Friday, October 19, 2007

The Time of Your Life

The Yankees made an offer to Joe Torre yesterday that they knew he would have to refuse. They offered him a base salary that was 30% below what he made this year. A year in which he led the Yankees from 14-1/2 games out of first to within sniffing distance of the division title and to their 13th straight playoff appearance. The Yankees offered him performance bonuses and a vesting option for one more year if he made the World Series. Joe turned them down. He left a potential $16 million on the table because he didn't think that after all he had done for the Yankees that he deserved to be treated like a salesman working for a bonus. Joe managed to leave the Yankees with the same dignity and grace that he has displayed over his past 12 years at the helm of the world's most famous team.

The Yankees probably felt they had no choice but to offer a contract to Torre. Before Torre arrived the Yankees had been to the post season just once in 14 years. The tradition of winning championships was a distant memory. When he took the reigns of the team, there were 21 year old Yankee fans who would have had no memory of the team ever winning a World Series. Joe changed all that. His teams won an amazing four titles in five years. Now there are 18 year old fans who believe that the Yankees being in the playoffs is their birthright. Ultimately Joe Torre became a victim of his own success. He had been unable to get the Yankees out of the first round of the three years in a row and ownership finally decided that it was time to make a change. Regardless of George Stienbrenner's proclamation that Joe wouldn't be back if the Yankees didn't beat the Indians, it would have been almost inconceivable for the Yankees not to make an offer to the most successful manager of modern times. They knew that the offer would have to be substantial and they knew that it would have to molded in such a way that Torre would have no choice but to turn it down.

Offering an incentive based contract is a first in baseball as far as I know. I don't remember another manager being offered incentives based on how far a team gets in the playoffs. Players often have incentive clauses in their contracts for winning awards and of course there are tens of thousands of dollars in playoff bonuses if their teams advance. But managers usually don't have that kind of contract. They may have a bonus clause if they win manager of the year, but I don't know if they have bonus clauses (especially for $3 million) for winning in the playoffs. Anyway, the base salary was always going to be a sticking point and the Yankees knew this. They knew that Joe Torre could never accept a pay cut. They knew that he would have no choice but to turn down the offer and head back home. They also knew that they could then tell Yankee fans that they had tried to resign Joe. They had made a good faith effort, they had even offered him more money than he made this year. They had done everything possible to try and retain Joe, but in the end he had decided to move on.

I know that some fans will buy the explanation. After all how can someone who is struggling every day to feed their family feel bad about a man who turns down a guaranteed contract of $5 million? But I have a feeling that many of those working class people will feel bad for Joe. Joe's a New Yorker, he speaks the same language that many of the fans do. He grew up going to Yankee stadium. He was actually at the perfect game that Don Larsen threw in the '56 World Series. The Yankees haven't won the Series for seven years, and while the fans will bitch and moan about that, they will not forget the magical ride that the '96-'00 team took this city on. And Joe Torre was at the helm of that team.

It is now officially the end of the Joe Torre era and the beginning of the Don Mattingly? era. It doesn't really matter who takes over the managerial seat for the Yankees. I can guarantee you that the Yankees won't have another era like this one. The Yankees were the only playoff team to repeat an appearance from last year. With revenue sharing and TV money the era of parity has reached the major leagues. The Yankees still have the highest payroll and enough talent to compete for the playoffs for the conceivable future, but they will not be making the playoffs for the next 12 years in a row. A year will come when the Yankees get off to a slow start and they don't stage a huge turnaround in the second half. A year will come when age, injury or just simple bad luck will catch up with them. I don't know who the manager will be then, but all the papers in town will wax poetic about the glory days when the Yankees made the playoffs every year. They'll long for those days and they'll long for Joe Torre. And so will the Yankees.

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