Tim McCarver, Joe Torre, and the Hyperbole of Hindsight


According to the reliable Richard Sandomir and Michael S. Schmidt in the Times, Tim McCarver is backtracking from trying to associate the Steinbrenners with Hitler and Stalin for their treatment of Joe Torre — but he’s not backing off too far.

In the Daily News, Bob Raissman has the full text of what McCarver actually said on Fox last Saturday during the Yankees-Rays game following an Old Timers game: McCarver said the Yankee brass had been infected with “a case of corporate childishness.” Then “You remember some of those despotic leaders in World War II, primarily in Russia and Germany, where they used to take those pictures that they had taken of former generals how were no longer alive, they had shot them. They would airbrush the generals out of the picture. In a sense that’s what the Yankees have done with Joe Torre. They have airbrushed his legacy. I mean, there’s no sign of Joe Torre at the Stadium, and that’s ridiculous. I don’t understand it.”

As Raissman points out, though, there are pictures of Joe Torre at the Stadium, on the suite level, and also at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. McCarver, however, is not mollified by these small tributes: he apparently believes his close friend and former Cardinals teammate should have been invited to opening day of the new Yankee Stadium or at least given a tribute day. Perhaps, but isn’t it a little awkward to invite Joe Torre to Yankee Stadium while he’s still managing the Los Angeles Dodgers? Is Frank McCourt obliged to simply give him a couple of days off while his manager flies to New York?

Behind all of this, of course, is McCarver’s unshakeable belief that the Yankees screwed Torre back in October, 2007. But according to Bill Madden’s new book, Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, Torre told Steinbrenner sons Hank and Hal that the Yankees’ offer of a $5 million one-year contract with incentives (including leading the team to a World Series that could have brought the package to $8 million) was “insulting.” It’s not hard to see why Joe would have thought that, but it’s also clear that judging from the standards of how other baseball managers have been treated over the decades, particularly by the Yankees, Torre was getting a petty good deal. The $5 mil for the 2008 season would have still made him the highest paid manager in the major leagues, even if he had not earned any of the incentive money.

Compare Torre’s treatment by the Yankees to that of Casey Stengel. In 1960, after losing the World Series in seven games to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Casey, having won 10 pennants and 7 World Series, was fired. (Stengel’s famous quip was, “They fired me for being 70 years old. I’ll never make that mistake again.”) In 2007 Joe Torre, after failing to win a World Series for 8 straight seasons, was offered a contract worth from $5-8 million.

OK, so Torre’s pissed at the Steinbrenners. Why are they pissed at him? Perhaps this passage from The Last Lion of Baseball might give a clue: According to Madden, at the 2007 meeting Torre told The Boss, “You know, George, the success of my teams allowed you to have the YES Network and a new Stadium, not to mention record attendances and all the added advertising and marketing revenue. Is this fair?”

Well, that depends on your definition of fair. No one questions that Torre played a significant role in the Yankees’ success from 1996-2007, but “fair” is a door that swings both ways. Torre had managed 14 seasons before coming to the Yankees in 1996, and his record up to that point was 894 wins and 1003 losses for a .471 W-L percentage. His overall non-Yankee major league record, including the past three seasons with the Dodgers is 1122-1192 (just .485). If Tim McCarver really wants a reconciliation between Joe Torre and the Steinbrenner sons, he might advise him to show a little humility. It’s likely George Steinbrenner and the Yankees had at least as much to do with establishing Joe Torre’s success as Torre did with theirs.

By the way, Joe recently turned 70. Hope he doesn’t make that mistake again.