NEW YORK - Joe Torre and his Yankees players began the wait Tuesday for a decision from George Steinbrenner: Will he keep the manager or let him go after 12 consecutive postseason appearances?
Few players were at Yankee Stadium, a day after their season-ending 6-4 loss to Cleveland, the third straight year New York was eliminated in the first round.
Chien-Ming Wang, Doug Mientkiewicz, Andy Phillips and Jose Molina packed their gear for the long winter. Don Mattingly, mentioned as a possible replacement along with Joe Girardi and Tony La Russa, said succeeding Torre would be difficult.
“It’s like following John Wooden or something,” Mattingly said. “This guy wins championship after championship and we’re in the playoffs in every year. You know, it’s really — it’s pretty much a no-win situation for someone coming in here to be able to live up to the expectations or live up to what he did. It’s not going to happen. So as far as someone coming in and taking over this job, it’s not a good, you know — it’s not necessarily a great situation.”
Steinbrenner said last weekend he didn’t think he’d bring Torre back unless New York rallied to win the first-round series. The 77-year-old owner has not spoken publicly since the Game 4 defeat.
His spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, released a statement Tuesday that said Steinbrenner was heading back home to Tampa, Fla., and would have no comment “at this time.”
“There’s nothing decided yet,” said Hank Steinbrenner, a son of the owner and a team senior vice president.
The younger Steinbrenner praised Torre for the job he did this year, getting the Yankees into the playoffs after a slow start.
“I really do like Joe a lot,” he said. “I have a lot of admiration for him.”
General manager Brian Cashman said the club was just beginning its decision-making process and he would soon meet with ownership.
“Have some patience. Things take time. There will be a process and we’ll work through that, and it will lead us where it leads us,” Cashman said.
“There’s been no heavy lifting today,” he added. “My speculation is I’m not going to have anything to report in the next couple of days.”
Players have spoken out on Torre’s behalf recently.
“Everyone in this room unanimously feels the same way about Mr. Torre,” Andy Phillips said. “We all love him. We all appreciate what he’s given us. We appreciate the confidence he’s had in us all year.”
After Monday night’s loss, Torre’s voice trembled a bit when he described how proud he was of his players for digging out of a 21-29 hole to reach the postseason.
“We were dead to the water in a lot of people’s eyes,” Phillips said. “He kept telling us to keep just playing every day and don’t look at numbers.”
Girardi, a former Yankees catcher, spent a season as Torre’s bench coach before winning 2006 NL Manager of the Year for keeping the rookie-laden Florida Marlins in contention most of the way.
Mattingly, a fan favorite and ex-Yankees captain, was Torre’s bench coach this year after previously serving as the team’s hitting instructor.
“There is no fall guy. We win and lose as an organization,” Cashman said. “There will be no scapegoats, there will be no finger pointing. Whatever we did, we did together.”
Phillips and other Yankees can’t envision someone else taking over.
“There’s not a guy in here that’s not dealing with something that he probably hasn’t gone through,” Phillips said.
Torre was not at Yankee Stadium, and the team asked media to remove photographers outside his house in suburban Harrison. Cashman and Mattingly spoke with Torre by telephone.
“I’d like to see him come back,” Yankees pitching coach Ron Guidry said. “He understands the game, but he has an innate ability to keep a team together. Because where we were in May, a lot of teams might have quit.”
Guidry could envision working for a replacement.
Torre led New York to four World Series titles from 1996-00 in his first five years as manager but none since. The Yankees extended their season by overcoming a three-run deficit Sunday to win Game 3. But they couldn’t do it again in Game 4, eliminated despite a $215 million payroll.
“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,” Torre said Monday night. “The 12 years just felt like they were 10 minutes long, to be honest with you.”
With Steinbrenner in attendance, a cheering crowd chanted “Joe Torre! Joe Torre!” as the manager went to the mound twice in the eighth inning.
Second to Joe McCarthy on the club’s career wins list with a 1,173-767 regular-season record as Yankees manager, Torre was almost always loyal, turning to his most trusted players in crucial situations.
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