Could Joe Torre's managerial career with the Yankees, which will earn him induction into Cooperstown next month, have been extended if Torre had the opportunity to speak directly with a healthier George Steinbrenner after the 2007 season?
"I think the chances were better, I do," Torre said Tuesday in one of several media interviews leading up to the Hall of Fame ceremonies July 27. "You don't walk away from a New York job like that, especially with what went on for the 12 years."
Torre was a thrice-fired manager before he guided the Yankees to three straight World Series titles and four in his Yankees career. He reflected on how it ended as much as he did the way it began.
"I wanted two years, I may not have made it clear," he said of the failed contract talks. "I know they didn't want to give me two years and that was fine with me. In my mind, I only wanted to manage one more year. I wanted to be able to manage that one year without the threat of being fired."
Though no specifics on Steinbrenner's health have been released, the owner was not heavily involved in the decision-making in the time before his death in 2010.
Torre was let go by the Mets, Braves and Cardinals before he joined the Yankees in 1996. And Steinbrenner had to be convinced to hire him. Torre said the late Arthur Richman, the vice president of media relations who acted as a special assistant to Steinbrenner, passed his name on to the owner.
Martha Richman, Arthur's wife, recalled a dinner with Steinbrenner that fall.
"We were saying Joe has a following in New York. Steinbrenner goes, 'What the hell, he's from St. Louis. Why does he have a following in New York?' Then we had to explain the whole thing about the Mets, how he lived in Brooklyn all his life."
Former Yankees general manager and MLB executive Bob Watson recalled the twist to Torre's hiring. Steinbrenner's removal of Buck Showalter wasn't playing well in the media and The Boss attempted to get Showalter back.
Watson said Showalter talked about it last week: "He told me that George offered to bring him back and he said, 'I had already shook hands with the guys in Arizona.' And [Steinbrenner] says, 'Have you signed anything?' Buck said, 'No, I shook hands, it's a deal.' Buck said, 'What you are going to do with Joe? George said, 'I'll make him team president.' Joe wanted to be on the field."
A spokesman for the Baltimore Orioles, where Showalter is manager, said in an email: "While Buck would prefer not to talk about conversations he had with others, he did say this: 'The Yankees made a good decision. Things happen for a reason and it all worked out for me and my family. Joe was destined for the Hall of Fame long before he joined the Yankees.' "
Torre said he is not sure what he would have done if Showalter was brought back. "I have no clue," he said. "Knowing George's history, I didn't discount it, for sure."
Torre said he never considered Steinbrenner an impediment to taking the managerial job. "You know what, the last thing I was concerned about was getting fired because first off, I thought I used up all my markers at that point. I had managed for three teams, was fired by three teams. I figured that was the end of it, to be honest with you."
He thought back to a conversation he had with his wife, Ali, after being fired by the Braves: "She said, 'How would you like people to think of you?' I said something like, 'Someone who never realized their dream.' She sort of smacked me back into reality -- 'What are you, dead?' I was really feeling sorry for myself."
Torre said he first turned down the general manager's job when it was offered by the Yankees because he wanted to be on the field and try for the World Series, something that had eluded him as a player. The assistant GM, Brian Cashman, wasn't an initial supporter for Torre becoming manager.
"I wanted Showalter to stay, I didn't want Showalter to leave," Cashman said recently. "I didn't know Joe Torre in any way, shape or form. I knew the manager we had was really good at what he was doing and it was working."
Torre's hiring was anything but popular, perhaps even to Steinbrenner himself. When Torre asked him about housing in the metropolitan area, Steinbrenner said to him, "Rent."
Torre said he had heard that before from Ted Turner, the Braves' former owner.
"To me, the Yankees were a bonus job," Torre said. "It was a team I had never played for. It was exciting for me. Even that Clueless Joe stuff, all the negatives never really bothered me. George never scared me, not that I expected him to scare me. I had been fired three times, so it wasn't going to break any new ground for me."
Cashman today lauds the work of Torre, saying: "There were a lot of people who probably believe they could have managed the teams we put forth, with the talent it had. It's easy to say or think, but it's harder to do. At the end of the day, Joe Torre was then hired to manage and win and he did. And he did it great."