I just completed the Torre book, much later than I wanted to. Thanks to the A-Rod fiasco and other things happening at home.
I’ll say this: I have a different perspective of the Yankees now than I did before reading, and I have newfound respect for Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neil, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and David Cone.
If you have not read the book yet, I’d suggest you read it as soon as you can.
The rest of this blog will explain the book. If you don’t want to know, stop reading here.
The first chapter starts with Torre’s hiring. What I found revealing was that Torre had an abusive childhood and that at his wife’s urgency, he went to Life Success seminars to gain back confidence in himself and empower himself to accept confrontations — a tool that would enable him success with Steinbrenner. Torre also names Jeter the quiessential rookie, and identifies Jeter’s success in the postseason as one of the main factors for the Yankees’ run in the 1990s.
In the second chapter, the 1998 Yankees started their season 1-4, prompting a Torre team meeting. In this chapter, Torre explains the impact David Cone had on the team, essentially being the team spokesperson, the de facto captain. He also explains the determination of Paul O’Neill. Torre is angry to find out that Steinbrenner knew that he was diagnosed with cancer before he did, and he also identifies the neediness that Roger Clemens brought to the clubhouse.
Rick Helling, a pitcher with the Texas Rangers is cited for being the one to bring attention to the alarming spike in steroid use. MLB and the Players Union ignore him. That was in 1998. The third chapter focuses on steroid use, and funny, I read this chapter before the A-Rod revelation came out, and by the end of this chapter, I firmly believed that a large number, probably close to 60% of the players were juicing up. So, in reality, I wasn’t surprised — more disappointed — to find out that A-Rod also juiced.
In chapter 4, we see another side of Steinbrenner — how he cared for his teams and employees. However, this wasn’t exactly how Steinbrenner was on a daily basis. For instance starting on page 143, we read about “The Curse of the Rings,” about the problem of Steinbrenner not giving out World Series rings to his employees. That was in 2000. The Yankees have not won a World Series since. Chapter 4 also talks about what really happened between Clemens and Mike Piazza in the season and World Series. Of course that is only on the Yankees’ perspective. I do wonder if Piazza knows about this.
Chapter 5 focuses on the 2001 World Series — or as Curt Schilling said at the time, “Mystique and Aura — dancers in a night club.” It was the end of Paul O’Neill.
Torre never wanted Giambi. He wanted to keep Tino and groom Nick Johnson to take over. Outvoted, Jason Giambi came to New York. It was in the 2001 offseason that baseball finally caught up to the Yankees. More and more teams were depending on statistics, sabermetrics, and other figures to pick the players. This was led by the hiring of Theo Epstein in Boston, Mke Shapiro in Cleveland, and Billy Beane in Oakland.
David Wells was both an asset and a problem — a serious problem. Boozing, not taking care of himself, and even lying to Torre. Steinbrenner also started to tell Torre who should be playing, often second-guessing the manager. All of this happens in chapter 7.
Chapter 8 is all about A-Rod. Yes, the famous “A-Fraud” comment is there. Who cares? After reading about how A-Rod was really like in the clubhouse, A-Fraud is a decent name. Torre says A-Rod’s work ethnic is unquestionable. He works hard, and passionately. Problem is…A-Rod monopolized the attention and craved his “status” and desperately wanted to be like Jeter. Popular and well-liked. It never happened.
Throughout the book, Verducci uses different statistics to show how the Yankees have declined over the years, especially with starting pitching. The pitchers would get less and less innings out on the mound, and the strikeouts would go down as the years went by. This is a prime example of how the team declined with age, and how they depleted their farm system by going after overpriced and aging veteran pitchers. Plus they went after various players like Gary Sheffield over Carlos Beltran. In the book, Torre calls Sheffield a prime donna. Sure, he’s a very good teammate, but his mood swings make him a liability, Torre explains.
Kevin Brown was the most selfish player Torre had ever seen. That was after he injured his left hand punching a wall. Chapter 10 also focuses on what happened with the Yankees’ meltdown in the 2004 ALCS, games 4 and 5 — and eventually games 6 and 7. It was then in 2004 that Steinbrenner started a negative campaign against Torre, and things were never the same.
Chapter 11 is interesting — a lot is revealed, including the rotation woes in 2005 with Brown, Pavano, an aging Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, and this also brings forth the problems with Carl Pavano and how he couldn’t adjust to life in New York and also chose not to play, refusing to “blow out his arm for this organization.” Torre also found out Johnson is easily rattled, wishing he knew that in 2001 during the World Series. Cashman also took over more control of the selection of players, following Theo Epstein’s approach, and even anointing Wilson Betemit as the next David Ortiz.
Torre challenged the Yankees in 2005 to fire him, and they didn’t. There was also a huge disagreement between Torre and Cashman about signing Bernie Williams to a one-year contract. Torre felt Williams would still be a decent option off the bench, but Cashman went with other options, both of whom didn’t work the entire season. Williams has never played since.
Damon’s off-field problems come to light in chapter 13. He was burned out, tired, wanted to be with his family and father. Damon came to spring training overweight and out of shape. Also, in 2007, Torre notices that A-Rod was more buffed, lost body fat, and looked leaner. Evidence of PEDs?
In 2007, the Yankees had their rough start to the season, prompting Torre to have his angriest meeting with the team ever — a point that struck with the players. That is probably what started the Yankees on their surge the rest of the season. It was also at the beginning of the season where Torre knew that he wouldn’t be coming back — telling his personal assistant to start packing some stuff from hi office. We also see the introduction of Joba and his rules.
During the start of the 2007 playoffs, Torre had Billy Crystal send a motivational DVD — one that started with a pornographic scene, and ended with a prayer for Pavano — got everyone loosened up. Then we read about the attack of the midget flies in Cleveland. Torre admits that was his biggest mistake, not taking the team off the field.
Finally, we come to the last chapter — the one that was printed in SI.com and in the Sports Illustrated issue last week.
Overall, the book gives the reader a behind-the-scenes look at how the Yankees were run during the 12 years Torre was the skipper.
Joe Torre, in my opinion, was the best manager in baseball between 1996 and 2007, and he is still an excellent manager.