We have to get one thing straight right off the bat: I am a hard core Boston Red Sox fan, born and raised a proud and long suffering citizen of Red Sox Nation. I used to get hives at the mere mention of names like Bill Buckner, Bucky Dent, and Aaron Boone. But all that changed in 2004, when the Red Sox banished the curse of the Bambino, (a curse of years of inept management, if the truth be told) humiliated the New York Yankees right there on their home field, and blew away the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series almost as an afterthought.
That part of me, the yahoo Red Sox fanatic, is glad that Joe Torre is finally gone. Joe Torre’s Yankees made my life miserable for eleven years, starting in 1996, Torre’s first year as manager of the Yankees. In those eleven years, the Yankees finished first ten times, the sole exception being 1997. After that, it was nine straight years of having to endure the Yankees finishing first, the Red Sox finishing second. Every freakin’ year.
But I am not just a Red Sox fan; I am also a human being who loathes injustice, which is just a fancy way of saying I don’t like to see anyone getting screwed. And Joe Torre got screwed. Big time. By the very people who should have been the first ones to appreciate everything that he did for them. By offering him a one year contract with 2.5 million dollar pay cut, the Yankees management may not have actually fired him, but they basically insulted him into quitting.
Any baseball fan worth his Cracker Jacks has to appreciate the greatness of Joe Torre, irrespective of their hometown allegiance. Prior to his arrival, the Yankees were a collection of overpaid perennial mediocrities. Apart from a Wild Card berth in 1995, the Yankees last visit to the playoffs prior to Torre’s arrival was 1981, when they went to the World Series, blowing a 2-0 series lead to lose to the L. A. Dodgers in six games.
Torre changed all that. His managerial record with the Yankees will be the stuff of legend: 12 seasons, 10 American League East first place finishes, six American League pennants, and four World Series championships. It is an astounding record of uninterrupted success.
But even more than that, what always impressed this Red Sox fan was his dignity and class. In the old days, Red Sox fans really did hate the Yankees, and they were a pretty unlikable bunch. Thurman Munson, Lou Piniella, Reggie Jackson, and of course, the odious Billy Martin were like comic book villains to our Red Sox heroes like Luis Tiant, Bill Lee, and Carlton Fisk.
But no one with half a heart could hate Joe Torre. Enjoy beating him? Absolutely. But you can’t hate him. It is no coincidence that in May of 1999, making his first visit to Fenway Park after missing the first several weeks of the season while battling prostate cancer, Joe Torre received a standing ovation from the same Red Sox fans who had spent their entire lives booing anything Yankee.
I was never prouder to be a Red Sox fan than at that moment.
His skills as a manager were never more on display than this season. The Yankees were a train wreck in May, tied with the Tampa Bay Devil Dogs, er, sorry, that’s Devil Rays, for last place in the AL East. Many big league managers would have been hard pressed to keep the players away from each others’ throats, let alone find a way to win consistently. Yet somehow Torre kept it all together and by August the Yankees seriously threatened the Red Sox’ hold on first place.
But evidently that is not enough for the Steinbrenners. Rumor has it that George Steinbrenner is now too ill to really be running things, and it is his son Hank who is actually steering the ship. Significantly, the Yankees didn’t start to recover until George was banned from baseball in 1990. By the time he was allowed to return in 1993, he seemed to have learned a lesson about letting his baseball people actually make the baseball decisions. The less George did, the better the Yankees did. Happily for Red Sox fans, Hank has seemingly inherited his father’s penchant for both wanting to be in control and for making really bad baseball decisions.
This does not bode well for the Yankees. By all accounts, Torre enjoyed the almost fanatical loyalty of his players. He could manage the Toledo Mud Hens next year, and his players would follow him there.
Torre deserves to be Manager of the Year. I really hope he gets it, just to spite them.
Classy to the end, he refuses to bad mouth the people who have treated him in such an ungracious fashion. At a press conference today, he again passed up an opportunity to vent what must be some very pent up anger, and instead chose to thank the New York fans for their loyalty.
Of course, one needn’t feel too bad for Joe Torre. He is rich, and famous, and can walk into the office of any baseball or television executive and name his price. And as I said, the Red Sox fan in me is a little glad he’s gone. But I have to admit the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry will not be quite the same without seeing Torre’s ever dour visage glaring out of the Yankees dugout.
This is one Red Sox fan who wishes Joe Torre continued success.
Preferably in the National League.