Torre turns down offer to return as Yanks' skipper

Updated: October 19, 2007, 4:37 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- After all he had accomplished -- four World Series titles, 12 straight years in the playoffs, almost certain entry into the Hall of Fame -- and after all the indignities, this was one Joe Torre wasn't going to stand for.

He wasn't going to take a pay cut from the New York Yankees, no matter that he still would have been the highest-paid manager in baseball, and he certainly wasn't going to prove himself all over again.

Torre walked away Thursday, turning down a $5 million, one-year contract --
$2.5 million less than he made this season, when the Yankees failed to make it past the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year.

"A difficult day," general manager Brian Cashman said. "He will always be a Yankee."

Bench coach Don Mattingly is the leading contender to replace Torre. Yankees broadcaster Joe Girardi, the NL manager of the year with Florida in 2006, is another top contender. Tony La Russa and Bobby Valentine could also be considered.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella, for one, believes Mattingly will get the job.

"I don't see it being anybody else," Piniella, a former Yankees manager himself from 1986-88, told USA Today. "I think he was put in as a bench coach for a reason, with the thought that he'd be the guy when Joe left."

When asked if he is interested managing the Yankees, Valentine e-mailed ESPN 1050's Andrew Marchand, saying, "I have a great job."

Valentine is currently the manager of Chiba Lotte, where he has full control over nearly the entire organization.

Most Yankees fans could see this day coming.

After losing the first two playoff games to the Cleveland Indians, owner George Steinbrenner said he didn't think Torre would be asked back if the Yankees didn't advance. New York hasn't won it all since 2000.

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ESPN will have live coverage Friday of Joe Torre's 2 p.m. press conference from Rye, N.Y., plus the latest news on the Yankees' manager search:
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Torre took a morning flight to Tampa, Fla., to meet for an hour with Steinbrenner, his sons and team management. Torre listened to the offer and said it wasn't acceptable. They shook hands and Torre headed home.

Torre declined to speak to a group of reporters gathered outside his house in suburban Harrison. His wife, Ali, arrived a few minutes later and said their time in New York had been fun.

"It's always difficult to say goodbye," she said, "but there's always hello."

The 67-year-old Torre, who made the playoffs in every year with the Yankees, scheduled a news conference for 2 p.m. ET Friday. He indicated last week that he might be interested in managing elsewhere.

New York's offer included $3 million in bonuses if the Yankees reached next year's World Series and an $8 million option for 2009 that would have become guaranteed if New York won the AL pennant.

Olney: How It Ended

As the Yankees' organizational meetings broke up Wednesday afternoon and general manager Brian Cashman prepared to fly back to New York, his cell phone rang. It was Joe Torre calling, to ask whether it would be helpful, as his future with the Yankees was decided, for him to fly to Tampa and meet with the Steinbrenners face to face.

The Steinbrenners agreed. Torre had been told by Cashman over the last 72 hours what the forthcoming offer might be, but as Torre and Cashman flew to Tampa Thursday morning, Cashman asked the manager if he would accept. "Honestly, I don't know," Torre said.

George Steinbrenner was in the room when Torre sat down with Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, Cashman and team president Randy Levine. It was Hal Steinbrenner who spelled out the offer to Torre -- a one-year base of $5 million, with $1 million bonuses based on how far the Yankees advanced in the playoffs. The Steinbrenners explained their rationale for cutting his base salary 29 percent -- the team hadn't met the organization's goal of winning the World Series for seven seasons.

Torre was rewarded for past successes when he negotiated a new deal a few years ago, and in the proposed contract, his salary -- still the highest for any manager -- would come down for recent playoff failures.

Torre responded, in his measured tone, "Listen, I hear what you're saying, but that's something I couldn't agree to."

The Steinbrenners said that Torre would always be part of the family, and Torre and the Steinbrenners stood up. There were handshakes, and no tears, and after 12 years as Yankees manager, Torre walked away.

-- Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

Torre just completed a $19.2 million, three-year contract. The Chicago Cubs' Lou Piniella was the second highest-paid manager at $3.5 million.

"Under this offer, he would continue to be the highest-paid manager in major league baseball," team president Randy Levine said. "We thought that we need to go to a performance-based model, having nothing to do with Joe Torre's character, integrity or ability. We just think it's important to motivate people."

It appeared to be an offer designed to be rejected. Scott Boras, the agent for Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, said players would have interpreted an acceptance by Torre as weakness.

"It is difficult, near impossible, to accept a salary cut," Boras said. "Successful people can afford their principles. They understand if they accept the position, there is a great risk the message to all under him is dissatisfaction."

Torre called Cashman on Tuesday and asked to meet with the 77-year-old Steinbrenner and the owners' sons, Hal and Hank, who have taken an increased role in recent month. They spent an hour together, and then Torre was gone.

Steinbrenner let his sons do the talking.

"The objective of the Yankees since the '20s has been to win the championship every year, just as the objective of [Vince] Lombardi with the Packers was or [Bill] Belichick and the Patriots," Hank said. "None of us think we can win the championship every year, but that's the goal. Period."

Torre led the Yankees to 10 AL East titles, but they haven't reached the World Series since 2003.

With 2,067 regular-season wins, Torre is eighth on the career list and was third among active managers behind the St. Louis Cardinals' La Russa (2,375) and the Atlanta Braves' Bobby Cox (2,255). Torre's four World Series titles are likely to earn him a place in the Hall of Fame -- every manager with three or more has been inducted.

"Joe Torre is a great man, he is a legendary Yankee and a legendary Yankee manager," Levine said, adding: "The goal of this franchise is to win the World Series. All of us get up every day knowing that is the goal and all us take that responsibility on. Unfortunately we have not met that goal for seven years."

Torre's was the longest uninterrupted term for a Yankees manager since Casey Stengel held the job for 12 years from 1949-60. Stengel was pushed out, too, let go after his team lost a seven-game World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Under Torre, the Yankees went 1,173-767. He trails only Joe McCarthy (1,460) for wins among Yankees managers.

"I hope Joe is happy," Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "I think you're going to hear people in baseball, every area of baseball, say probably very, very kind, respectful things about Joe the next couple days, and they're all deserved."

Torre, the first person born in New York City to manage one of its major league baseball teams, sounded wistful after the Yankees' final game.

"This has been a great 12 years. Whatever the hell happens from here on out, I'll look back on these 12 years with great, great pleasure," he said, trying not to choke up. "The 12 years just felt like they were 10 minutes long, to be honest with you."

He wouldn't address his future.

Tough Act to Follow

Whoever succeeds Joe Torre, when the likely Hall of Fame manager leaves the Yankees, will have some big shoes to fill. Among his accomplishments in New York:

• 1,173-767 record
• Four World Series titles
• 10 AL East titles (9 straight from 1998-2006)
• Two-time AL Manager of the Year (1996 and 1998)
• Reached postseason all 12 seasons

All-time managerial wins leaders
Manager Wins
Connie Mack 3,776
John McGraw 2,840
Tony La Russa 2,375
Bobby Cox 2,255
Sparky Anderson 2,194
Bucky Harris 2,159
Joe McCarthy 2,126
Joe Torre 2,067

"If I have some options, I'll look at it because I'm certainly not ready to move somewhere and not do anything," he said.

Torre's departure could factor into whether potential free agents Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Rodriguez remain with the Yankees.

"We certainly hope that they decide to come back," Cashman said. "At the end of the day we consider them Yankees and they will have an opportunity to remain part of the Yankees."

When Torre succeeded Buck Showalter, the Yankees had not won the World Series since 1978, the longest drought since the team's first title in 1923. It was the 20th change in manager following Steinbrenner's purchase of the franchise in 1973.

Torre never had much success as a manager before landing in New York, and many predicted he would be gone in no time. But he turned out to be a rock and a buffer to the blustery Steinbrenner. He was calm, stoic and brought an unprecedented period of stability to a team accustomed to constant turmoil.

The Brooklyn native was a former NL MVP and a nine-time All-Star. Before joining the Yankees, he had unsuccessful managing stints with the Braves, Cardinals and New York Mets -- the three clubs he played for. When the Yankees hired him, one New York paper dubbed him "Clueless Joe."

But New York won the World Series in 1996, led by a group that included Bernie Williams, rookie Derek Jeter, setup man Rivera, Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez. With catcher Posada added in, they won the Series from 1998-2000, the first team to win three straight since the Swingin' Oakland A's of 1972-74, and advanced to Game 7 of the Series in 2001, when they failed to hold a ninth-inning lead at Arizona.

Since then, despite baseball's largest payroll, there has been only frustration: A first-round loss to the Anaheim Angels in 2002, a World Series defeat to the Florida Marlins in 2003 and a painful exit the following year, when they allowed the Red Sox to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the AL Championship Series.

They lost to the Angels in five games in the first round in 2005, were eliminated by the Detroit Tigers last year and were knocked out by Cleveland this year.

Communication between Torre and Steinbrenner deteriorated in 2005, and it wasn't clear that Torre would return for 2006 until after the pair met in Tampa. Steinbrenner meddled less with the team the past two seasons -- even during a 21-29 start this year -- giving almost unprecedented authority to Torre and Cashman.

Mattingly became the Yankees' bench coach this year after three seasons as hitting coach. A six-time All-Star and a former AL MVP, he starred for the team from 1982-95 and is a fan favorite whose No. 23 was retired by the Yankees in 1997.

"Don is reserving comment, at this time, out of respect to Joe Torre," Mattingly's agent, Ray Schulte, told 1050 ESPN New York.

Girardi is a Torre protege who kept a young Florida team in contention until late in the 2006 season with a no-nonsense approach.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.