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Torre reacts to Steinbrenner's death

July 13, 2010 |  4:36 pm

Dodgers Manager Joe Torre described the death of his former boss, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Tuesday as "very sad," and "an enormous loss."

Fabforum "The only thing I wanted is for him to be proud of what we did."

Torre directed Steinbrenner's Yankees to four World Series titles, two other American League titles and 10 A.L. East division crowns in his 1996-2007 tenure as Yankees manager.

"You didn't work with him, you worked for him," Torre said Tuesday afternoon in a news conference at Dodger Stadium. "George was certainly 'The Boss,' and you certainly understood that and what that took in. You had to give answers and give a full accounting of yourself."

In his greatest triumphs, Torre said, Steinbrenner "was very emotional.

"But when all the bubbles cleared away, it was about doing it again next time. ... He was demanding." 

Torre expected Tuesday to be a quiet off day with tonight's All-Star Game in Anaheim. Instead, he awoke to learn the 80-year-old Steinbrenner had died Tuesday from a reported massive heart attack.

Torre said he spoke to Steinbrenner last week to wish the owner a happy 80th birthday. 

"I knew his health had been failing," Torre said. "I don't think you ever thought of his passing. A strong guy like that, you thought he'd always be there."

Steinbrenner's death was occasion for Torre to reflect on a unique relationship that proved the most durable for the owner, who had a storied, combustible rapport with Billy Martin.

"A lot about managing in New York stressed me out, but it wasn't so much George Steinbrenner as it was the job," Torre said.

Torre said his brother, Frank, initially advised him to avoid managing the team, but Torre said, "[Steinbrenner] wanted to win so badly. It was my only shot. I wanted to see if I could do it. We obviously had a great run.

"It never bothered me that he was the boss. Some [managers] don't want to be told what to do, but I always trreated him with respect, and he did, too. There was only a time or two when we miscommunicated in 12 years. When I was able to sit there and go one-on-one with him, we were fine.

"We just seemed to click. We all knew nobody was safe, that he wanted to win."

Torre said he felt most in peril after the Yankees blew a 3-0 lead over the rival Boston Red Sox in 2004 and lost the American League Championship to the eventual world champions.

"The rumors were flying and my wife told me, 'Just go down there [to Tampa, Fla.] to see him,' " Torre said. "I got on a plane, go to his office and I just asked him, I said, 'I don't want to be here unless you want me to manage.' He said, 'Yes, I want you to manage.' That was enough for me."

Torre smiled at memories of Steinbrenner's "football-like mentality," how he reminded his employees that he had coached at Purdue and loved George Patton. Torre said there was occasional "frustration" with Steinbrenner's impatience in a game that often requires it.

"There was no stopping him, even if you knew this might not be the best time to be doing this," Torre said.

Like when Steinbrenner picked up slugger Jose Canseco off waivers and there was little chance for him to play, or when he overruled a coaching staff decision and sent struggling pitcher Jose Contreras to class-A Tampa instead of triple-A in 2004.

"It aggravated me, because I had just given all the quotes about why he was going to triple-A," Torre said. "Of course, [Contreras] went to to Tampa. [Steinbrenner] was the boss."

That message was immediately clear to Torre, when he met with Steinbrenner on the eve of Thanksgiving in 1995 after accepting the job, and expressed a desire to return to Cincinnati to be with his then-pregnant wife that evening.

Steinbrenner said, "I'll let you go this time, but after the baby is born, your [rear] is mine."

"He had no regard for anyone else's life." Torre said. "But those were the ground rules."

Torre described Streinbrenner as "a visionary," particularly when it came to delivering the best players and avoiding detours such as a luxury tax.

"They put all kinds of rules in place, but there were no rules for George," Torre said. "He felt he owed this to New York, to the uniform. He took a great deal of pride in that. Free agency was right up his alley. He was a great boss. He didn't rest about what we did last year. He always wanted to win next year."

Torre greatly pleased Steinbrenner by bringing home a World Series trophy in his first season, 1996, but the manager said "The Boss" was brutally tough after championship seasons.

"He was always figuring out a way to avoid letdowns," Torre said. "In 2000, we beat the Mets [in the World Series]. That was Nirvana to me.

"George used to give bonuses to my coaches after a World Series win. He did it after we beat San Diego [in 1998]. He said [in 2000] he wasn't going to give bonuses. I said, 'That's unfair, George.' He held onto to that. He'd hold you hostage. On New Year's Eve in 2000, he said he'd decided to give the bonus. That was George."

When Torre and the Yankees parted ways after the 2007 season, Torre said he held no bad feelings against Steinbrenner after a farewell meeting in Tampa. Torre said managing the team "wasn't fun anymore," and he understood Steinbrenner's sons, Hank and Hal, "had a reputation to uphold -- the Yankees, their dad's toughness." 

"He didn't have as major a part of decision-making then after some health issues," Torre said. "He was there in that final meeting. I thanked him. He was emotional. So was I. I shook his hand and left.

"Every time I've picked up the phone to call him [since], I got him," including a congratulatory phone call a day after the Yankees' 2009 World Series victory.

Torre said he hopes to attend services for Steinbrenner.

"No question, I want to pay my respects," he said.

--Lance Pugmire

Photo: Dodgers Manager Joe Torre at a news conference Tuesday to discuss the death of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Credit: AP.