Magazine article The New Yorker

SO LONG, JOE; Comment; Comment

Magazine article The New Yorker

SO LONG, JOE; Comment; Comment

Article excerpt

The Red Sox and the Colorado Rockies wrap up their World Series this week, at last delivering a winner at the end of a season of spectacular losses in baseball. The art of losing isn't hard to master, as Elizabeth Bishop told us, and for stretches in the late going this year it seemed as if the teams and the players were only out there to illuminate the maxim. In the divisional playoffs, the first round of the postseason, the Cubs, the Phillies, and the Angels all went down in the minimum three straight games, while the Yankees struggled to a lone win against the Cleveland Indians and then disappeared, losing their adulated long-term manager, Joe Torre, in consequence. The Mets, viewed for a time as the best team in either league, contrived to lose twelve out of their last seventeen games on the schedule--a feat unmatched and unimagined in the pastime--and lost first place in their division to the Phillies on the final day of the season and, with it, a place in the playoffs. Elsewhere, the San Diego Padres, one strike short of attaining their own post-season slot, instead surrendered a game-tying triple to Tony Gwynn, Jr., a Milwaukee Brewers rookie, and eventually saw the game and (after a one-game playoff) their hopes slip away. A week before, Padres manager Bud Black, while attempting to pull Milton Bradley (the outfielder, not the Parcheesi board) away from an argument with first-base umpire Mike Winters, inadvertently threw him to the ground and lost him for the rest of the year with a torn ACL.

Baseball will stick it to you; it means to break your heart, and though old fans do understand that it's losing, in all its variety, that makes winning so sweet, the departure of Joe Torre is something else altogether. Gone after twelve years at the helm of the Yankees, the longest uninterrupted run since Casey Stengel's 1949-60 tenure, Torre was victim of a corporate midfield takedown: the decision by the owner, George Steinbrenner, and his nepotic front office not to renew--or not acceptably renew--his contract, after the team's failure to progress beyond the first round of post-season play in the past three Octobers. Torre's first Yankee team captured a thrilling World Championship in 1996, and three more between 1998 and 2000, at one stretch winning fourteen consecutive Series games. His teams also attained the post-season in each of his dozen years in the Bronx: a far greater achievement, all in all, in an era when the distribution of player talent and the intensity of team competition have been upgraded by a luxury tax imposed on the richest teams, starting, of course, with the Yanks. The Colorado Rockies are the ninth team to represent the National League in the World Series in the past decade, and seven teams have emerged as World Champions in the same period; so far (unless the Red Sox prevail), the Yankees have been the only multiple winner. Quite a performance, but not nearly good enough for those on the Steinbrenner side of the room, where, as has long been understood, only another World Championship is acceptable in the end.

What has set apart the Torre era is not just winning but a sense of attachment and identification that he effortlessly inspired among the fans and the players and the millions of sports bystanders. Already known by the fans as a strong-swinging Brooklyn-born catcher (and, later, a third baseman) with an eighteen-year career with the Braves, the Cardinals, and the Mets, and then for his long tenure as a semi-distinguished manager of the same three teams, he became a sudden celebrity, a Page Six sweetheart, in his first season with the Yankees, when his brother Frank Torre, another former major leaguer, underwent successful heart-replacement surgery the day before the last game of the World Series. …

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