RYE, N.Y. – The day after he scanned a conference room crowded with New York Yankees executives and could identify only one sure ally, after he flew from New York to Tampa to receive a non-negotiable offer he viewed as "an insult," after he in essence had been fired by the Yankees after 12 Octobers, Joe Torre began the days of separation.
Hoping to clear reporters from his flower beds and helicopters from his air space, Torre on Friday afternoon told a packed hotel ballroom that to work under a tricked-up contract for people who no longer believe in him was counter to his principles of trust and commitment.
One day, you're 67, you look around and realize you're alone in a room full of people.
"To me," Torre said, "if somebody wanted me to manage here, I'd be managing here."
So, having lost the faith of management from George Steinbrenner on down (with the possible exception of general manager Brian Cashman), and believing that an easily disposable manager would foul the objective of winning baseball games, Torre gathered up the finest professional years of his life, sat before a familiarly blue curtain, and said his farewells to N.Y. baseball.
You know, unless the Mets call or something. Generally speaking, he did declare his free agency.
"I'm free to listen right now," he said.
In a vintage Torre presentation, he laughed at his balding head and he fought the tears that have come easier since beating prostate cancer almost a decade ago. He recalled the fortunate breaks of the World Series years, the domination of those World Series teams, and maintained his sole regret was not having pulled the Yankees from the field when the midges attacked in Cleveland two weeks ago.
And he said again that when the Yankees were done in the American League division series, he had a pretty good idea he was done as well. He'll send somebody else to clear out his office.
"I walked out of there, I'm not going back," he said, his voice tightening. "To go back there, that's where I did all my work. I have an assistant who's going to handle that process. I just leave the memories, because I don't want to go back and know that … it's to clean out and go home. I just left everything as it was when I left, just going home from the office that last time. And I'm just going to leave it at that."
He held his gaze for several seconds.
The Yankees have injured him, people named Steinbrenner and Randy Levine. Granted, they paid him handsomely, they put him in their uniform, they supplied him the most expensive rosters the game had ever seen. In return, Torre helped bring October back to the Bronx, and he reintroduced poise to their dugout, and dignity to their organization.
If it was going to end under crystal chandeliers in Westchester County anyway, he perhaps would have rather been told to go away, to take it as all of Steinbrenner's previous managers had. Tell him he'd burned one too many relievers. Tell him he couldn't keep grinding his veteran players to dust, with young, hearty replacements nearby. Tell him they just couldn't get over him giving the ball to Kevin Brown in 2004.
Instead, Torre sat in a room Thursday with Steinbrenner's guys: His two sons, his son-in-law, his attorney, his president and his GM. On the flight from New York, Cashman had asked Torre if he was going to Tampa to negotiate or to say good-bye, and Torre said he wasn't really sure.
Within a few minutes, he was sure. After 20 minutes, he shook hands with Steinbrenner, thanked him for hiring him, and headed home.
They offered one year and an option for 2009. They loaded the contract with incentives, all based on the Yankees making the playoffs and advancing further. The option was guaranteed only if he took the Yankees to the World Series. Global domination, or you're out. "I just felt the terms of the contract were probably the thing I had the toughest time with," Torre said. "The one year, for one thing. The incentives, for another thing. The fact I've been there 12 years and I didn't think motivation was the issue. I felt pretty well renewed every year going after something, and knew exactly what was expected here. So, I just didn't think it was the right thing for me. I didn't think it was the right thing for my players.
"The fact that somebody's reducing your salary, it's just telling me they're not satisfied with what you're doing. And I think it was just the way it was offered more so than the numbers involved.
"The incentives … I took as an insult."
Take it. Leave it. Whatever.
Torre wouldn't say so, but he also wouldn't deny that the offer appeared constructed for rejection, therefore deflecting predictable backlash.
"Obviously I was discouraged with the fact we would never move off the offer they made," he said. "It never got to a negotiation. I don't know if that had a purpose attached to it."
It's their business, as Torre was careful to point out. Their business. And he was alone.
"I think it was just more or less feeling what seemed to be reality," he said. "People are certainly entitled to their opinion, entitled to put a value on what they think a service should cost. I looked around and saw business people, people who are very successful and are looking to continue that success. As I say, the game is very personal to me. My job is whatever it takes on a day-to-day basis to do it. … In that room, it just appeared to me there was a number of people who certainly spent some time putting something together and really didn't waver off their opinion and their decision on how to go about their business."
That's when he said good-bye to Steinbrenner.
"Deep down inside I think we had a good relationship," Torre said. "I really do, anytime he sat back and allowed himself to maybe drink it in. I'm just sorry he couldn't do that more often. Evidently, what drove him is the fact you have to keep moving on and keep moving upward and just leave what happened behind you and move on."