There are times I look back at how the New York Yankees dynasty teams of the 1990's were formed and I wonder would the results have been any different had Gene Michael and Buck Showalter remained the General Manager and Manager of the ballclub? Don't get me wrong here, Joe Torre and his staff (especially Don Zimmer) was a perfect fit for those Yankees in dealing with the players, media and ultimately The Boss. Yet one wonders if Showalter had Tino Martinez and Derek Jeter over a declining Don Mattingly and Tony Fernandez and had a healthy Jimmy Key along with discovering Mariano Rivera, if the Yankees would've fared much differently?
Early in his tenure in the Bronx Torre could do no wrong, mixing and matching, pushing all the right buttons. Joe didn't seem to mind alienating some veteran players when they simply weren't producing, for instance the 1996 playoffs when Torre benched the struggling Tino Martinez and Wade Boggs in favor of Cecil Fielder and Charlie Hayes. Perhaps the egos were a bit different along with the makeup of the team, but it takes a lot to sit down a future Hall of Famer and a cornerstone of the franchise during its dynastic run.
Those Yankees were built with much more balance. Why do you think Joe Torre looked like such a genius handling that bullpen with Wetteland, Rivera, Stanton, Nelson, Lloyd, Weathers etc. as opposed to what he does now which is tax his bullpen more than the state of New York does its citizens? With stars but no "super-stars," at every position Torre was allowed more wiggle room in terms of his lineup decisions.
So when did it all turn sour? Somewhere around 2001 where as a result of his not getting along with reliever Jeff Nelson, the Yankees were forced to send Mariano Rivera out for the 8th and 9th innings of game seven of the World Series that year. Rivera had been over taxed in the playoffs, the most playoff innings in his career and by having him pitch in the 8th he was over exposed for the 9th.
Following that loss the core of the team was changed drastically, with really only three prominent position players left from their championship ballclubs in Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. But alas Jason Giambi would never become Tino Martinez nor would Mike Mussina duplicate the success of David Cone's playoff heroics. The team also started to bring in malcontents such as Raul Mondesi, who couldn't hold a candle to Paul O'Neill.
In 2003 Torre still had the magic and misfortune, pinch hitting Aaron Boone in Game Seven of the ALCS, good decision, pitching Jeff Weaver who hadn't seen or warranted an inning in the playoffs in the World Series while he still had Mariano Rivera sitting there, not so good.
Then 2004 is ultimately where Torre gets exposed. Granted the Yankees foolishly let Andy Pettitte go and by proxy Roger Clemens and made a wholesale shift from pitching and defense to slugging with the additions of A-Rod and Gary Sheffield. Oh but the headcases didn't stop there, Kenny Lofton and Kevin Brown were also brought into the fold.
Why do I denote 2004 aside from the collapse against the Boston Red Sox? Because that was the first year during the Torre era which did not include bench coach Don Zimmer. The two were a yin and yang of sorts, while Torre handled the personalities, Zimmer took hold of the X's and O's. Without Zimmer the Yanks got burned badly in the 2004 ALCS.
Some very evident examples which even Zimmer commented on were: Not running on Jason Varitek when knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was pitching, and not bunting on Curt Schilling with his bum ankle certainly didn't help either, nor did starting Kevin Brown in Game Seven.
Moving onto 2005, what some call class, others may refer to as bending over and taking it. Why on Earth was Joe Torre out on the top step of the visitors dugout at Fenway Park waving and giving thumbs up to Terry Francona and the Red Sox as they rubbed the ring ceremony in the Yankees faces? If I'm managing the Yankees in that spot, I either take my team off the field or don't go out onto the field until the game starts.
The 2006 season saw Torre choosing boppers who were either hurt the majority of the year and or playing out of position (Giambi, Matsui, Sheffield) over the guys who got him there and sparked the ballclub (Bernie Williams, Melky Cabrera). Not to mention hitting A-Rod 8th, a ploy which had worked in the past to loosen up other players and motivate them... with A-Rod not so much.
The 2005 season along with 2006 and 2007 were either Torre's best or worst managing jobs depending on one's perspective. From purely an on the field view, given the dearth of pitching, roster flexibility and superstar egos, had Torre been managing any other team not named the New York Yankees, say like Bobby Cox and the Atlanta Braves, those seasons would've been deemed great successes. On the flip side those were the New York Yankees, blessed with a plethora of unlimited resources, payrolls over $200 million and a roster chalk full of not only All-Stars but future Hall of Famers, and they didn't win one post-season series during that final three year run.
After not making the playoffs in 2008 the one could argue for the Yankees, "you don't know what you've got 'till its gone," in reference to Torre. Then again I suppose current skipper Joe Girardi could've said the same thing about Chien-Ming Wang.
If Joe Torre is managing somewhere like Minnesota and does what he did in New York, he'd likely be there for life much like a Tom Kelly would. But this is New York and perhaps had Torre won his four championships spaced out over a period of every three years he'd be viewed differently. Yet those years were iconic and while Torre's Yankees were managed from 1996-2007, it was almost as if he were managing two completely seperate teams, 1996-2001 and 2002-2007, save for a few holdovers such as Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte etc.
These things happen though in sports, sad as they are. The man most compare Torre to, another legendary Yankees skipper Casey Stengel, came in with a fury much like Torre, winning five World Series in a row from 1949-1953. Granted unlike Torre there would be a few more titles to come, but just like Torre, Stengel went out unceremoniously after the 1960 season losing in the Fall Classic to Maz and the Pirates.
Torre has been shown to be certainly a classier individual than GM Brian Cashman who sold him up the river in the end, not able to win with his players and pitching failures and yet unlike Torre being rewarded with an extension after not even making the playoffs. And Torre need not be dragged into the mud with A-Rod, whom Cashman has bet all of his chips on, also awarding him an extension despite post-season failures. However as much as he may still be hurting and wanting to manage in that new stadium, I must say let it go Joe, you're better than that.