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Steinbrenner at 80: Hiring Joe Torre

George Steinbrenner turns 80 on July 4. We're looking back at some key moments of his tenure with the Yankees. The hiring of Joe Torre after the 1995 season (and firing of Buck Showalter) was largely panned by the media. But former Newsday reporter Jon Heyman thought it was a good move, as he detailed in his column of Nov. 4, 1995. 

 

For all his faults and foibles, George Steinbrenner keeps stumbling onto the right people. Steinbrenner played hardball with Gene Michael and even harder ball with Buck Showalter, and Steinbrenner lost two good men. But now, Steinbrenner is making a nice comeback, just like he often does.

Hardly anybody will admit it, but Steinbrenner deserves praise now for hiring Joe Torre  as manager. And Steinbrenner deserves praise right up until the time he fires Torre.  Or forces him out.



Give Steinbrenner this much, he finds good people to hire. The problem with  Steinbrenner is that these good people never last very long in their jobs. Dick Howser was Steinbrenner's hire.  Also, his fire. Same for Lou Piniella. And Billy Martin. Five times.

Let's hope this doesn't happen to Bob Watson and Torre. Yeah, right.

The Steinbrenner bashing, which may be close to an all-time high right now, should subside somewhat with the hiring of Torre yesterday to replace Showalter. Torre is one of the few men on this planet qualified for this crazy job.

Torre has some experience dealing with overly involved owners. Remember, Torre dealt with Ted Turner when Turner really cared about the Braves and kept making a nuisance of himself. Back then, Turner was more like  Steinbrenner than Steinbrenner. 

But now that Turner is busy with some other stuff   -   something to do with TV, we hear  -  and has confined his baseball interference to overly exuberant tomahawk chopping, the Braves have become World Champions.

Perhaps the same can happen for the Yankees if Steinbrenner lets Watson and Torre  do their jobs. Wishful thinking.

Steinbrenner  is actually two-for-two with his major offseason hires,  which should come as no great surprise. Rare is the occasion when he selects someone totally unqualified for a big job. Stump Merrill is the exception, not the rule.

Torre  can't be faulted for his record of 894-1,003 as a major-league manager because he spent five years with the Mets of the late '70s and early '80s. Watson, who played for Torre  with the Braves in the early '80s, praised the new manager as an honest man and good strategist. "He had some field capabilities. He wasn't always predictable," Watson said. "He was a bit of a gambler and I like that."

Watson, who helped turned Houston around by recommending they acquire Jeff Bagwell, will make an effective general manager if given the chance. Thus far, the evidence isn't exactly overwhelming that he will be afforded that opportunity.

Watson was supposed to be the fellow who picked the new manager. However, there already are clues that Watson may have been given a few hints as to who it should be. Conveniently, Watson probably would have come to the same conclusion, anyway - he and Torre  are extremely tight from their Braves days together - but Torre  appears to have won this job more than two weeks ago when he interviewed for the GM position that went to Watson.

So, Watson already has suffered through his first real Yankee experience. While he was telling everybody last weekend that he was going to interview "four to six" managerial candidates, other club officials were making it clear that there really was only one candidate.

There are worse choices. Like Bobby Valentine. Or Butch Hobson. Or Merrill. OK, we're kidding about that last one.

Steinbrenner and Watson needed to find someone experienced, mature, flexible and relatively easygoing, and they found Torre,  who is all those things. The only drawback is that Torre has stomach trouble. He had better stock up on the Alka-Seltzer.

Torre may actually work out better than Showalter, who seems to have made a few enemies in the Yankee hierarchy. For all his wonderful attributes as a manager and strategist, Showalter was pretty darned good at plotting behind the scenes, too. How else to become Yankee manager at age 35? There are worse things in a manager than excessive plotting. But eventually someone gets ticked at you.

Torre  is genuine. He is a Brooklyn guy with New York charm. He told the story yesterday about how Syd Thrift turned him down for the Pirates' job. "Obviously, they made a mistake by hiring Jim Leyland over me,"  Torre said. A sense of humor can't hurt in this job, either.

He will be great with the media. Showalter was great at manipulating the media. Nobody ever heard a negative word about Showalter until he was on his way out, until he kept pretending he wanted the job when all he probably ever wanted to do was string the Yankees along long enough to put them in a bidding war with the Tigers and A's.

Showalter did do good work here, and that shouldn't be forgotten. He forged an alliance with Michael, and together thay managed to forge real power. They also helped make the Yankees a winner. Their mistake was receiving a lot of credit for what they did, too much credit for  Steinbrenner's  liking.

Torre  and Watson are in a tough spot. The payroll will be pared significantly from the $ 55 million this year. So, it would be no shock if they don't do as well as the team of Showalter and Michael.

And if  Torre and Watson do as well, they will be credited for their accomplishments, which also won't make Steinbrenner  too happy. Then they might be fired or forced out. And Steinbrenner  will replace them with somebody else capable and qualified. Maybe the team of Michael and Showalter will return. It's a never-ending cycle.




 

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