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ESPN is reporting today that the greatest Yankee skipper of all time, Joe Torre (sorry Casey Stengel and Joe McCarthy) might not coach past 2010.  Despite leading the best team in the major this season, Torre doesn’t want to make the commitment just yet.

“Yeah, I’m enjoying it. Not to say that I’m thinking about doing this for 10 years, no. I have family, too,” he said. “I have another year left after this. There are still some days you don’t want to pack and go on a road trip. The ballpark is the best part for me. I still enjoy the baseball aspect of it. The energy is terrific and I feel good about it. It’s all about the players and how they respond to you. The players have been great. This group of guys has been terrific.”

Torre also says he enjoys watching the Yankees play and likes seeing how some of his former players are doing.  He also has a high regard for Joe Girardi.  “This kid is going to be one of the top managers. This I know is a dream job for him and I’m glad things are getting better for him.”

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Growing up in the 1980s, Donnie Baseball was one of my favorite players to watch. Seeing him in Dodger Blue still creeps me out.

After he lost his bid in 2007 to replace Joe Torre, he followed Torre to Los Angeles and has been there ever since. There is no better person for Mattingly to be with and learn the game from.

In an article in the LA Times, Bill Shaikin writes:

Torre and the Dodgers have a mutual interest in grooming hitting coach Don Mattingly as his successor. Mattingly coached for Torre in New York, then followed him to L.A. “When it’s time for Joe not to manage the club, we would like his replacement to be on our staff,” General Manager Ned Colletti said.

If the Yankees do not return to the playoffs — after spending $423 million on Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett — we cannot imagine Manager Joe Girardi will be invited back. The Yankees selected Girardi over Mattingly as the replacement for Torre, and perhaps they’ll ask their beloved first baseman for a do-over.

Mattingly, who has no managerial experience, said Torre has promised him nothing. “I feel like he’s helping me prepare,” Mattingly said, “but I don’t know if that’s necessarily for here. I liked it in New York. I like it here. I like the game.”

The article has a quote from Mattingly, and he will not speculate where he wants to manage next, but I’m pretty sure everyone on this side of the coast knows he would love to don the pinstripes again and add to the championship years.

I’m more inclined to let Girardi finish his contract, and if by next year there isn’t significant progress, bring in Mattingly or another good manager to manage these players.

Bill Madden had the opportunity to interview Johnny Damon and ask him about wht the book said about his subpar start to the 2007 season. Excerpts of the article are here:

In regard to leaving the team to go home to Orlando and ponder retirement in spring training 2007, Damon explained: “I was really bummed out by the way everything ended for us in 2006 (losing to the Detroit Tigers in four games in the AL divisional series). (Gary Sheffield) being benched, Alex batting eighth, all of that. We’d worked so hard to have it end that way when I felt we had the best team. And then after Cory Lidle’s death, I started looking at things in a bigger picture, being home with my kids after missing all the years of them growing up.”

As for the insinuations by Torre that old guard Yankees questioned his commitment and wanted him out of there, Damon shook his head sadly. “There’s nothing I can do about that,” he said. “I talked to (Torre) in what I thought was confidentiality. Joe had a chance to put me on the disabled list. Unfortunately, (Hideki) Matsui got hurt and we were short outfielders and Joe had to keep running me out there when I needed three-four days of rest for my legs. As soon as Shelley (Duncan) came up, that bought me time and over the last six weeks I was able to play much better, and last year was one of my best seasons.”

“I’m in a good place mentally now,” Damon said, “just as I was all last year, and I prefer to remain positive. I’m just not sure what Joe’s motives were for writing the book. His legacy here was assured. What really surprised me was that he wrote it while he’s still managing. Why would any of his players with the Dodgers want to go to him about anything?”

That’s an interesting view. I never thought of that, especially with Lidle’s death affecting Damon. Of course that kind of tragedy would affect pretty much anyone.

My wife is such a good salesperson that she won a trip to Jamaica through her company and we spent the last week in 86 degree weather on the beach.  We came home late Saturday evening, just in time for the 6-12 inches of snow falling on Yankee Country today.  BTW, its like 17 degrees outside.  Needless to say, I’m THRILLED to be home.

I was surprised again how much Yankees fans are different then other fans.  While we were traveling, I was sporting my Yankee hoody and hat, and as always, got many comments. One of the things that surprised me was they way we talk differently.  For instance, I ran into some White Sox fans in the airport.  One asked me how I felt about the Yankees chances this year.  I told him WE seem to be looking great, especially with the addition of Sabathia and Burnett.  I then asked him how he felt about the Sox.  His reponse was, well, they didn’t really add anyone in free agency.  And there’s our difference – Yankees fans say WE all other fans say THEY.

On the flight down, I had to sit next to a Boston fan.  Well a fake one.  One of those girl fans, who wears a pink shirt the the Boston B on it, but doesn’t know who John Smoltz is.  I ignored her for the rest of the trip.

My favorite hobby is reading, so I borrowed Chris’ “birthday presents” to himself (Confessions of a She-Fan and The Yankee Years) and brought Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, for some non-Yankee reading.  For some unknown reason, I read Jane Heller’s book first.  It didn’t even make it to Jamaica.  I was about 1/3 of the way through it by the time we left, and I finished it about 15 minutes before landing in Montego Bay.  I just couldn’t put it down.  I forgot how much I loved the ’07 season.  The heartbreak when we started so horribly and the thrill when the team finished so beautifully.  The excitement of Joba pitching so dominantly.  Then, the attack of the midges.  The sadness of it being over.

I spent the entire book wondering whose comments were posted at the beginning of each chapter.  Eventually I realized they belonged to the one Yankee she would eventually interview.  Then it occurred to me that I could just flip ahead and figure it out.  But for some reason I didn’t.

Next up was The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci.  Or as I would have put it, by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci with David Cone and Mike Mussina.  I never knew Cone’s leadership role was so strong on that team – I thought leadership was coming from Paulie, Bernie and Joe Girardi.

Overall I loved the book.  I enjoyed seeing the inner workings of a championship organization.  But I felt as if Torre is still sore with how everything happened the last few years.  Don’t get me wrong, the way Hal, Hank, Randy and Cash treated Torre in that least meeting is abhorrent.  The way all the blame was thrown on him for the crappy pitching was underhanded.  However, I still felt as if Torre spent more time focusing on the pressure he felt and drama from ’04-’08, then speaking about the great things from those seasons.  Like the 5 game sweep of Boston at Fenway in 2006.  Barely mentioned.  That five game series turned the season around for both teams and it was barely mentioned.

Bottom line, I kind of hoped the book was going to do more then it actually did.  It was well-written and full of amazing stories, but it was still missing a lot.  I think packing 12 years into 479 pages cut out too much, at least for my liking.

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.

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