CLEVELAND - "Good for Joe," said Seattle manager John McLaren, after hearing that Joe Torre had turned down an offer to return as the Yankees' manager next season. "He gets to go out on his own terms. Class act all the way."
That sentiment, which so many around baseball shared yesterday, was certainly one way to look at it.
Another way was that the Yankees' front office didn't have the intestinal fortitude to tell Torre to his face that he was not coming back, instead electing to make him an offer it knew he would refuse.
The Yankees brass - in this case Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, president Randy Levine, and general manager Brian Cashman - made Torre an incentive-filled offer that would normally be offered to someone with far less experience and clout. Torre, 67, turned down a one-year, $5 million base salary - essentially a $2.5 million pay cut. There were also $3 million in incentives for making the World Series next year ($1 million for each playoff round).
According to major league sources, Torre wanted a straight two-year deal so he could close Yankee Stadium and open the new stadium before retiring.
Torre walked away from not just a job, but a job he dearly loved. Many people had told him he should just say he wasn't coming back so he wouldn't give the Yankees the satisfaction of firing him. In the end, he fired them.
My sense is that between now and the time the Yankees name a new skipper, there might be some additional discussion of that "final" offer. After all, the Yankees acknowledged last night that they weren't close to naming a new manager.
All of the usual suspects will be considered, from Don Mattingly to Larry Bowa to Joe Girardi to Tony Peña to Bobby Valentine to Tony La Russa.
Former Yankees minor league manager Trey Hillman, who has been managing in Japan, is said to be the hot name because Cashman is said to be firmly in his corner.
The Yankees spun it that after their intense meetings in Tampa, owner George Steinbrenner was on board with the decision that they wanted Torre back. The twist was that Torre had to accept an incentive-filled deal because of the mantra "It's unacceptable not to make the World Series."
Short of naming La Russa, whose style would likely not go over in the Big Apple, the Yankees will find it hard to justify an inferior manager. Will their offer to an inferior manager also include incentives for making the playoffs and World Series? A Pandora's box has been opened, and now the Yankees have to make the biggest decision of the last dozen years. Of course, before Torre, the Yankees never had a problem hiring and firing managers.
Torre, who won four World Series in six trips, had flown to Tampa with Cashman yesterday when he asked for the chance to meet with Steinbrenner's sons, Levine, and Cashman. That's the way Torre prefers to do business. What he heard apparently didn't sweep him off his feet.
The offer might have said, "We want you back," but the structure indicated they did not.
These were no dummies in that room yesterday. They knew Torre is a man of great honor and pride. Letting him go outright would have created a fan frenzy. There was a rally to support Torre in New York yesterday. Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has been waxing poetic about Torre for days.
Levine and both Steinbrenners have continually emphasized that the Yankees' goal is to make the World Series every year. Hank Steinbrenner even threw out a football analogy.
"The objective of the Yankees is to win a championship every year," he said. "I'm sure it's the same goal that [Vince] Lombardi had with the Packers and [Bill] Belichick with the Patriots. If you asked Belichick the question, I'm sure he'd say the same thing. Our goal is to win every year and anything short of that is unacceptable. We understand it's unrealistic to win it every year, but I'm just telling what our goal is."
If Torre doesn't strike an 11th-hour deal with the Yankees - and don't forget this is not unprecedented (see Theo Epstein and the Red Sox) - his departure will surely affect the organization at all levels. They are opening a new stadium in 2009 and one wonders how many of the superstars of the Torre era, such as Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte, will hang around without him.
"Joe Torre is like a second father to Andy," said Randy Hendricks in an e-mail when asked whether Pettitte's future was tied into Torre's future. Hendricks, who represents Pettitte, did not elaborate.
Alex Rodriguez will have 10 days after the World Series to accept an extension or become a free agent. Although Rodriguez doesn't quite have the same history with Torre, he came to respect him and enjoyed playing for him.
There's also the possibility that the Yankees will be willing to take a step back to go forward.
Maybe Torre's exit also signals the departure of the players who weren't able to take the team to the top level since 2000. It started with Bernie Williams's exit last spring. It may continue with Roger Clemens. Maybe the Yankees will go with Joba Chamberlain as their closer and part ways with Rivera, who turns 38 next month. Maybe Jose Molina will catch and not Posada. Perhaps Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes replace Pettitte. We're certain the brass must have discussed these possibilities. If anyone would be on board with starting over, it would be Cashman.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona was asked about Torre last night, but wasn't in the mood to engage in too much talk other than about the game at hand. He said he hoped Torre "was happy." He kidded, "We have to win this game tonight or I'll be getting phone calls."
Torre is a free agent now. The New York Mets might be taking notice. The Los Angeles Dodgers might be intrigued. Torre would go over big time in a potential return to St. Louis. There are many teams - those who are not married to Moneyball - that would have an interest in having a future Hall of Famer to give their franchise instant credibility.
"Good for Joe" is right.
Hard to imagine whomever the Yankees turn to as their manager will be any more successful or be held in any more regard, considering the dignity and integrity Torre displayed for a dozen seasons. And, now, at the end.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.