Q&A: Yankees legend and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre
Joe Torre at the Ballpark at Camelback Ranch, in Glendale, Ariz., last month. (Getty Images)
Joe Torre, former Yankees manager and four-time World Series champion, is prepping his L.A. Dodgers for the 2010 season, his third in California following a bitter split with Yankees management in 2007.
The 69-year-old skipper spoke on the phone from Glendale, Ariz., this week to share his thoughts with amNew York on his celebrated time in pinstripes.
Personnel aside, what is the largest cultural difference between managing the Yankees and the Dodgers?
The do-or-die attitude in New York sports takes on more than just the sports pages. It becomes more than a way of life. It is life for a lot of people there. The fans are passionate in L.A., but the need to excel on an everyday basis is tough to beat on the East Coast. They have high expectations. They’ve had a great history supporting all of their sports. We (the Yankees) won the World Series three years in a row in ’98, ’99, and 2000. Funny story: 2001, we lose the World Series, Game 7, 9th inning. I go to spring training the next year, signing autographs at Legends Field for the nicest people in the world. A man comes down and asks me for an autograph. And as I’m signing, he says, “We’ll do better this year.” I’m like, “Whoa! What are you telling me?” We spoiled them, and spoiled ourselves. The sky is the limit for them.
So the winning drove the pressure?
Winning is the only thing that is acceptable, which is a compliment in a lot of ways because we had given them a reason to feel that way. To me, the pressure in New York, what eventually probably got to me … we were winning divisions, we were getting to the postseason, and, all off a sudden, we had to prove ourselves again. Eventually, it just burned me out, because I couldn’t tell my players that I wasn’t proud of what they had done up to that point.
Would you rather have a team of great talent with average desire, or a team of average talent and great desire?
A team with average talent with great desire. I really would. It’s nice to have players with great ability, but if they didn’t have that burning passion inside to need to win, I would be very disappointed. It’s great to win, and the chances are you’ll win with the most talent, but as a manager it’s more satisfying to me that the guys on the field are draining their talent because they knew it was necessary.
What player whom you didn’t manage do you wish you managed?
Greg Maddux. I had him the last year of his career. It was a privilege for me. He was one guy I saw from the sideline and said I’d like to have him on my team. Just the way he carried himself. His work ethic, what he shared with younger players, he was everything I hoped he would be. He pitched in a different way. You have guys with ability who go out there and overpower you at times. Greg did it not only with his ability and control, but with his head. He could read your mind as a hitter. I always felt very strongly that he spent as much time studying the habits and nuances of the opposing hitter as what pitch he would use to get him out.
You are among several “lifers” in sports today, people who have plenty of money and glory yet still grind. Is the need to compete eternal?
I think it is. But what really takes precedent over that is when you do what you do as a manager is to feel that the players that you’re managing are benefiting from your being there. That’s the most important thing for me. Sure, it’s a great ego thing to win ball games. It never gets old. I remember after winning it all in 1996, my wife, Ali, said to me, “Let’s retire.” And I said, “Let’s see if we can do it again.” It never gets old to win. But once you have a sense – and hopefully you are aware enough to get that sense – that the players aren’t responding, that’s when it’s time to move on.
Great pitchers have hitters they can’t beat, and great hitters have pitchers they can’t beat. What opposing manager gives you the most trouble?
Mike Scoscia. He is a combination of a technician and instinctive guy. Mike is the next coming of the great manager. [Tony] La Russa is another. He’ll try to find a way to cut your heart out. We’re good friends, but when we’re between the lines there’s no friendship. Last year, after we beat the Cardinals in the first game [of the NLDS], we were walking by each other near the interview room and he says “nice game.” But in his mind he was saying “I’ll get you tomorrow.”
Your team is winning by one run in the ninth inning and your closer is on the mound with a runner on second. Who is the last man you want to see in the batter’s box?