Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Banking On Torre - And His Word

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, neither you nor any of your
predecessors can actually relate to this, but ...

There are managers, when blessed or burdened with an embarrassment of riches, either choke on it or thrive.

Joe Torre is very much in the latter category.

As usual, the Yankee manager has superstars backed up at most every position, like jets stacked up in holding patterns over Philadelphia International on a bad weather day.

That's what happens when your team owner, in this case, George $teinbrenner, buys you all you want in the form of quality players — then goes out and buys you some more.

Witness the $15 million insurance policy — Bobby Abreu — just added to the Yankees’ stable of all-star outfielders.

Don’t assume that the money rather than the trust factor makes things work. Steinbrenner has thrown millionaires by the bunch at Lou Piniella, Billy Martin, Bucky Dent and Buck Showalter and more often than not they flee, babbling about the sheer madness of power - his, ie. The Boss', not theirs.

Torre took the zoo out of the Bronx in a way that many other Steinbrenner-era managers could not.

His deft touch, tough hide, media savvy and incredibly accurate compass all resulted in easily calcuable success. Witness the 10 postseason berths the Yankees have gained in Torre’s 10 1/2-year tenure.

Year in and year out, team after team of high-priced Bronx Bombers was accepting of the way Torre handles the delicate balancing act.
They trust Torre to find enough at-bats or enough innings for players often used to more.

“I feel good about that; I feel it's an important word you used - trust,” said Torre. “I want them to trust me because I try to be as honest as I can with them.

And, again, the fact is I'd like to think that I am loyal to everybody but the most important thing is being loyal to the 25, and what’s best for the team.”
Over the last decade, Steinbrenner may have opined, even, dare we say, meddled. And Brian Cashman, the GM, is a proven architect.

But have no doubt — Torre is the ultimate arbiter on the field. And he’s made some tough ones during the biggest stages of championship seasons. Remember when he benched one-third of his starting lineup during the 1996 World Series against the Braves?

Torre replaced three noted veterans — third baseman Wade Boggs, rightfielder Paul O'Neill and first baseman Tino Martinez with Charlie Hayes, Darryl Strawberry and Cecil Fielder, respectively.

Bold, to be sure, the moves also proved to be right on. Instead of blowing up in Torre's face they helped get all six of those veterans World Series championship rings.

“Over the years, I was lucky. I had Strawberry and Big Daddy here at the same time - and these guys were ‘go ahead, go ahead,’” said Torre of such moves. “Chili Davis, it was the same thing. Guys have been ready to play whenever I’ve called on them.

“For 10 years I’ve been here, I've had very, very little guys only concerned with themselves, and that's great.”

Torre is counting on more of the same this time around from Bernie Williams — the partime outfield veteran-turned-starting rightfielder-turned role player who Tuesday night gave way to Abreu in right field.
Torre will expect no less cooperation from Gary Sheffield should he return next month from a wrist injury.

The guy Williams replaced will also have to adjust to having Abreu around, perhaps even reinvent himself as a first baseman, something Sheffield and Torre hinted at upon Abreu’s arrival.

“He already told me he’s already ordered a glove,” joked Torre.
Sheffield’s take on it all?

“The first thing I did was give him a hug,” he said of Abreu. “That’s the way this clubhouse is. We want to win. Alex moved to third base when he got here,” a reference to Alex Rodriguez — an MVP and outstanding shortstop making the career shift in order to play alongside all-star shortstop Derek Jeter.

“It’s not about egos,” said Sheffield.

Williams agreed, reminding, as Torre did, that when he signed he never expected to play as much as he has.

“This year is going to have a lot of defining moments,” said Williams. “The way I’m going to look at the year is that I am going to have an opportunity, or maybe two or three to make my mark and I am going to be ready for it.”

Williams then promptly went out on the night Abreu debuted at Yankee Stadium and delivered a three-run double in the Yankees’ 5-1 victory over the Blue Jays.

Williams contributed, alright — just as Joe Torre trusted him to do.

Bad First Impression?

Bobby Abreu would be wise to learn that what flies in Philadelphia may come crashing down on him in New York.

In Phillie land it is not uncommon for the biggest stars to big-league or even stiff the media, win, lose or rainout.

Abreu's new team - the Yankees - do not hide. Haven't since the start of the Joe Torre era. Win or lose, the biggest of the big stars in the Bronx, stand up for the team, as a team.

So imagine the surprise - and disdain - drawn by the newest Yankee all-star when he kept about 50 members of the media waiting for nearly an hour after his first start in pinstripes tonight.

The muttering was unmistakable among the reporters. They'd long since interviewed Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez - and even Bernie Williams, who'd lost his starting job to Abreu. Guys who actually played far greater roles in the Yankees' 5-1 victory.

Abreu, 0-for-3, but none-the-less still in line for the softer questions accorded during a honeymoon, made the scribes wait.

Not smart. Likely not a scene to be repeated, either. The Yankees police themselves - and undoubtedly the scene most of them missed long after they carried out their olbigations to speak for the team will be recounted - and dealt with. That's the beauty of a Torre club - another lesson Abreu will learn.