Not Your Average Joe

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Joe TorreI became a baseball fan when I was around 9 years old, when the Yankees were getting their butts beat in the division by the Orioles and the Red Sox. Bernie Williams was still getting booed and everyone except Don Mattingly knew they weren’t going to make it to the championships. Buck Showalter did break us into first place in 1994, but in that year and 1995, we won a playoff bid … and that was about it.

Joe Torre came in at a time when there was lots of promise, but more uncertainty. He had a bunch of stints with the Mets, Cardinals, and the Braves. That wasn’t very productive other than a NL Division Series with the Braves. In other words, a whole lot of nothing. Before the Yanks, he was hoping people remembered his more prolific player stats. Since he came though, it’s been nothing short of magic. Some say he just rode Buck Showalter’s coat tails, but that’s far from the truth.

The truth lies in that stoic face that lies in the dugout under the fresh brimmed hat and the saggy jacket. It lies in the little drag-trot to the mound when he relieves a pitcher, or even in his post-game interviews when he turns the tide on a rather hostile New York sports media. It’s his decision-making that was really critical to Yankees’ success. He took the core group of Andy Pettite, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter, and molded them into the exalted men that we know today. Outside of Gary Sheffield and Kenny Lofton (who are both so popular, they’ve been through almost the entire league between them), he helped transform the images of plenty of men. Everyone from Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden to David Wells and Bernie Williams benefited from having Joe Torre there as an example of good behavior.

4 World Series, 12 consecutive appearances, but also a man who exemplified the strength of New York during 9/11 and with his own personal battles with domestic violence (upon him during his youth) and prostate cancer. He was usually the voice of reason and the bed of emotion when we needed it. Even when he faltered during the 2006 playoffs (worst move: moving A-Rod to 8th, which I’ll discuss if / when there’s a Yankee decision about him), he still found a way to make the team gel.

None of this excuses his 3 straight early exits from the playoffs to teams we were heavily favored against. After all, we know he’s coaching a 200$ million club, and they have the greatest of expectations. He’s the 8th winningest coach, and the one of the greatest coaches in the modern era in any sport, and he had the highest salary of any coach, making at least 2 times more than the next highest paid coach.

And to this, I say, “So?” This year has been the 2nd most trying year of his career professionally (last year was the most). His team was 21-29 and 14.5 games back of the rival Boston Red Sox. The New York Mets were primed to be the #1 team and were in this city for much of the year. Every pitcher except for Andy Pettite had some sort of injury, and we had 13 different starting pitchers in lieu of that. Even with their backs against the wall, they never lost their composure. He kept the team’s demeanor very professional, and he’s also the only manager who could probably handle the situation of a group of $200 million egos with everything from public infidelity and endorsements to whiners and steroids. He covered Brian Cashman’s ass even when he didn’t intend to, blunting the deathly sword of imports like Hideki Irabu, Carl Pavano, and Kei Igawa (still a pending situation).  And most of all, he’s had the longest tenure of any Yankee manager under the Steinbrenner era; that’s coming from an owner who publicly tried to dig up dirt on his own players and managers just to get rid of them.

He had his faults, and that’s something we all forgave, like abusing his relievers (Tanyon Sturtze and Scott Proctor) and not letting pitchers always go full innings, which led to the former problems. Yet, he was a man who beat and surpassed the odds. He just made everything feel like it was going to be alright, and that comforts us. Things are so unstable in life, and his consistency always reassured us. Before him, we had 17 Yankee managerial changes with 9 managers, so I’m sure we’ll never have that kind of manager for the next decade or so.

Personally, Joe’s someone who exemplifies that leadership so many of us wish we could be, and in times of tumult, he came through. He left on his own terms, and that’s the best we could have asked for as an organization. The contract wasn’t good, and a very condescending and merit-based contract. His leaving truly signals the end of an era for the Yankees, and with George Steinbrenner looking like he’s on the outs, too, it’s only right that Yankees Stadium’s occupation will soon be over.

You can’t replace a man like Torre; you can only hope to be close to average.

jose, who’s humming “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 3

  1. talda

    oh no! irabu? for real? i haven’t remembered to remember him in years. i must be repressing something.

    you said this a lot better than i ever could have. it’s going to be way weird peering into the dugout and not see joe. he’s always been calm, which counterbalanced steinbrenner’s manic personality. but it’s been a great 12 years. i couldn’t have asked for much more.

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