Girardi, of course, was part of that group. First as a player under Torre, then as a member of his coaching staff. There was no better classroom for learning how to be a manager than Yankee Stadium during Torre’s tenure in the Bronx.
But earning that degree is not enough, even from one of the best teachers. What Torre was able to achieve - and he acknowledges this - was the result of a combination of factors that may never line up for another team again.
When Torre took over for the 1996 season, the Yankees were about to produce a bumper crop of young players, later to be recognized as the Core Four, and the financial might few other franchises possessed at that time. George Steinbrenner was starving for a championship, and hungrier than ever after the Yankees’ first-round loss to the Mariners the previous year.
While The Boss could be a double-edged sword for any manager, Torre won Steinbrenner’s trust with that first title - the ‘96 ring was on his finger - and the Yankees survived the ‘97 speed bump to reel off a three-peat that ultimately secured Torre’s dynastic turn at the helm. Amazingly, Torre should have had one more ring and came close to having two.
“Three outs away from winning four in a row,” Torre said, smiling.
He didn’t feel the need to mention again the part about having the greatest closer of all-time on the mound for him that night in Phoenix.
But hey, just because the Yankees were supposed to win the World Series every year back then didn’t mean they would, right? As great as Torre was as a manager, no one’s perfect. But the mythology Torre’s teams have left behind distort what we expect from the next generation of Yankees.
Girardi was fortunate to get that first ring in only his second season after missing the playoffs the previous year. But the Yankees have been unable to come anywhere close to duplicating Torre’s historic run - basically because it’s insane to believe that’s possible with the sport’s increasing parity and a more level playing field from an economic standpoint.
The Yankees can still spend their $200 million, but the antiquated notion of buying championships has gone the way of valuing pitcher wins and attaching too much statistical weight to batting average. Torre’s cool-under-fire temperament made him the right man on the rudder for those turbulent years. He also had a clubhouse full of personalities that responded well to his fatherly style.
Some of that still works nowadays. But as Torre suggested, managing is more complicated. Girardi can’t be another Torre. No one can. What he tries to do is be a hybrid because there are elements of Torre’s style that are timeless.
“Joe’s demeanor was always the same,” Girardi said. “During the course of the game. Good times, bad times. That’s my personality normally.
“But I saw the importance of it from Joe. I’ve often talked about Joe’s ability to make people believe everything’s going to be OK all the time, no matter what we were going through. And we went through a lot in the years that he was here.”
Everyone - the players, the fans, the assembled Yankee VIPs - only remembered the good. Later that day, Girardi’s team capitalized on a sloppy performance by the White Sox to win and stay in the wild-card hunt. The Yankees comically ran themselves into a couple of outs. They’re still having trouble scoring.
Torre was right. The job does look harder now.