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Baseball

Torre just rolls with it

Yankees manager copes with pressure of rivalry, expectations.

By TOM JONES
Published February 19, 2004

TAMPA - Leave it to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to pour a bottle of Tabasco sauce into the wounds of the Boston Red Sox.

Red Sox owner John Henry, obviously still stinging from losing out to the Yankees in the the Alex Rodriguez sweepstakes, suggested baseball should have a salary cap "to deal with a team that has gone so insanely far beyond the resources of all the other teams."

Enter Steinbrenner.

In a statement released Wednesday, Steinbrenner said, "We understand that John Henry must be embarrassed, frustrated and disappointed by his failure in this transaction. Unlike the Yankees, he chose not to go the extra distance for his fans in Boston. It is understandable, but wrong that he would try to deflect the accountability for his mistakes on to others and to a system for which he voted in favor. It is time to get on with life and forget the sour grapes."

Now that Steinbrenner has slapped a "kick me" sign on the back of the Red Sox, Yankees manager Joe Torre is left to deal with the consequences.

Torre listened as Steinbrenner's statement was read by a reporter, leaned back in his chair and said, "You knew that was going to go on. It has been going on for the past couple of years anyway. I don't think anything can fuel the rivalry. The rivalry is pretty intense. It couldn't have gone any closer than it was last year."

It just did, and no one will feel the heat of the rivalry more than Torre.

From a distance, Torre seems to have the best manager's job in baseball. He has an owner with an endless stream of money, and team full of All-Stars. But look a little closer and see a manager who has something else: a demanding, meddling, stubborn owner above him and a room full of millionaire egos below him.

A championship is expected every season, and now the Yankees have added Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, Kevin Brown and A-Rod, who many feel is the best player in the game.

"It's extreme because there are so many marquee players that have come over. ... This is very unique," Torre said. "Every year you try to figure out how you're going to do it because each team takes on its own personality. And we've got a lot of strong personalities here. It's always fun to see it develop."

Fun until the first five-game losing streak. Fun until A-Rod boots two balls at third base and reminisces about playing shortstop. Fun until Steinbrenner questions on the back page of the New York tabloids whether Torre still is the right man to manage the Yankees.

"There is no such thing as a subtle or a little story here," Torre said.

That's what last season was, a series of stories that suggested Torre was on his way out as manager. If the Yankees are out of first place a week into the season, someone, somewhere, maybe even Steinbrenner, might say Torre's job is in jeopardy despite winning four world titles, six AL pennants and reaching the postseason every year since taking over in 1996.

"When I came here I knew what working for the Yankees and George would be like," Torre said. "I mean, not totally knew, but just from observing from the outside. And the only thing different last year was it was more public, which meant there were more questions (from the media).

"Sure there are pockets of times maybe you earn your money a little more than other times," Torre added. "But it has been fun. It has been work, but it has been fun when you look at the big picture."

Now the picture is as big as it ever has been in New York. It's up to Torre to keep everyone happy, and that's a job that might be impossible, considering the challenges ahead. He has two centerfielders (Lofton, Bernie Williams), two natural shortstops (A-Rod, Derek Jeter), a DH (Jason Giambi) who has to play first base, no second baseman, a revamped pitching staff and an owner who wants to win 162 games.

Can he do it? His resume says yes, but will it be easier or harder with a team full of stars?

"We'll find out," Torre said. "I think it makes it easy. It makes for a lot less decision-making. And the fact that people want to come here, want to be here, might make it easy.

"Right now, I feel good, I'm excited about starting this whole process again with new players. It's still going to be different and I'm curious myself."

[Last modified February 19, 2004, 02:00:25]


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