WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, JOE TORRE?

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Joe Torre is a native New Yorker. And for a while there, like some of us, he was an unemployed New Yorker. His job may have been more glamorous and high profile than that of most who toil here, yet his story sounds familiar and may be similar to yours or someone you know: he worked hard and racked up successes only to have his few mistakes, the mistakes of others and some situations beyond his control used against him, before he lost his job—one he really cared about.

Torre has decided to share what happened and just in time, since so many who are out of work may feel like this sort of injustice is only their cross to bear.

Just to be clear, his new book, The Yankee Years, co-authored with Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci, is not a memoir or some Kitty Kelley-esque tell-all, but a measured and well-crafted chronicle of the years 1996 to 2007, when Joe managed the most storied team in baseball.
Verducci delivers the events as a narrative with Torre as his chief source, but other baseball figures are also quoted. Verducci combines their recollections with his own extensive research.

Photo By: Karl Crutchfield

Photo By: Karl Crutchfield

I heard someone say the book “violated the sanctity of the dugout.” When did the dugout, or locker room for that matter, take on the “what happens here stays here” quality of Vegas? If some former investment banker talked about his years at Lehman Brothers, would he be accused of violating the sanctity of the trading floor? If players or executives, like reality stars, don’t like how they’re portrayed, they have themselves to blame, since they put the behavior out there in the first place.

I’ve really never had any fascination with the politics or business of baseball, nor have I ever longed to peek behind the scenes of The Bronx Bombers, so I have no dog in this fight. What did interest me about this book, though, is that it showed how working for the New York Yankee organization is just like working at many other New York companies, with competition, challenging bosses and careless spending. Sound familiar?

I bet it does to a lot of people who pass the day scrolling Monster.com, then attending Pink Slip networking events at night.

Whether you’re looking for work or still lucky enough to have a job, there’s inspiration to be had on these pages that doesn’t have anything to do with baseball and might help you in your professional life. Here’s some of what the working Joe (and Jane) can learn from skipper Joe:

1. You can start out slowly but still win the race. Torre was the fourth choice for the job and was welcomed with the headline, “Clueless Joe.” He ended up as one of the most beloved mangers in baseball.

2. When you deal with people, do so with equanimity. “…the way he conducted team meetings, the way he talked to people. You could sense that he was going to be a calming influence.” People take you more seriously and listen better when you’re not ranting, raving or screaming in their face.

3. Work hard, stay focused. And hammer home the benefits—12 straight playoff appearances, six American League pennants, four World Series titles—of working together.

4. Those who make the boss’s life easier get treated better. Ever shake your head and wonder why some people make the job harder than it has to be? Why they insist upon creating a hostile environment with gossip and rivalries? Joe knows from hard (A-Rod) and easy (Derek Jeter).

5. Those who hold the purse strings don’t always spend wisely. According to the book, a chief cause of the Yankees’ downfall was the free spending on players who didn’t deliver. I guess in the end it doesn’t matter if the bigwigs misspend the money on bad hires or airplanes or expensive office furniture, not to mention executive bonuses. It’s gone and you didn’t see any of it.

6. Everybody wants to get into the act. Apparently there was constant meddling from Yankee executives. I’ve had jobs like that. Everyone not only wants their opinion heard but I also want it reflected in the work. Then when you end up with a mish-mash of whatever, the “opinionaters” distance themselves from the mess and you get to take all the blame. Yeah, well.

7. Sometimes 12 straight playoff appearances, six American League pennants and four World Series titles just aren’t enough. Management, each in its own way, will still ask: “Yeah, but, what have you done for me in the past New York minute?”

8. Sometimes, it all just falls apart. Torre’s last year in pinstripes collapsed under the weight of demands from the front office, players on the disabled list and some biblical “may a plague of locusts fall upon your house” attack on the mound by bugs. Seriously, it’s normal to feel helpless when it’s all out of your control.

9. We’re all in this alone. “Cashman had retreated to silence with Torre’s job on the line. The allies of Joe Torre had dwindled to zero.” When people—even friends—are trying to save their own jobs they will sacrifice yours. (Then somebody always says something like, “It’s not personal, it’s just business,” and you just want to smack them.)

10. Walk away like a gentleman (or lady). Torre gave them the opportunity to keep him. They declined. “If that’s the way you want it, that’s the way it is.” Then he went home.

After New Yorkers get knocked down, they get back up. Joe now manages the Los Angeles Dodgers and led them to clinch the National League West title last year, then on to win the National League Division Series, earning the Dodgers their first postseason series victory since 1988.

May all out-of-work New Yorkers land on their feet the way Joe Torre has.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl has been named Humor Writer of the Month by the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Her column appears every other week.

Read the Sidebar: Torre Book’s Not the Only Tell-All

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