Joe Torre reflects on Derek Jeter's legacy
NEW YORK - Joe Torre managed nearly 1,000 players over three decades in the dugout, but if you ask him who the greatest player he ever managed was, he doesn't even have to hesitate for an answer.
"I think people get a kick out of asking me that. Derek Jeter is an easy choice," Torre said Sunday, "and I can bet you probably every single other player I managed never resented that because of the player he was. He was a dream for a manager to manage, and a staple for the guys playing alongside of him. The one thing I had trouble doing when he was a young player was giving him a day off, but I finally got the formula: I asked him which day he wanted off, this one or that one, and forced him into an answer."
Torre is now a Major League Baseball executive, and has been since a few years before Jeter retired, but he of course was at Yankee Stadium to watch Jeter get his number retired Sunday, and it was a chance to wax poetic one more time on his Captain.
"I've had players who would come on board, and after a couple months, they'd tell me they always knew Derek was a good player, but they never realized how good he really was," Torre said. "There's so much about him that doesn't show up in the stats. He wasn't the most talented player, necessarily, but you always wanted the ball to find him or have him at the plate. He never disappointed, and you knew he was about as responsible as they came."
Torre has been in baseball for 57 years now, having spent 18 seasons as a player, 29 as a manager, and five as a broadcaster before taking the MLB job he's now in his seventh season occupying. He's seen how the game has changed since his debut in 1960, but while he considers Jeter the best player he's ever managed and a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Torre concedes that there's a chance that if he were in the 2017 Draft, Derek Jeter might not be anywhere close to a No. 6 overall pick.
"I'm not sure if he'd be a top draft pick, no, because it's all about individual skills now," Torre said. "I know we really bank a lot on stats and how hard somebody throws and stuff now, but really it's the package of Derek Jeter that really overwhelms you, and if you see him on a regular basis, you appreciate him all the more."
But the great thing about baseball, Torre noted, is that even with the above said, Jeter's talent eventually would have won out over his prospect status.
"You hear about how Jose Altuve went to work out for teams and people kept sending him home because he was too small, and his dad told him to keep going out there until they paid attention to him," Torre said. "Eventually they did, and that's what is great about our game: there are really no restrictions in that regard."
Derek, of course, also had the intangibles to go with that package.
"He went out there and showed what a baseball player is all about; he gave everything he had all the time, and he always looked at playing with the Yankees as an honor," Torre said. "Not everyone is blessed with the trait of not being afraid to fail; this game is loaded with negative statistics, but he always went out there unafraid, and he always played hard and played honest."
Torre himself is also in Monument Park, so he understands the magnitude of Jeter joining the group.
"This is not why you play - it's basically a perk when your career is over, and a decision on someone else's part about how much you meant to an organization - but that's pretty incredible," Torre said. "When you think of all the players who wore pinstripes, and the history of the Yankees…for Derek Jeter to be one of the greatest Yankees ever, that's pretty impressive."
Jeter's addition makes it eight members of the 1996 World Series Champions honored in Monument Park, five players and Torre with retired numbers and two more with plaques. That's a testament to them all as players, but to Torre, it's also a testament to how they came together.
"You knew the ones you could count on, and what I mean by that is that these guys never stopped to admire what they accomplished," Torre said. "After we won in '96, my wife mentioned that I finally got that World Series ring, and I said, 'let's see if we can do it again.' Once you stop to admire something, you stop doing it, but they stayed hungry, and felt winning was more a responsibility than a need. They made a commitment to it and each other. The first year or two, I don't think we had any starting All-Stars, but they all played together really well."
Torre and Jeter still talk outside of baseball, and now they're together in Monument Park, Joe is hoping that instead of the title of respect he usually gets, Derek will address him with the term he affectionately uses for many others.
"It started out as Mr. Torre and then went to Mr. T, but I think I've graduated to 'buddy' now," Torre smiled. "We stay in touch, and that probably was the cherry on top for me when it came to managing the Yankees all those years: the relationships. Even when you don't talk to someone for a long period of time, there's always something we can come together to enjoy. This group was a special group, and he was a special player."