Torre's truth, New York style

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

So let's get this straight. Joe Torre talks about the most fascinating baseball team of the last quarter century, the one he helped build. He tells the good and the bad. He's honest, or at least as honest as a spurned man can be. And now, so many of those who deified him for a dozen years brand him a traitor, a hypocrite and a bitter man.

Torre is none of those. He is an opportunist. It's a quality that behooved him as manager of the New York Yankees, where calculated decision-making separates the successful from the unemployed. Torre felt the Yankees wronged him. He was shoveled a truckload of money to tell his story. Cash and catharsis? How patently New York.

If anyone should understand why he would agree to co-author "The Yankee Years," the kiss-and-tell written with Tom Verducci that outlines Torre's departure from the team he brought four championships, it would be the great city, motherland of opportunism. It nurtures the parasitic culture that lives on information – the more salacious, the better – and leaves the idea of omertà, the sacred duty of biting your lip until it's raw and bloodied, so antiquated.

Torre simply is a creature of all to which he was exposed. Live among sharks long enough and you damn well better sharpen those teeth and strengthen that jaw.

Sure, then, the incisors came out for Alex Rodriguez, clown prince of Torre's world. Torre signed off on the passages about A-Rod's nickname in the Yankees clubhouse – A-Fraud – and the reference to A-Rod's "Single White Female"-like obsession with Derek Jeter, fully aware of the firestorm it would cause. A pinch of Torre, a dollop of A-Rod and a splash of smarm: straight out of the instant-publicity cookbook. He's trying to sell books, right?

All of this comes laced with truth that the man portrayed as so humble and gracious – Grandpa Joe – instead is a creature driven by survival instincts. This should be no surprise. You do not last 12 years under George Steinbrenner with balsa fortitude.

The end of those dozen years took 10 minutes, according to the book. Torre requested a meeting and flew to Florida with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. George Steinbrenner, by then having all but ceded control of the team to his sons Hal and Hank, sat in the room with his eyes covered by sunglasses, as though he couldn't bear to watch the kneecapping. The Yankees offered Torre an incentive-laden one-year deal with a 33-percent pay cut. Torre says he didn't mind getting his salary slashed. He wanted a two-year guarantee, having spent 2007 – the final year of his contract – "dreading coming to the ballpark and sitting behind that desk every day." The Yankees said no. And like that, it was done.

"The door's always open," Hal Steinbrenner told Torre. "You can always work for the YES Network."

If the idea for "The Yankee Years" was not hatched at that instant, the motivation surely was. New York, as it does to most of the people who try to love it, betrayed Torre. He won the Yankees four World Series, and now they wanted him to wear makeup.

Torre implored the Yankees during his tenure to keep dirty laundry in-house. Well, this was no longer his house. And the world's clothesline was awfully big and inviting. So off he went, on A-Rod and Cashman and Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield and Kevin Brown and Carl Pavano. Torre and Verducci can claim the book is not a rip job, that passages taken out of context sound far worse than they actually are, that Rodriguez's diva behavior and Johnson's grouchiness and Pavano's hatred by teammates were all part of the public record.

That isn't the point. By agreeing to work with Verducci on the "The Yankee Years," Torre willingly lent the authoritative voice of baseball's first dynasty since the Big Red Machine. He gave gravitas to a book that, in many fashions, casts the Yankees in an unfriendly light. And even though Yankees fans boo and hiss their own, when the team comes under attack, claws are bared.

Such is life in New York. Outsiders can read the book, shrug shoulders and wonder what the big deal is, why Torre still has a stranglehold on the city's consciousness more than a year after he left for Los Angeles. And then it occurs that this isn't about Torre so much as it is New York and the surrounding bubble that makes it so amazing and confounding. Live in it long enough and you become it.

"The Yankee Years" isn't a vindictive screed or a pox on his legacy or his 95 Theses on the evil way of the Yankees.

It's just Joe Torre doing what the city taught him.

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