TAMPA, Fla. – Across the street from the Super Bowl, inside the complex named for George M. Steinbrenner, there is no sign the Bronx is burning. No sign of an American sporting empire buried under a smoldering heap of ash.
No sign that Joe Torre built something special before he poured gasoline over his legacy and lit the fateful match.
From behind her counter in the Steinbrenner Field gift store, a woman looked up from her work and over clothing rack after clothing rack carrying jerseys for Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. She was asked if there was anything in the store – an old shirt, a hat in the back, a jacket, a miniature teddy bear – that carried the Torre name.
She looked as if she’d just seen Miller Huggins’ ghost.
“No, we wouldn’t,” the woman said, “because Joe’s no longer with us.”
Joe will never again be with the Yankees because he made a decision that makes Rodriguez’s opt-out in the middle of the World Series appear masterful in comparison. Torre co-authored a book that, among many other things, reveals that A-Rod was known as “A-Fraud” in his own clubhouse.
Torre neglected to mention that he would call Rodriguez a five-letter word far more degrading than “fraud” before fellow members of the Yankee family.
His book, “The Yankee Years,” written with Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, has blown America’s biggest sporting event out of the water, reducing the Super Bowl to something approximating the Pro Bowl. Torre rips some of his former players, casts his former boss and friend Brian Cashman as a gutless wonder, and breaks a promise he made on March 2, 1997, on a hot and dusty spring training field in Plant City, Fla.
Ruben Sierra and Kenny Rogers, primary targets in Torre’s first collaboration with Verducci, “Chasing the Dream,” raged against the manager-turned-author that day, accusing Torre of violating the very articles of clubhouse faith he preached.
Torre appeared uncomfortable in the role of columnist under fire, and right then and there promised this would be “my first and only book.”
Continued October success and, ultimately, a bitter breakup got in the way. His third book, “The Yankee Years,” didn’t exactly jibe with his second, “Joe Torre’s Ground Rules for Winners.” His recent phone call to Cashman to assure him that the latest book was a high-arcing softball, too soft to bruise, only left the general manager twice as devastated when full excerpts came out.
If Torre truly believes he didn’t paint Cashman as a Judas GM, a claim he made to Jack Curry of The New York Times, then he’s finally honored the Clueless Joe headline that welcomed him to the Bronx way back when.
Nobody is quite sure what motivated Torre to expose his human flaws while attacking those of others. Was it anger? Greed? An overheated desire to credit himself for the four World Series titles and blame everyone else for the postseason knockouts?
Whatever it was, this much is clear: Torre listened to someone who gave him the worst advice of his professional life.
Torre betrayed his good name, and the four-time champ will have to live forever with his two-bit stunt.
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