There's lots of "Yankees Suck" T-shirts on sale on the streets leading to Fenway Park. Maybe it's the afternoon sunshine, or the higher number of college-age kids in the crowd, but there's simply nowhere near the air of menace that permeates games in New York. The feeling is more like a party, but one where the guest of honor is joyfully despised.
Speaking of vibes: What is the state of consciousness beyond Zen? That's where you'll find Joe Torre. Perhaps he goes home and kicks his dog, but at the ballpark, the man radiates calm and security. There's all the rationalexplanations -- he's won two championships, he's apparently beaten prostate cancer -- but they don't quite explain Torre's serenity.
For an hour today, in the Yankees dugout at Fenway, Torre conducts a seminar in big-league managing, with Thomas Boswell, the great Washington Post writer; Bob Ryan, the classic Boston Globe columnist; and me as students. Torre recounts his thinking during Thursday's epic eighth inning, when he and Boston's Jimmy Williams switched pitchers and hitters eight times in the course of five minutes. "It's door number one, door numbertwo, or door number three," Torre says. "You're on the fence about what to do, but you have to pick one and be committed. I had Nelson in the game and was thinking, 'If he gives up a ground ball or sacrifice fly, the game is tied. I can live with that. We're at home. We've got two more shots to win it.'"
Maybe the secret is Torre doesn't admit the existence of other more severe possibilities -- an extra base hit, say, that gives up multiple runs. Or maybe it's the fact that having committed himself to one course of action,Torre is willing to instantly change directions and not second-guess himself. After Nelson threw ball one to Scott Hatteber, Torre sprang fromthe dugout and took Nelson out of the game. "I didn't want Nellie pitching around this guy now that he's behind. So I changed pitchers. Now I know that I'm emptying my bullpen, but I've made a commitment.'" Torre eventually won the chess match, thanks to brilliant pitching by RamiroMendoza.
Besides knowing his own mind, Torre's success is predicated on knowing the minds of his players. And knowing how to keep their minds clear. "We don't allow our hitters to see many stats," Torre says, referring to the endless breakdowns of who did what against whom that are available on paper, on line, on TV. "We don't want them thinking too much. I tell them, 'Just dowhat you do.'"
Torre's approach to George Steinbrenner isn't nearly as minimalist. Winning makes everyone happy, of course, and that's the primary reason Torre's four-year relationship with Steinbrenner has been so placid. But Torre works hard at achieving calm. "I have fun with him," Torre says of the jokes he initiates with Steinbrenner. "Winning gets his crust off a bit. But he also knows now, after we've been together a few years, that nobody is tougher on me than myself, that I want to win as badly as he does." Yet Torre is not kidding himself; he knows the bad old George, who is never satisfied, isn't gone completely. After a loss to Cleveland in last year'splayoffs, Torre got an early morning call from Steinbrenner. "He said, 'Don't worry, we're still in good shape.' So he can be compassionate. And he never says I should do anything just because he's the boss. But the thing is, if we'd won that game in Cleveland, he would have called the nextmorning and said, 'Don't let me down.'"