Thursday, January 29, 2009


“Olaf… does almost ceaselessly repeat ‘there is some shit I will not eat’.”-- E.E. Cummings.

"Why did he write that book?”

Why? Is it really that difficult to understand? Money? No, only the shallow and the envious cannot divine more complex motives than the banality of their own. Only the petty and the malicious cannot abide a man who refuses to dignify them. They accused Torre of pious Sainthood. Torre, meanwhile, never pretended to be anything other than exactly what he was, Human. And it is for this reason that many of us forgive him the sin of pride and whatever the book-- the book that no one has read and about which everyone has an opinion-- whatever that book may reveal, we will continue to cherish him.

Why did he write that book? Well, just imagine, if only for 1,000 words or so, that You are Joe Torre.


You have three kids, two ex-wives, a sick older brother, and a third wife who’s pregnant. You have alimony and child support, mortgages and credit card bills. You grew up dirt poor, so whatever extra you’ve earned you’ve frittered away instead of saving. So at 55-years-old, you have no money, and you’ve just been fired from what looks like your final job in the only profession you’ve ever known.

But then suddenly the revolving managerial door in the Bronx opens for the 8th time in ten years. Sure, you know the risks. You’ve been around the game long enough to understand what working for the notorious, overbearing, meddlesome owner entails or anyway, you think you do. The man even warns you when you meet, “rent; don’t buy.” But hey, it’s job, right? And you’re desperate—desperate to return to the game, desperate to provide for your family, desperate for the elusive ring, desperate for one last chance before it’s too late, to prove the detractors wrong.

Thirteen years? HA! Try thirteen hundred.

“Overbearing?” “Vindictive?” “Meddlesome?” Buddy, you have no idea. He’s not a tyrant to work for; he’s much, much worse. He’s Machiavelli and Mephistopheles, all in one. First, he beguiles you. Then he subdues you. Finally, he steals your self-respect. And then, you’re powerless either to walk away or to resist him. He owns you. He calls you in the middle of games. He browbeats you during every losing streak. He interferes with your every decision and pries into your personal life. He disparages your players and then blames you when they wilt because of it. If you get too popular or too secure, he cuts you down to size. He dismisses your closest coaches to punish and to intimidate you. He leaks his plans to fire you, twice, to watch you squirm. He fixes the Damoclean sword above your head and thrives on your fear of it falling.

As for Gratitude, well, that’s impossible for a man you can never please. And nothing you accomplish—not 13 consecutive playoff appearances, not 6 AL pennants, not 4 World Series victories in six years-- is ever adequate to satisfy him. In fact, the only greater crime than frequent losing is winning once too often. For then you gain popularity and esteem that he resents because it erodes his control. It infuriates him to know he can no longer dispose of you at whim and that the fans may revolt.

Meanwhile, when the aging tyrant finally mellows, the assorted lackeys, courtiers, and sycophants whose counsel he keeps rush in to fill the vacuum. And, believe it or not, they’re more malicious, more petty, more ruthless, more vengeful, more insidious. More insidious and lethal because they’re totally incompetent. And for their ineptitude, guess who pays? The manager.

The Old Man, at least, lavished money on premiere talent. His cronies, on the other hand, signed players like Jared Wright, Tony Wommack, and Kenny Lofton. They pillaged and desolated Gene Michael’s farm system. Between 1995 and 2006, one starting pitcher they drafted made the major league roster. One! Andy Pettitte and him, they drove away, and Roger with him.

Why the difference between 1996 to 2003 and 2004 to 2007, you ask? Oh, they want you to believe because I didn’t work hard. I didn’t want to win. That’s deceitful, self-serving nonsense. The front-office never learned how to evaluate pitching, pure and simple (by the looks of that five-year contract for AJ Burnett that still haven’t.) Before 2004, my rotation was Cone, Wells, Duque, Clemens, and Pettitte. And in the bullpen, I had Mendoza, Nelson, Stanton, Lloyd and Wetteland. After 2004, my rotation consisted of Brown, Vasquez, Pavano, Wright, Unit, Irabu, and Igawa; the bullpen, of Karsay, White, Heredia, Quantril, and Farnsworth. Who’s to blame? The dim-witted cronies? No. The inept scouting director? No. The erratic and mediocre GM? No, for the organization’s failure to win a fifth World Series in 13 years, I’m tasked.

All the while my sworn enemy, the viceroy President has spent the last four years, harboring his delusions of grandeur, nursing his puny grievances, sharpening his dagger and waiting--- waiting for the day when the Mayor has been ingratiated, the Stadium deal has closed, and the scepter has passed—waiting to seize the opportunity and bury his knife in the small of my back.

But the bastard didn’t even have the mercy to be quick and honest about it. Giuliani’s men stab you slowly, grin, and call it a suicide. You want to fire me. Look me in the face and be done with it. But they wanted to see me beg and scrape and crawl. They wanted me to confess to their incompetence and sign my own death warrant.

I need incentive clauses and bonus options now to drive me? I’m not motivated? How dare you! How dare you reduce me to the baseness of your aims! Money is the currency of your regard. Not mine. Don’t confuse my price with my passion. Remember: I played the Game. I’ve given it my body, my soul, my heart, every second that it beats. My devotion to the Game, my respect for the Game -- my compulsion to win, at any price, because the game demands no less—my motivation, sir, exceeds your comprehension. It’s inalienable.

Not motivated? After losses, I don’t sleep. I don’t eat. I pace the room till 5:00am, tossing and turning in bed re-hashing every out, every decision, the cancer of self-doubt ravishing my insides. Not motivated? You think it’s easy to massage the titanic, all-consuming egos of celebrity athletes, assuage their imagined grievances, shower them with constant validation, and guard their fragile psyches so they perform. Leading men is always arduous, but of course, no follower would ever know that it. Not motivated? How dare you! Just wait, I’ll show you motivation.

Et tu Brian? Thirteen years together and you can’t level with me? You couldn’t summon the courage, or hell, the professionalism, to tell me I’d lost your endorsement. You didn’t have the decency to let me know before I, once again, had to grovel like some insubordinate vassal. Et tu Brian? You didn’t have the compassion to spare me the abasement and humiliation. Are you duplicitous or spineless or just plain selfish? I wouldn’t have asked for your patronage, or asked you to jeopardize your job to save mine. All I asked for was the Truth but after ten years clinging to the title of GM, perhaps that’s something you’re no longer equipped to provide. I sure as hell hope the title is worth what it has made of you.

Still, I’d planned to forbear. No, I wasn’t going to allow King’s George Court to reduce me to retaliate. Sure, the intrigues, the blood lust, the ingratitude and callousness, the conniving subterfuge and the low, petty spite, sure it wounded. The humiliating ultimatum before 07’s Game 4. The ensuing weeks left dangling. The incentive-laden one-year farcical offer that only would have deferred the deathwatch, burdened the players, and enlisted me as an accomplice in surrendering my last shred of pride. Yes, that hurt. That after thirteen years of dutiful, loyal, proud, discreet, self-effacing service to the Yankees; after four World Series rings, 6 AL pennants, 10 division titles; after lending some dignity and class to the organization and restoring an image tarnished by decades of public recriminations, the revolving managerial door, a banished owner, a decimated neighborhood, and failure’s rancid stench-- after all of this, I merited no more than Michael Kay and a handshake.

Even still I could have forgiven the indignities, the affronts, the bluster, the innuendo, the bile, the scapegoating, the constant terror of losing a game, a job, a life, even the scurrilous campaign waged in the press not two minutes after I exited. I could have forgiven and forgotten. I would have forgiven and forgotten, but for the final blow.

This final obscenity even I could not abide. To delete me from the Stadium’s past, to elide my thirteen years, to efface me from the history of the Game I cherish, the Game that saved my life, the Game that I idolize more than you can ever know. NO! NO! NO! No, I’ve played the loyal, discrete, magnanimous Zookeeper one time too many. THIS SHIT, I WILL NOT EAT!

Not any more, no, this time, I’m writing the history. And if I break the code along the way and the fans finally see the Shit behind the curtain, so be it.

Let justice be done though the Bronx fall. This time, I will be vindicated.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


(I wrote the following entry for Peter Abraham's Lohud Blog site, It appeared on January 6, 2009)

I’m a Jew, New-Jersey born.

To this day, however, the only religion I’ve ever believed in doesn’t enshrine a Wall in Jerusalem but a Park in the Bronx. The New York Yankees—my religion, my faith, my salvation… my folly and my cross.

Yes, suffering yet another October of dull heartache and desolating withdrawal, shorn of the day’s ritual and consolation, I can succumb to doubt. Isn’t there something pathetic, perverse, even ill, I fret, in an ostensibly grown man surrendering his emotions to the fate of 25 Olympian jocks on a ball field? Isn’t it just a game?

To the rational skeptic, my fervor, no doubt, conjures the stereotype of a David Puddy, Seinfeld’s raving shirtless buffoon decked in team-colored face paint or worse, I evoke a jackbooted, banner-waving, English soccer hooligan. Or maybe, with the glasses, I appear just another pencil-necked, athletically-frustrated, stat geek who worships a sport he can’t play.
More charitably, perhaps, like Fever Pitch’s neurotic, lovable, overgrown adolescent, Ben Wrightman, I simply await the respectable, forbearing girlfriend to save me-- to become a man and put away childish things.

“You’ve always loved the Yankees. But have they ever loved you back?” She’d inquire, and suddenly, epiphany would descend.

“My god, honey, you’re right. Heck, forget the Yankees. Let’s go pick china patterns.”

Of course mocking a Hollywood romantic comedy for its facile sentimentality is a bit like chiding John Henry his vain battle with his Steam Drill, 200 miles to the south.

That is, whether the Yankees requite my love-- or pace Sonny Lo Sprecchio’s related insinuation in A Bronx Tale, whether A-Rod’s concern for my career rivals mine for his-- isn’t, after all, the relevant question. Undoubtedly, they don’t. No more, for that matter, than does Chazz Palminteri reciprocate my admiration for A Bronx’s Tale.

Ah, but they repay it, as any Art worthy of the name rewards its disciple.

True, a fan’s allegiance may not win him love and nurture, still less honor, glory, or riches, save vicariously. Still, beyond the casual spectator’s entertainment or the professional’s expertise and remuneration, the devoted fan receives what Aristotle once recognized as classical drama’s great satisfaction—emotional catharsis. Or, as the Yankee fan who has been delivered from prolonged agony, resigned despair, or nervous apoplexy by the shocking, momentous, eleventh-hour miracle of a Chris Chambliss or Aaron Boone home run to touch near celestial ecstasy—as he might call it, in other words, a more acutely felt, profoundly rewarded engagement with life.

Whether this emotional investment in an agency beyond my control qualifies as godly, I can’t say. One thing I can swear to however. The Yankees have brought me as close to Divinity as I’ve ever reached.

Indeed, first love comes and goes. Passion and desire flag and fade. Youth and adulthood yield to middle age and dotage, and birth hurtles toward death.

But the Yankees—the tribe of Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio, like the descendants of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob—the Yankees are forever.