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On Oct.

18, 2007, 10 days after the Yankees lost the Division Series to the Cleveland Indians, 10 days of public waiting for George Steinbrenner to follow through on his Game 3 warning that Torre would not be back in the wake of defeat, the question Torre proposed was now the domain of the seven other people in the room. Steinbrenner sat slumped in his chair with dark glasses covering most of his face. Occasionally he would take them off, put them back on, take them off, put them back on ... He contributed virtually nothing to the meeting except for occasionally repeating the last sentence of what someone in the room had just said. The strange, sad element to the setting was that the men were surrounded by old reminders of Steinbrenner's vitality and iron will to win. Steinbrenner had always envisioned himself as a cross between a Hemingway character and a military leader, a man's man who gave no quarter, who boasted of bringing a football mentality to baseball, and the room reflected his pride in that resolve. On a table behind the desk there was a picture of him as a halfback on the 1951 Williams College football team, reaching for a pass while an opposing defensive back elbows him in the back. Steinbrenner liked to tell people that he did not catch the ball, that the defensive back "knocked me flat on my ass." The message, he wanted you to know, was that the man could take a hit. There was a picture of the horse Comanche. Why Comanche? Steinbrenner liked the idea that the horse was the Army's only survivor at Custer's last stand. He admired survivors. There also was a picture of Gen. George S. Patton, given to Steinbrenner by a member of Patton's staff. It was not your typical military portrait. Patton is seen pissing into the Rhine. There was a picture of his grandfather, the first George M. Steinbrenner, who married a girl from Germany and who started the Kinsman Shipping line of freighters, which carried ore and grain over the Great Lakes. Of course there were the aphorisms with which Steinbrenner liked to surround himself, literally. Some of them were captured in frames, and some of them were kept under the glass top of his desk. The measure of a man is the way he bears up under misfortune. -Plutarch And, Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson You can't lead the cavalry if you can't sit in the saddle. The speed of the leader determines the rate of the pack. And his favorite: I am wounded, but I am not slain. I shall lay me down and rest a while, and then I will rise and fight again. -- Anonymous

Times were different now. For Steinbrenner it was time to rest, not time to fight. This was his office, but it was not his meeting. It was not his decision alone anymore. The meeting was Torre's idea. Hank, Hal, Lopez, Levine, Trost and Cashman had kicked around the idea of what to do about Torre for the better part of a week. Do they offer him another contract, and, if so, for how long and for how much money? Do they even want him back at all? While they deliberated, Torre told Cashman he wanted to meet with the group face-to-face. It wasn't much different than how he managed: You look somebody in the eye and rely on direct honesty, rather than leaks and secondhand information. The six Yankees lieutenants thought it was a good idea. By then they had decided that they would offer Torre nothing more than one guaranteed year. The day before the meeting, as the two sides finalized arrangements for the gathering, Cashman broke the news to Torre that he probably would not be offered a multiyear deal. "They only want to give you one year," Cashman told him over the phone. "What about a second year?" Torre asked. "I don't think they're going to offer you that." "Cash, I have an idea. What about a two-year contract? It doesn't even really matter what the money is. Two years, and if I get fired in the first year, the second year is guaranteed. But if I get fired after the first year, I don't get the full amount of the second year, just a buyout. The money doesn't matter. I mean, as long as it's not just something ridiculous. It's not about the money. It's the second year." Torre had just gone through a hellish season, with constant leaks in the press, sniping from the front office, frequent rumors about him getting fired and the feeling that people within his own organization were rooting against him. He was worn out by all of it. There was no way he was going to go through another year like that. And there was one scenario that would have set the table for exactly that kind of season all over again: working under a one-year contract. That scenario would stamp him a lame duck all over again, with the managerial death watch starting up again with the first three-game losing streak in April. All Torre wanted was to manage one more season in relative calm, and the second year on a contract would help provide that kind of stability. The second year was nothing but an insurance policy. He planned to retire after that one season, anyway. "I couldn't do it on a one-year deal," Torre said. "I couldn't go through what was the worst year of my professional life all over again. I couldn't put my family through it again. I couldn't put my coaches through that again. All I wanted was one year where nobody was questioning me about how you're going to lose your job." ***

On Oct. 18 Torre, Cashman and Trost boarded a private jet in White Plains, N.Y., for the flight to Tampa. Torre had told his coaches that he wasn't sure what was going to happen. "At the time I thought it was going to be 60-40 that he wouldn't come back," third base coach Larry Bowa said. "You know, Joe kept everything pretty quiet. He said, 'I'll get in touch with you guys.' Selfishly, I wanted him to come back because I loved coaching there, but he had to do what he had to do. "For a guy with what he's done for the city and that team, that's the one thing I thought was very unfair. I don't think he was treated the right way. I mean, I think Joe earned that right to go out on his own, and he should have earned the right to open the new stadium. At least they should have said, 'O.K., this year we'll give you, and for the new stadium you have an option if you want to stay or not, or go upstairs and be an adviser.' I really thought that was going to happen because of what Joe meant to the city, the players who played there and to the organization. And it didn't happen like that. It turned out to be an ugly ending." On the plane ride to Tampa, Cashman repeated his warning to Torre about the length of the contract, again choosing his pronoun carefully as if to distance himself from what was about to go down. "I don't think they're going to go to more than one year," Cashman said. "What are you going to do then?" "I don't know what I'm going to do," Torre said. "I'm just going to go in there." Torre was putting his faith in the power of personal communication, anticipating that a face-to-face meeting with the lieutenants would bring about an honest negotiation. He held out hope that there was a way to manage the Yankees in 2008 without his head in a noose from the first day of spring training. The first thing he needed to know was if they really wanted him in the first place. "Do you want me to manage?" Levine and Hal told him that yes, they wanted him back, and that it was a unanimous decision by everyone in the room. Hal said they had decided on an offer: a one-year contract at $5 million, a 33% pay cut from his 2007 salary. Hal told him, "I want you to manage because you're good with young players." Torre wondered why, if that were the case, they were offering only one year. If the Yankees reached the postseason, Torre would get another $1 million. He would get another $1 million if the Yankees reached the League Championship Series and another $1 million if they reached the World Series. Levine classified the bonus money as "incentives," implying at the meeting and later to reporters that Torre needed to be motivated. "It's important to motivate people," Levine would say, "as most people in everyday life have to be, based on performance."

Motivate? The 2007 Yankees had come back from the sixth-worst 50-game start in franchise history to make the playoffs. They had used 14 starting pitchers and still won 94 games. They roared back from a losing record as late as July 7 to play .675 baseball (52-25) down the stretch. Three fifths of their intended starting rotation was a disaster -Kei Igawa and Carl Pavano combined for three wins, and Mike Mussina endured the worst season of his career -- and yet they won the third-most games in baseball. Did Torre help accomplish all of that and then suddenly lose his motivation during, of all times, the playoffs? Or did the Yankees' exit have something to do with their ace, ChienMing Wang, throwing two of the worst games in postseason history, and a freakish attack of Lake Erie midges in Game 2? Torre would later tell reporters he considered the incentives "an insult." In doing so, he was not referring to the idea of incentives or the money itself, but rather to the thinking of the Yankees executives that he needed such a carrot to be "motivated." "I don't need motivation to do what I do," he told the Yankees executives at the meeting. "You have to understand that." Said Torre, "I've always had a $1 million bonus for winning the World Series. In fact, in my last contract, when we put it together, [former Yankees general partner] Steve Swindal and myself, we had different stages, if you win-win-win. That's the way it was when I took over initially, even in my first year, that you got so much for getting to different levels. I said then, 'Let's admit it: The only thing that's worthwhile is the World Series. The only bonus I want you to put in there is the World Series.'" As much as Torre was bothered by the idea that he needed incentives to be motivated, what really stopped him was the term of the contract. Sure, maybe the seven executives in the room did want him back, but they wanted him back only in the exact compromised position in which he had managed the 2007 season: with a noose around his neck and a trapdoor below his feet. They wanted him to manage the Yankees only from an exposed position. There was no way Torre was coming back under those conditions. The seven executives, meanwhile, would consider no other arrangement. "Going back to the first question I asked -- 'Do you want me to manage?' -- the answer they gave me really wasn't honest," Torre says. "If they wanted me to manage, we would have found a way to get it done. And that was never the case. Because there was never any movement. Negotiation is something that takes place between two sides. That didn't happen. It was, 'Either take it or leave it.' And my feeling was that they felt they were obligated to make an offer only because I had been there so long." Torre calmly tried to make a case for himself. For instance, he pointed out that over the course of his 12-year tenure, attendance at Yankee Stadium had increased 90%. He talked about ad revenues he brought to the Yankees from companies that wanted to be

associated with one of the most successful managers in modern history. Under Torre, of course, the Yankees were guaranteed to be in the playoffs: a perfect 12 for 12 in postseason appearances with pennants in half of those years and world championships in a third of them. The promise of October baseball helped drive season-ticket sales and offered additional revenues when most ballparks were dark. And even when Torre's teams did not win the World Series, the Yankees were far and away the best team in baseball. During that 2001-07 "drought" without a world championship, the team was 37 victories better than the Oakland A's, the next-winningest team in baseball. "The reason I went there to Tampa," Torre says, "is I wanted to see somebody face-toface, and I wanted to see if any of these points I brought up made any sense. I mean, where the attendance was when I first got there and where it was now, the revenues they've made since then ... maybe all this stuff would somehow negate some of the fact that they felt I was overpaid and overstayed. And then nobody had the guts to just say, 'Get out.' That was the worst part." There would be no negotiations. When Cashman was asked later by reporters why the Yankees refused to negotiate, he said, "It's just complicated, given the dollars." But dollars had nothing to do with it. Torre would even tell reporters later that the $5 million salary offer was "generous." He wasn't asking to negotiate dollars. He was asking to negotiate one year of some security and peace. The Yankees would have none of it, and when the seven executives made it clear to him that theirs was a take-it-or-leave-it offer, Torre understood that the greatest pillar of his management style had been destroyed: The trust was gone. He knew his employers did not trust him. For a man who made trust the single most important ingredient of championship teams -- trust among teammates, trust from those players in the honesty and integrity of the manager and staff - he could not continue without it. It became an easy decision: He told the seven executives he could not accept their offer. "Yeah, I was leaving a lot of money on the table," Torre said, "but I didn't give a s---, because I knew what I went through the year before, dreading coming to the ballpark and sitting behind that desk every day. It would have been the same thing." So that was it. The 12-year Torre era had come to a nonnegotiable end. Torre's run ended with a meeting that took little more than 10 minutes. As Torre got up from his seat in Steinbrenner's office, Hal Steinbrenner said to him, "The door's always open. You can always work for the YES Network." Torre was too stunned to speak, caught between bemusement and anger. Did the Boss's son really just dangle the consolation of working for the Yankees-run regional television network after the Yankees refused to negotiate with the second-winningest manager in franchise history? Torre shook the hands of everybody in the room, starting with George. The old man took his dark glasses off and said, "Good luck, Joe."

"Thanks again, Boss," Torre said. Lopez was the only one who walked out of the room with Torre toward the elevators in the reception area of the fourth-floor offices. But then Cashman appeared. "Joe, Lonn and I won't be flying back with you," Cashman said. "We'll be staying here." Seeing Cashman suddenly reminded Torre of something: that two-year proposal he had made to Cashman over the phone in advance of the meeting, the one with the buyout in it. The offer had never been discussed in Steinbrenner's office. Torre figured Cashman had already presented it to the other executives, and he was curious as to what happened to the proposal. "Cash," Torre asked, "they had no interest in that buyout proposal, the one I gave you over the phone?" Cashman looked at Torre oddly, as if this were something new. "Uh, I really didn't understand it," Cashman said. "Remind me, what was it again?" "Two-year contract, whatever the number. If they fire me during the first year, they pay me both years. If they fire me after the first year, they pay me some reduced amount we can talk about." "I'll see." Cashman walked back into Steinbrenner's office. Torre was incredulous. "I'm thinking, Well, s---! He never told them!" Torre said. They had spent 12 years together, Cashman first as the assistant general manager under Bob Watson and then as the general manager of three consecutive world championship teams with Torre as the manager. Torre had presented Cashman with the lineup card from the clinching game of the 1998 World Series, the one in which those Yankees established themselves as one of the greatest teams of all time with a record 125 wins, postseason included. Torre and Cashman had shared dinners and champagne and laughs and arguments. Twelve years. It was an eternity in baseball for an executive and a manager to work together. But at the moment when Torre was searching for some way to save his job and turned to Cashman in his moment of need, Cashman did not so much as pass on to his bosses a proposal from Torre -- a simple one, too, one that was not at all difficult to understand. Twelve years together, and it ends like this.

Come to think of it, Torre thought, Cashman had said nothing during the entire meeting. Cashman was the general manager who had persuaded Steinbrenner after the 2005 season to put in writing that Cashman would have control over all baseball operations. The manager is a fairly important part of baseball operations. And when the future employment of the manager was being discussed, how was it that the empowered general manager had nothing at all to say? "Cash was sitting right over my right shoulder," Torre said, "and never uttered a sound the whole meeting." Cashman, for his part, says simply, "It was Joe's meeting." Only much later did Torre start to put the picture together of what had happened to his working relationship with Cashman. The personal falling-out they had in 2006 spring training over philosophical issues, Cashman's decision not to bring back longtime center fielder Bernie Williams when his contract expired in 2006, his submission of odd lineup suggestions based on stats, his lack of regard for Ron Guidry as a pitching coach, his detachment from the "they" who were making an offer to Torre, his failure to offer any comment or support in the meeting that decided Torre's future, his failure to personally relay Torre's proposal to find a way to reach an agreement to the Steinbrenners ... Where could Torre find support in the end? His old ally, Swindal, thanks to one DUI charge, had been run out of the organization and the Steinbrenner family. George was not fit enough to deal directly with Torre himself. And now Cashman had retreated to silence with Torre's job on the line. "I thought Cash was an ally, I really did," Torre says. "You know, we had some differences on coaches, and the usefulness of the coaches. I know he didn't think much of Guidry. And [former bench coach Don] Zimmer. You know, Zimmer didn't trust Cash, and I disagreed with Zimmer vehemently for the longest time. Then, you know, you start thinking about things ... I have a, I don't want to say it's a weakness, but I want to trust people. And I do trust people until I'm proved wrong. And it's not going to keep me from trusting somebody else tomorrow, because it's the only way I can do my job." Torre still held out faint hope that the two-year proposal could be the pathway to an agreement. He waited by the elevators. "It was a last-ditch effort by me to remind them, 'Does this make any sense for us to get together?'" Torre says. "There weren't any cross words. I didn't say things to them in anger or anything. It was more like, 'If that's the way you want it, that's the way it is.' It was just trying to move a little bit and give them an offer that maybe they could live with. I just wanted to make sure before I did walk away that I gave them every opportunity to keep me." Not more than 30 seconds after Cashman left Torre at the reception area, Cashman came walking back to him. It took less than a minute for the Steinbrenners, Levine and Trost to consider the idea.

"No, they have no interest in doing that," Cashman told Torre. No interest. Rejected in less than a minute. That was it. It was done. The Torre era officially was finished. He stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for the ground floor. A strong feeling washed over him. "Relief," Torre said, "a feeling of relief." The relief came from knowing it was a very easy decision. He flew back home alone.