready to play game five.
Just across the hall from Jeter’s locker is a small office whose chief resident has been the same for the past 12 years. Of those 12 years, the Yankee’s skipper Joe Torre said, “these 12 years just felt like they were ten minutes long.” Tears welled up in the 67-year old man’s eyes as he told reporters how proud he was of his team. The night before game three, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner had declared that if the Yankees did not win the series against the Indians, Joe Torre would likely no longer be with the Yankees next season.
After the Yankees lost the series in four games, Steinbrenner did not immediately follow up on his threat, but after two days of meetings, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman called Torre and told him that the Yankees were ready to make an offer and that he should come down to Tampa Bay to discuss it. Torre obliged, and when he saw the conditions of the one year, five-million dollar deal, he told Yankee management that he would need a better contract. No one expected Torre to take such a massive pay cut, and Yankee management likely offered the contract out of respect. Their indifference to renegotiate indicated their willingness to move the team in a new direction. So, with no renegotiation offered to him, Torre stood up from the table in Tampa Bay, thanked Steinbrenner for trusting him with the Yankees for 12 years, and left.
After all Torre had done for the Yankees, his departure seemed cold and impersonal. It is likely that Torre’s number six will be hanging in Monument Park with all the other Yankee greats, permanently affirming his value among baseball’s greatest managers. But his value in the present day was only judged by one thing: current performance. The Yankee’s treatment of Torre is further proof that Yankee baseball is a business, and Torre was dispatched when his apparent value was no longer deemed high enough.
After making the playoffs for 12 consecutive years, Torre will have to head to the Yankee Stadium clubhouse one last time in the coming weeks, walk into his office with a box and fill it with things that the Yankees cannot take from him. Inside the box will be schedules, lineup cards, game balls, jerseys, hats, countless pictures of Yankee triumphs and four World Series rings.
When Torre is done, he will leave behind him an empty office across the hall from Jeter’s locker. Torre is the only manager Jeter has ever known, and his love for Joe is no secret. Of Torre, Jeter said, “Joe’s always the same. That’s why he’s been successful. Good times, bad times, he’s got the perfect mentality for a manager.” When Jeter walks into the Yankee locker room next year, he will look across the hall and only one thing will be certain: Joe Torre will not be there.
Forget about money. Forget about management. Forget about George Steinbrenner and the Yankee “business.” Yankee fans know what Torre did for the Yankees, and in the last game of the season this year, they thanked him for his efforts, chanting his name throughout the eighth and ninth innings. Torre said of the fans that night, “You could feel their heartbeat.”
Joe Torre had a lot taken away from him at the end of this season. Despite support from the fans, he was pushed out the door by Yankee management and watched as his team, his players and his office were taken away from him. But regardless of how he was treated, he was not bitter or angry. In closing his Yankee career Torre said, “I feel very blessed that I’ve been able to do this in this town. It’s something they’ll never take away from me or my family.” And just like that, it was over.