The Torre Example

The New York Yankees’ graceless firing of Joe Torre today struck me as a cluster of classic PR mistakes organizations so often make — substituting talking points for common sense, “thinking outside the box” without first looking in the box for a more time-tested approach, and believing one’s own spin.

The Yankees fired him passive-aggressively. They offered him his job back, but at a lower salary, with additional money and a contract extension only if the team won a championship. Get a load of this:

“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.”

Really. So is this a change of policy for the Yankees? Performance-based payment to the manager? Is Levine saying the next Yankee manager and all future Yankee managers will have to accept a “performance-based model” for their contracts?

If so, should the manager be able to sue the team’s general manager if he refuses to make a trade to improve the team? Because Torre was only offered one year, he would have an incentive to lobby the GM to bring as many good players to the team in 2008 as possible — and trade all the prospects if it’s necessary to get them.

What if he’d said “Yes?” There could be nothing more uncomfortable than presenting an employee with a job offer you hope he or she doesn’t take.

Plus, what an insult to Torre’s professionalism to suggest he needs “motivation” to get the Yankees into the World Series. He got them there seven of his twelve seasons, and got them into the post-season every year. Do they really think he needs a monetary motivation at this point in his career?

Why, oh why didn’t the Yankees do what always works in this situation? Fire him if they must — almost every manager gets fired — but respect him in the process. In decades past, the Yanks kept all their old managers on the payroll, and sometimes would bring them back.

Torre brought unprecedented stability and success to the George Steinbrenner-owned Yankees. Only two other managers in Yankee history held the job for so long, Casey Stengel and Joe McCarthy. Stengel, too, was fired, despite having won 10 American League pennants and 7 World Series.

Torre said last week that his “12 years just felt like they were 10 minutes long.”

But if you look at the world of 12 years ago, it’s amazing how much has actually changed. When Joe Torre became Yankee manager in 1996:

  • There were no DVDs.
  • Java had just been released. Java 1.0
  • Osama Bin Laden had yet to declare war on America.
  • Dean Witter and Morgan Stanley were two separate companies.
  • Tony Blair was not yet Prime Minister of England.
  • There was no such thing as Fox News.
  • There was no such thing as the Kyoto Protocol.
  • There was no such thing as Viagra.
  • The Bulls were the best team in the NBA; the Cowboys in the NFL.
  • Tiger Woods was still an amateur.
  • A computer had never beaten a grand chess master.
  • There was no iPod, and Apple was not in good financial shape.
  • No one had yet cloned a mammal.
  • Princess Diana was still alive.
  • Both Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. were still alive.
  • So were Allen Ginsburg and William S. Burroughs.
  • So were James Stewart and Robert Mitchum.
  • The term “blog” had yet to be coined.
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One Comment on “The Torre Example”

  1. Chris in St Louis Says:

    Joe Torre handled the threats from the NY Yanks so well. He also handled their contract offer with aplomb. While it is very hard to sympathize with someone turning down $5 million a year, the people are with Joe on this one, contrary to what the “suits” that run the organization thought “the people” would think. Joe Torre has defined class throughout his career as a player and manager. His exit from the Yankee organization was nothing less.


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