SAY IT AIN’T SO, JOE, PART II

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

     

It was hard to believe that Joe Torre would actually write a book and throw some of his former players under the bus.  But it certainly seemed that way when the excerpts got out.  Torre and others said wait until you read the book.  Torre did a number of interviews (Larry King, Mike Francesa, Bob Costas) and essentially said “I don’t think I broke the code” of whatever goes on in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse, something Torre had accused pitcher David Wells of when he wrote his book.  In Say it Ain’t So, Joe, Part I  (Kallas Remarks, 1/30/09), this writer thought there was little or no difference and that Joe, having already won the battle and the war, decided to keep fighting (by writing a book) and, as a result, lost some ground. 

    

Well, after reading the book cover to cover, listening to the entirety of the King, Francesa and Costas interviews with Torre (and partially, in Costas’s case, with his (Costas’s) MLB Network colleague, co-author Tom Verducci), it still says here that this was a clear violation (with multiple offenses) of the code and that hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of Yankee fans will always look at Torre in a different light now.  And, yes, this is being written by a life-long Yankee fan who thought (and still thinks) that Torre did a great job and will someday (but no longer soon) have his number retired at the new (but not the same) Yankee Stadium.

 

A COUPLE OF SUGGESTIONS FOR THE PAPERBACK EDITION

         

The whole “who wrote what part of the book” quickly became a moving target for critics of the book.  When the paperback edition comes out, maybe they can put Torre’s words in red ink and Verducci’s words in blue ink.  When there’s a vivid description of trainer Steve Donahue rubbing hot liniment all over the body of Roger Clemens, including his testicles (p. 132, too much info there?), is it Torre’s insight or Verducci’s?  When talking about the Red Sox, when Grady Little was named manager, Pedro Martinez, according to the book (p. 190), “was so happy he danced naked around the clubhouse, cracking up his teammates by playing with his ‘member’.” (again, too much info).  Presumably, Torre wasn’t there, so (I guess) those are Verducci’s words.

    

Another suggestion would be to check Joe Torre’s acknowledgements section right after page 477.  Torre has stated numerous times that he read the book over and over and apparently, if he didn’t understand anything (like the Single White Female reference about A-Rod), he “trusted” Tom Verducci.  He wouldn’t change anything in the book and firmly believes that he didn’t cross any lines.  Aside from the absurdity of that position (that’s Joe’s story and he’s sticking with it, almost with a What, Me Worry? tone), the “Acknowledgements” section starts first with a thank you to George Steinbrenner and then he acknowledges Arthur Richman, who suggested to Steinbrenner that Joe would be a good candidate, by writing, in his own book “Arthur Richmond for suggesting to The Boss that he hire me.”

    

I’ve never seen a name spelled incorrectly in an Acknowledgement.  After all, this might be the most personal part of a book for any author.  Maybe Torre read the book over and over again, but it doesn’t seem that he read his Acknowledgements even once.

       

SPECIFIC EXAMPLES OF BREAKING THE CODE

     

“I’ve always tried to respect guys’ privacy” – Joe Torre (p. 182)

    

About Chuck Knoblauch (pp. 56-57), Torre said “I never realized how fragile he was.”  He then went on to describe conversations with Knoblauch (and with others about Knoblauch) that went on in the clubhouse after Knoblauch walked off the field on June 16, 2000 after having one of his inexplicable I-can’t-throw-from-second-to-first games.  Whatever the content of the conversations, it violates what is said in the clubhouse should stay in the clubhouse.

    

About Roger Clemens (pp. 77-78), Clemens asked Torre if he could use the office phone to call his mother (that’s what the book says).  The two men then had a conversation about Clemens fitting in and, when Torre told Clemens, “fit in my ass, you be who you are.  Be Roger Clemens,” Roger replied “That’s what my mom is always telling me.”  Funny?  Yes.  Breaking the code?  Absolutely.        

    

More on Clemens (p.135):  After the Piazza bat-breaking, Clemens-throws-it-in-his- direction World Series fiasco, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, who was eating a cheeseburger with George Steinbrenner in Torre’s office (?), found Clemens in the locker room, crying uncontrollably.

    

On Jason Giambi (p.170):  Torre couldn’t believe that Giambi needed his personal trainer to motivate him. “You need to be self-motivated here.  You don’t need somebody to push you. He [the trainer] had to tell him everything.”  Torre went on to say that Giambi didn’t always work hard enough.  Code?  You be the judge.

    

It gets worse.  Alex Rodriguez, whether Torre understands it or not, was going to take a lot of grief for A-Fraud, which, as the book states (p. 245): “People in the clubhouse, including teammates and support personnel, were calling him “A-Fraud” behind his back.”  With his now admitted steroid use, A-Fraud might seem mild.  But that misses the point.  When Torre, on the interview circuit, said Larry Bowa called him A-Fraud as a joke, that’s great.  But a) so what?; and b) what page of the book is that on? Answer: it’s not in the book.

    

The whole get-your-own-cup-of-coffee statement by Torre to A-Rod (pp. 249-50, so A-Rod would seem more like a member of the team) is both funny and sad.  It’s funny, because A-Rod actually goes and gets his own cup of coffee and tells Joe Torre about it.  Torre, of course, uses that as one example to show that Alex “just didn’t get it.”  It’s sad because it also makes A-Rod appear to be a simpleton.  Code violation?  Of course.

    

There are plenty more examples, but we’ll just give you the page numbers for Kevin Brown (p. 323, “curled up on the floor after getting hammered by Tampa Bay; Torre: “I think he had some emotional issues”) and Kyle Farnsworth (p.425, Torre found Farnsworth on the floor in the Shea Stadium trainer’s room, crying).

    

Carl Pavano, there’s not enough space to write about him.  But suffice it to say that when Mike Mussina criticized Pavano to reporters during spring training, Torre is quoted in his book (p.320) as saying that “Moose didn’t do the right thing, the way he went about it.”  Code?  What code?  Is there one or not?  Even Bernie Williams was made to look like an idiot (pp. 352-53). 

       

WHAT ABOUT BRIAN CASHMAN AND THE YANKEE FRONT OFFICE?

          

Well, clearly it became more difficult to operate with the Yankee front office as that group got bigger and bigger and bigger.  Did Brian Cashman and others make a lot of bad moves?  Of course they did.  Did Brian Cashman get the Yankees to the playoffs (and, to some degree, a World Series victory) in 2000 by acquiring David Justice (20 HR, 60 RBI in 78 games)?  Of course he did.  Now, I’m no fan of the Yankee hierarchy (not mentioning Torre at the final Yankee game at the Stadium was an everlasting disgrace), but you shouldn’t slaughter a guy publicly for plenty of bad moves without mentioning David Justice.  Or does the code not apply to non-players?

    

And I guess we’ll never know what George Steinbrenner thought when Joe Torre told him that, in 1996, the Yankees were going to sweep Atlanta in Atlanta and come back to win the World Series in Game 6 at the Stadium.  We had all heard that famous story for years.  But I never heard (until now) that down, 1-0 in games, Torre told Steinbrenner, just prior to Game 2 (p. 16), “You should be prepared for us to lose again tonight, but then we’re going to Atlanta.  Atlanta’s my town.  We’ll take three games and win it back here on Saturday.”  Yikes!  Presumably, Verducci (not Torre) goes on to write, “Sure enough, the Yankees lost to Maddux, 4-0.”

    

I’ve never heard of such a thing – a manager tells an owner we’re going to lose tonight?  In the World Series?  That’s bizarre.  This whole prophet thing is right out of Kreskin.  Joe Torre, the magician.  Could he really have told the owner that we’ll lose tonight?  Well, that’s what the book says. 

    

As for Cashman never telling the hierarchy at the final meeting that Torre wanted a two-year deal for one year of security, well, that’s also bizarre.  Assuming it to be true, if you were looking for a new contract and you asked for a meeting and you flew down to Tampa and you sat in the room to discuss your future, wouldn’t you be intelligent enough to bring it up at the meeting?  According to Torre, he forgot about it until he saw Cashman after the meeting at the elevator.  Could you, in Joe Torre’s shoes, actually forget your own idea for your own security (or, at least, your perceived view of your own security)?  That’s Brian Cashman’s fault?  Come on.    

      

DID JOE TORRE MAKE AN ON-THE-FIELD MANAGERIAL MISTAKE IN 12 YEARS OF MANAGING THE YANKEES?

      

Apparently not.  I can’t find one in the book, unless you count this:  At one point, Torre said he wanted to tell Mariano Rivera to be aggressive against Bill Mueller in Game 4 of the 2004 playoffs with the Yankees about to sweep the Red Sox.  He decided not to because Rivera had easily struck out Mueller earlier in the series.  Mueller, of course, walked and started the beginning of the greatest collapse (by the Yankees) in the history of baseball.

    

What?  I’m sorry, but you have to tell the greatest relief pitcher ever to be aggressive?  Come on.

    

There’s no discussion of pitching out to get Dave Roberts (who pinch ran for Mueller).  There’s no discussion of trying to steal on Tim Wakefield later in the series when Jason Varitek was catching.  How about bunting on Curt Schilling in Game 6?  Bringing in Jeff Weaver in the 2003 World Series for two innings (with Rivera in the bullpen as the game ended — one inning was a huge gamble but two was ridiculous)?  Torre (or Verducci) tries to explain some of these blunders away.  But to no avail.

    

But without question, the biggest blunder took place in the 2007 “bug” game against Cleveland.  It’s impossible to believe that, if either Don Zimmer or Mel Stottlemyre had still been around (Torre’s in-game decision-making suffered greatly when these guys left), Joba Chamberlain would have been left in the game to give up the tying run in Game 2 (after the Yankees had lost Game 1) of the best-of-five playoff series (see Kallas Remarks, 3/29/08, A Torre Error Ended the Torre Era) with the greatest reliever ever in the bullpen.

    

The chapter in the book devoted to the game (chapter 15), entitled “Attack of the Midges,” should have been entitled “Where’s Mariano?”  It’s hard to believe that a top baseball writer like Tom Verducci didn’t realize the mistake (then or now) because he sure wrote in the book what virtually every Yankee fan knew:  that the rookie Chamberlain, in his first playoff appearance, was quickly in trouble for whatever reason.  Verducci (I assume) writes (p. 438):  “It was quickly evident how badly Chamberlain was compromised [due to the bugs].  He walked the leadoff batter, Grady Sizemore, on four pitches.  Chamberlain had faced 91 batters during the season and only twice even went so far as a 3-and-0 count.”

    

Well, that should have been enough to get Mariano in the game.  Virtually every Yankee fan knew that.  But, apparently, not Joe Torre.  It was all downhill from there with Mariano (later) pitching two scoreless innings in a tie game.  The Yankees would eventually lose and, in the next two games, Torre would bring Mariano in in the eighth inning (too little, too late).  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that, if Torre had brought Mariano in after the four-pitch walk by Chamberlain, there would be a good chance that he’d still be managing the Yankees.  A stunning mistake, never discussed in the book.

    

Of course, to this day, Torre says his big mistake was not taking his team off the field.  That, of course, would be a non-baseball mistake.  Not putting in the greatest closer ever (in the eighth inning), as he had done dozens of times before, ended the Joe Torre era.

       

SO, WHY DID HE WRITE THE BOOK?

        

It is still a mystery.  The party line (Torre and Verducci) is that this is a “piece of history” for your bookshelf.  But it’s a piece of history, according to Joe Torre, like David Wells’s book is a piece of history according to David Wells or Jose Canseco’s books are a piece of history according to Jose Canseco (and his books ring truer every day). 

    

If Brian Cashman ever wrote a book that blamed all of the Yankee problems on managerial decisions and none on his (or the front office’s) player moves, it would be a piece of history according to Brian Cashman.  Of course, Cashman, to date, has elected to take the high road, but the point is he’d be laughed out of town if he took that position.  Torre’s reputation has been hurt because of the breaking of the code and the one-sided nature of the book (let me know if you find any on-the-field managerial mistakes), but it says here he still is a Hall of Fame manager who simply made a big post-Yankee mistake (you don’t think some Dodgers are worried? – even Larry Bowa said recently that it could be a problem for a few guys this year in the Dodgers clubhouse).

    

Maybe he wrote it for the money.  Maybe he is mean-spirited (Yankee announcer Michael Kay recently said that he is).  But this book and the decision to write it was not made by the guy we knew and loved as Yankee manager for 12 playoff-bound years.  After all of the attempted explanations (wasn’t anyone around to give him some good advice?), it’s still inexplicable.

      

WE’LL LEAVE THE LAST WORDS TO BOB COSTAS

       

After doing the Torre and/or Verducci interview on TV, Costas did a spot on New York radio.  While he did say that Torre “broke the code” (although he was quick to point out that it was “only by degree” (whatever that means)), here’s what Costas had to say:  “There are scars there that are going to take a long time to heal, if ever.”  Later, he said, “The hurt feelings take a long time to heal.”

    

Finally, maybe not even knowing that he was speaking for hundreds of thousands or even millions of Yankee fans, Bob Costas said, talking about Joe Torre writing a book:  “Does Joe Torre need this?  How big is the upside to Joe Torre? That’s what has me scratching my head.”

     

We’re all scratching our heads, Bob.  

     

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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