By Diane M. Grassi
Joe Torre, former Major League Baseball (MLB) manager of no less than five MLB teams as well as a former 17-year MLB player, has been making his way through the maze of MLB executive life in 2011. Torre was appointed on February 26, 2011 by current MLB Commissioner, Bud Selig, as Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations. He also serves as the commissioner’s liaison to general managers and field managers of all 30 MLB teams.
Sporting a playing career over that 17 year period, Joe Torre was a catcher, 1st baseman and 3rd baseman for the Atlanta Braves, the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets. He enjoyed a .297 lifetime batting average, hit over .300 five times, was a nine time All Star and became the National League’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1971 with a .363 batting average, 230 hits, 24 home runs and a National League leading 137 RBI that year.
In 1977, Torre became the first MLB player-manager since 1959 when he took over the helm for the NY Mets. He remained with the Mets through 1981. In 1982, Torre went on to manage the Atlanta Braves through 1984. After broadcasting for the then-California Angels for almost 6 seasons, Torre returned to managing, but this time in St. Louis with the Cardinals from 1990-1995, prior to Tony La Russa’s rein there.
While not terribly successful as a National League manager, Torre had 696 wins and 847 losses with all three clubs while there. He apparently transformed his managerial style in 1996, going to and winning his first World Championship with the NY Yankees that year. And Torre was to repeat it with them three more times in 1998, 1999 and again in 2000. In all, the Yankees made it to 12 post-seasons; every season that Joe Torre managed in NY, including 6 World Championship appearances.
Had Joe Torre known how to bottle the secret of his success, he would now be one of the world’s wealthiest men. And although he managed to get the L.A. Dodgers to the 2008 and 2009 National League Championship Series, he simply did not have the talent nor the financial resources afforded him by the NY Yankees.
Today, Torre’s new responsibilities are centered upon on-field operations, on-field discipline, over-seeing umpiring and helping the commissioner to regroup with a totally revamped executive lineup. In fact, Joe Torre was such high a priority for Selig to hire that he retrofitted the entire executive hierarchy in order to close the deal.
There are but seven executives that headline MLB’s corporate masthead and Joe Torre is one of them. The list includes: Allan H. (Bud) Selig – Commissioner of Baseball; Jimmie Lee Solomon – Executive VP, Baseball Development; Tim Brosnan – Executive VP, Business; Rob Manfred – Executive VP, Labor Relations & Human Resources; Jonathan Mariner – Executive VP & Chief Financial Officer; John McHale, Jr. – Executive VP, Administration & Chief Information Officer; Joe Torre – Executive VP, Baseball Operations.
Not unlike a prodigy ball player or top 10 prospect expected to excel and fast-tracked to the Major Leagues, Joe Torre has enjoyed a similar trajectory since February 2011.
And never before in the modern era of MLB has a MLB commissioner so accommodated one individual geographically, allowing for Torre – a New York resident until he moved west to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008 – to conduct his business from a satellite office in Los Angeles, rather than relocating back to NY. And shunning recently renovated MLB headquarters’ offices would not normally be the best way to expect to ace an interview.
On the one hand, Joe Torre’s selection could be considered a no-brainer. But on the other hand, a restructuring of other long-standing executives looked unseemly and cost several MLB employees their jobs. It also gave the impression that this was solely done to find a spot for Torre by Selig.
As such, some in MLB questioned Torre’s qualifications. While a beloved figurehead in many quarters throughout baseball, many believed that the only phone he knew how to dial was the one in the dugout to either the clubhouse or the bullpen.
But Torre’s appointment was far more the shake-up rather than as couched as a mere replacement for Bob Watson, who was VP, Rules and On-Field Operations, for many years. Watson supposedly retired for health reasons at the end of the 2010 season. Or perhaps Watson chose to walk away at that time rather than to face the same fate encountered by his colleagues.
To wit, three senior officials were fired: Mike Port – VP of Umpiring; Ed Burns – VP, Administration; Darryl Hamilton – Senior Specialist, On-Field Operations. In addition Joe Garagiola, Jr., who retained his title of Senior VP, was dealt a demotion and a major pay cut and no longer serves in a supervisory capacity for MLB. His main job responsibility is defined as that of ‘dean of discipline’. Meanwhile, Torre had no executive nor supervisory experience in order to earn his rise to the top.
Torre accepted an unverified $2 million annual base salary – as MLB reserves the right to not disclose salaries of executive personnel. His new underlings are Kim Ng, former assistant GM Manager with both the NY Yankees and the L.A. Dodgers, and his “point man” is former Arizona Diamondback’s assistant GM, Peter Woodfork.
But the question that needs to be asked and the topic discussed over the next year is: Is Joe Torre being groomed as the next Commissioner of MLB? Will overseeing field operations and umpiring operations as well as a conduit between Selig and general managers manifest to that position?
The next question is: Assuming the 30 teams owner like Torre as much as Selig does, is Torre up to the challenge to become the next MLB commissioner?
Some might say – making an analogy to politicians – that he could not possibly do a worse job than his predecessor did. But is that what MLB really needs?
Undoubtedly, the commissioner of a professional sports league is no more than a face for the collective owners, and must present an image of dignity without improprieties, and Torre could do that.
But given the $8 – $10 billion yearly business that MLB has become, it will require an acute business mind to allow MLB to eventually join the 21st century, where the rest of us arrived over a decade ago.
And for all of the acuity that Joe Torre has as a field manager, former payer and generally well-liked guy, being a Goodwill Ambassador for MLB is perhaps the more apt title for Mr. Torre, rather than that of a high-powered executive.
As much as Bud Selig’s critics – this journalist among them – feel that he lacks insight and perspective on how to keep future generations engaged and passionate about the game of baseball, unless the next Commissioner of MLB can answer that question first, he need not apply for the job, nor should he want it.
Lastly, perhaps Bud Selig should have no influence at all as to who becomes the next Commissioner of MLB – as did Joe Torre with his recommending Don Mattingly as the 2011 manager for the L.A. Dodgers.
How about – much like when a new GM comes in and hires his own manager and staff – that the MLB owners and even fans have a say about who the next commissioner is and that we start out fresh in 2013 without any Friends of Bud’s?
That is assuming of course that Bud Selig is ready to walk away at the end of his contract in 2012.
One can only hope!
Copyright ©2011 Diane M. Grassi
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