This is from today’s edition of All Things Considered on NPR.
ROBERT SIEGEL: For twelve seasons from 1996 to 2007, Joe Torre managed the New York Yankees. When he took over, the team hadn’t won a World Series in 18 years. They won the series in his first year, and then three more times plus two trips to the series that ended in defeat.
By Major League Baseball standards, a brilliant record. By the standards of the New York Yankees? A great start, but what happened in those other six years? What have you done for me lately? I speak as a recovering Yankee fan.
Joe Torre speaks now as the current manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He and Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci tell the story of how he managed one of the greatest teams ever, and then one of the greatest assemblages of great players ever, two very different things, in the new book, “The Yankee Years.” Joe Torre, welcome to the program.
JOE TORRE: Thank you Robert, it’s great to be here.
SIEGEL: The news obliges me to start with Roger Clemens, greatest right handed pitcher of recent times, accused of lying about performance enhancing drugs. There’s a story out that the syringes Clemens’ trainer saved show traces of Clemens’ DNA. What did you make of all the stories about steroid abuse and Human Growth Hormone, during the years when you were managing?
TORRE: The interesting part about the club house is the sanctity of the club house. I’m into trusting players and knowing what we have to accomplish, you know, let’s go out there and play a game of baseball. I never witnessed anything that looked like it was something wrong. However I think we all have to share the blame here, because this thing is, was far more reaching than I ever thought it would be, and with Roger Clemens, just knowing the type of pitcher he was reminded me a lot of Bob Gibson, just that intensity, non stop, of course players are playing far longer than we ever did. I thought a big part of that was the mid 70s when they started, were able to use weight training and things like that, then all of sudden you realize how many people were all of sudden getting bigger. And it became a little scary.
SIEGEL: Throughout your book, two players emerge as representing different versions of being great baseball players. Derek Jeter, who you obviously adore and think the world of, and who is a selfless player and a winner; and Alex Rodriguez, who is a better hitter, for all I know, and you’d never say this, he could be a better shortstop in the field, too, than Derek Jeter. And yet a player who is mostly about Alex Rodriguez.
TORRE: But you know what Robert, I love him too. It was just tough, and continues to be tough, I’m assuming, just to have him relax. But he puts so much pressure on himself because he has enormous ability. He needs baseball in a way that I needed baseball years ago because, you know, I had very low self esteem. And when I was fortunate enough to be able to play baseball at a high level, I realized that what I did on the baseball field helped my self esteem. And when you need it that badly, you tend to get in your own way.
SIEGEL: But when you say you also love Alex, you also mention that he was a guy – A-Rod is how he’s referred to in the headlines. A-Fraud among players is how he is referred to, someone resented in the locker room, not well liked.
TORRE: I don’t know if it’s a resentment in the locker room. He was a little different than the other guys I had. And the A-Fraud stuff was done in front of him, none of that stuff was behind his back. I think this has been a tough grind for him because of the expectations he has of himself.
SIEGEL: I want you to relay this story, which this would leave one to believe that the TV sitcom “The Office” is really a documentary of life in baseball. When you would be interviewed on the pre and post game shows on the Yankee cable system, and you figured out that actually, in a way, you were being set up by your bosses in those interviews. I want you just to relay that story.
TORRE: I was getting paid by the YES Network to do the pre and post game. In other words, Kim Jones who was doing the interviewing, and Suzyn Waldman at times, they got to ask the first few questions. Before the game, the same thing: they got to ask the first few questions. Well, it got to the point where we’d lose a game or lose two games, and it got to a point where I felt sorry for Kim Jones cause all of a sudden these questions came out of her mouth, you know, critical questions, why did you use this guy or why did you use that guy? It was very out of character for her. I figured out after a time that because I was being paid by the Yankees, they felt it was, in my opinion, they were looking to discredit me in some way by asking me what they perceived as tough questions. It bothered me, not that the questions, I couldn’t answer the questions. It was just the reason they were doing it, and it just bothered the heck out of me, and after that season, I just said pay or no pay, I’m not doing it anymore. I still talk to the YES Network. But they were just part of the group that would come in and interview me. I just thought it was unnecessary.
SIEGEL: But you figured that [Brian] Cashman the general manager or these people are handing questions to the in-house interviewers saying make Torre look back in the post game show?
TORRE: Or, try to, ask him why he did this. It wasn’t Cashman. I think it was above him and George, a time or two. George Steinbrenner, god bless him. He wanted to win every single game and wanted to win by 10 runs. There was a lot of criticism, which we exchanged all the time, but that wasn’t an issue for me when he would do that with me. But there were some people that, for some reason, wanted me to appear uncomfortable.
SIEGEL: You remarked by the way that George Steinbrenner, to you, was always George. You addressed him as George.
TORRE: George and the boss, yea. Our relationship was good. He would yell at me and I would yell at him, it would never be in public. That’s what I was proud of, we kept a lot of our stuff, under covers so to speak, and I think we had a mutual respect for each other that made this thing work.
SIEGEL: Does it make it any harder to manage the Dodgers, to be so powerfully identified by your last job, and to have people, like me, so interested in your last job?
TORRE: Well, it was tough for me, I never envisioned myself leaving the Yankees and going anywhere else to manage. The Dodgers, you know, they’re one of those handful of organizations that you pay attention to. And when they expressed interest, I had a listen. And then I was just curious cause those last few years in New York were very tough on me, and I just was curious if I could have some fun again. However, there was a lot of pressure on me because even though I had a lot of World Series rings at this juncture, I still had to earn my keep and see if I could do it somewhere else. And it was very satisfying for me to – you know, it took a lot of time before the players felt comfortable and developed their personality. But it was a great deal of satisfaction for me to win there.
SIEGEL: Well, Joe Torre, thanks a lot for talking with us today.
TORRE: Thank you Robert