Why the New York Yankees Are the Greatest, Pt. 17

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IJanuary 23, 2009

In their history the New York Yankees have won thirty-nine pennants and twenty-six World championships.


But they have had only three managers who won four or more World Series.


Joe McCarthy won seven in the 1930s and 1940s.


Casey Stengel won seven from 1949-1960.


And finally Joe Torre led the Yankees to championships in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

Torre also won pennants with the Yankees in 2001 and 2003.


In his twelve years at the Yankee helm, his teams finished first in their division ten times, including eight seasons in a row.


Torre’s winning percentage in New York was .605, including the amazing 1998 season when the Yankees won 114 regular season games and then went on to win the division series, the ALCS and the World Series, finishing the season with 125 wins.


Torre was born in Brooklyn and was an exceptional major league player with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals. He finished his career with just a little more than two seasons with the Mets. 


Torre finished his major league career with a .297 batting average, but there were many years he was much better. In 1971 he was chosen as MVP in the National League after hitting .363 and driving in 137 runs. He also led the league in hitting that year.


Torre was a nine time All Star and made the summer classic both as a catcher and a third baseman.


He had been the Mets third baseman to open the ’77 season but after twenty-six games, Joe Frazier was fired as Met’s manager and Torre was given the job. He stayed as Mets manager for five years but never finished above fourth place in the National League East.


Torre also managed the Braves for three years but finished at the top of the division only one year, in 1982. After leaving the Braves following the ’84 season, Torre did not manage for five years. 


In 1990 he took over the helm in St. Louis where he led the team for six years, never winning his division.


When the Yankees decided to get rid of Buck Showalter after the 1995 season, some fans were surprised and the pick of Torre to replace him was not expected.  After all, he had not had much success in any of his previous fourteen years as manager.


But all that would change with the Yankees. Torre came to New York when a fine mixture of veteran players and some rising stars such as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, combined to give the Yankees their first championship in eighteen years.


Torre would lead the Yankees to post season play in each of his twelve years at the Yankee helm. No other Yankee manager has ever done that, although the statement is tempered by the fact that under Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel, there were no playoffs.  You either won the pennant or you quit playing.


After twelve straight years in the playoffs one might have assumed Yankee executives would have been happy. But in fact the team had not made the World Series since 2003 and had not won a crown since 2000. So after the 2007 season decisions had to be made.


It had been thought after an early exit in the division series in 2006 that Torre might lose the job then. But he was brought back for another year. Even after a defeat in the first round again in 2007, Yankee executives offered Torre another contract.


But the offer was one that Torre may have taken as an insult. It required Torre to take a cut in pay. Although incentives were offered for success in the post season, apparently Torre believed he had done enough in his dozen years leading the team to have merited a new deal with no reduction in pay.


So after the 2007 season Torre left the Bronx to take up residence as far away as you can get and remain in major league baseball. Torre became the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the successor to his original home town team. 


But something just wasn’t right about this. As Derek Jeter said, “Mr. Torre just doesn’t look right in that shade of blue.” 


Jeter had come up to the Yankees late in ’95 when Showalter still ran the club, but was actually a rookie in ’96 when Torre took over.  Torre had been the only real major league manager Jeter had known and unquestionably the two were close.


Jeter had always referred to his skipper as “Mr. Torre” and a typical scene in the home dugout was Joe holding Derek’s bat.


Torre was the picture of class while Yankee manager. He was quiet, respectful and respected. He was good with the media. He was well liked by almost all of his team and was most often referred to as a player’s manager. 


This writer had his own personal experience with the kindness of Joe Torre. In Chicago in August 2005 my wife and I serendipitously ended up with a hotel room in the same place as the Yankees. After going to a Saturday afternoon game in which our team had defeated the White Sox, we ran into Torre in the hallway going to our room.


Joe Torre stopped to speak with us. When we congratulated him on the win, he asked if we had been to the game and we said yes. He asked where we were from and wanted to know how we became Yankee fans. He took time to actually talk to us, not just say hello. Apparently that was the way Joe was with everyone.


Perhaps unique among Yankee managers since 1973, Torre seemed to be able to handle King George. Steinbrenner would sometimes rail against Torre and from time to time still wanted to interfere with day to day management of the team. But Torre deflected all of this much better than others had done in George’s earlier tumultuous reign.


It remains to be seen whether Joe Torre’s number “6” will eventually be retired in the Bronx and a plaque to this successful manager placed on the wall in Monument Park.


Stengel’s number was retired.  McCarthy and Miller Huggins didn’t wear a number, but one has a monument and the other a plaque.  It is only fitting that Torre be honored in the same way.


Without question Joe Torre is one of the reasons the New York Yankees are the greatest team in the history of baseball.