Torre's visage stems from playing days
Skipper's signature style a product of being aware of attention
LOS ANGELES -- Now in his 13th consecutive postseason, Joe Torre was sitting in his customary position at the table in an interview room one day before celebrating a National League Division Series title with the Dodgers. He was answering the customary questions about his pitching rotation, his closer, how a veteran has helped avoid the highs and lows and whether baseball curses were for real.
Then he was asked by MLB.com about this whole even-keel thing. When you think of Torre, you think of calm, collected, classy, composed, and then you are practically self-hypnotized into a deep slumber. That's how Yankees fans remember him. That's how Cardinals fans remember him. He has left so many traces of himself around Major League Baseball and its minions, and that stoicism and steady visage is in your mind's eye.
Where did that come from? Who taught him that?
"Well, I'm not sure," said Torre, 68, who played in the Majors from 1960-'77 -- all in the National League -- before becoming a probable Hall of Fame manager. "I go back and I remember [Former Cardinals manager] Kenny Boyer, I used to watch him. I said, 'Yeah, I know exactly what you feel like. You make an out or whatever you do, you sort of go in the dugout, it's not like you're not grinding inside.' What I used to do with the Cardinals ('69-'74), I'd make an out or hit into a double play, which I did quite often. I'd go in there and I'd put my hands up and never show any emotion.
"I'm not saying it's a good thing, it's just what I did. And I used to pull these steel spikes out of the wall, which was so dangerous and stupid. But that's how angry I used to be.
"But I don't know why I've been that way. I probably never wanted to give the opposing pitcher the satisfaction to know that he ruffled my feathers, so to speak. I think that's the way it started and once you become a manager and you realize how much attention the media and the TV pays to what you do, I certainly was aware of not being too demonstrative in situations, because sometimes that can be misunderstood, also.
"And I get angry, if I see somebody do something stupid. In other words, lack of preparation or just do something without thinking. That irritates me more so than somebody striking out and the bases loaded or hitting into a double play or making an error, because that's all part of the game."
Torre's style endeared him to legions of fans throughout Yankee Universe, and winning four of the franchise's 26 world championships will do that. No matter what the circumstances of his departure from The Bronx after last season, this much is known: He is still loved.
Now Torre is managing Los Angeles in a best-of-seven NL Championship Series beginning Thursday night at Philadelphia, and his connection to an idled Yankee audience is supremely evident. Just look at the boards and the blogs, listen to the radio shows and hear the buzz and you know which team the average Yankees fan is rooting for right now.
"It's always been part of my personality, I think, but Joe takes it to another level," said a familiar voice who was walking into the clubhouse after Torre's interview. "He has a really good understanding of the length of a season."
That voice belonged to Don Mattingly. He eventually came along with Torre to be the Dodgers' hitting coach -- making it a very high-profile, ex-Yankee leadership act -- and MLB.com asked him why that even-keel exterior is so closely associated with his skipper.
And whether it's real.
"Joe is really relaxed. But he has his way," Mattingly said. "Joe doesn't let anything go. If there's a problem going on, he gets it right away. It's easy to avoid doing that. You don't naturally want confrontation. Who does? With Joe, he'll ask me what's going on with a guy who's down. He'll see him in the tunnel and he'll just know. He'll tell me, 'Go get him.' He always has good timing when it comes to that.
"In New York, they said he wasn't tough enough. That was an unfair criticism. He is disciplined. That's so important. Not necessarily in just putting out a fire, but in addressing a situation before it can become a big problem. He just knows how to handle that. He confronts it right away and that's something many people don't know about him. He's more than just even-keel."
Rick Hummel, the Hall of Fame baseball writer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, covered Torre when he was a player and later manager at Busch Stadium. What does he remember about Joe Cool?
"I don't know about the steel spikes," Hummel said, "but I do know that many St. Louis fans thought he didn't care as a manager because he just sat there in the dugout and didn't do anything demonstrative. That wasn't his style, to be demonstrative. And if he had been, his team still wouldn't have pitched any better."
Fans in St. Louis are watching Torre. Yankees fans definitely are watching him. Many Braves fans old enough to remember him as their young All-Star are watching him. Dodgers fans, that's a given. These are just some of the examples of how widespread the infinite connections are to Postseason 2008, why everyone watches.
They will see the familiar countenance in the Dodgers' dugout now, a new cap on his head, but still the same composure, lulling you almost into submission. You've seen it so many times before. Emotion exists somewhere else, far away from cameras.
"I'm not sure who I learned it from," Torre said. "But I was always sort of that guy that never wanted anybody to know what was going on."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.