Last Chance to Ax Torre Slips From Steinbrenner’s Trembling Hands
Yankees boss fires PR spokesman Howard J. Rubenstein instead; a half hour later Rubenstein re-hired to issue statement that he’d been fired, ensnaring himself in an endless, M.C. Escher-like loop of statements and denials.
Inside of Legends Field Complex , site of yesterday's fateful meeting with former Yankees manager Joe Torre...and the site of one of the most confusing press conferences in history.
TAMPA, FL (Sportsman’s Daily Wire Service) — The meeting lasted one hour. Everyone was there: principal owner George Steinbrenner and his sons, Hank and Hal; President Randy Levine; General Manager Brian Cashman; and Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost. The Yankees offered Manager Joe Torre a one-year deal with a base salary of $5 million and $3 million in incentives. But after 12 years and 12 postseason appearances (including four World Series titles), Torre promptly turned it down.
“He what?!” Steinbrenner bellowed, with Torre sitting across the table.
“No deal, dad,” explained Hank. “Joe’s outta here.”
“Thank you Mr. Steinbrenner,” said Torre, gathering himself and rising from his seat. “It’s been a wonderful 12 years. Good luck. ”
“Torre, sit your ass down. Torre, I’m talking to you. You leave, that’s it. Joe, I’m warning you…”
Ninety seconds later Torre was gone for good, heading to the airport for his flight back to NY, accompanied by Cashman and Trost. For the next hour, the Yankee boss shook with inchoate rage, lashing out at the remnants of his embattled “brain trust” for “letting the bastard off the hook.” While Steinbrenner publicly threatened to fire the Yankee manager if the team failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs (they lost to the Indians), cooler heads prevailed on the Yankees boss to make an offer – or risk a PR backlash from Yankee fans and NY media sympathetic to the popular Torre. According to sources familiar with the boss’s “thinking,” he’d be free to can Torre at any point during the 2008 campaign – “and trust me, the Boss couldn’t wait to drop the ax.” But Torres’ rejection of the offer deprived Steinbrenner of a perfectly executed, and, from the Boss’s perspective, long overdue, managerial firing – quite possibly his last in a long reign noted for ill-advised, impulsive, and occasionally disastrous personnel decisions.
“Several months ago someone reminded George that neither Billy Martin, Dick Howser or Bob Lemon were available – he wasn’t aware they were all dead. He cried his eyes out. It’s tough for a guy like George to come to grips with the finality of never being able to fire any of them again. So this one really hurt.”
When Steinbrenner demanded to know who advised him to offer Torre a one-year deal to avoid an angry backlash rather than fire him outright, Levine and both Steinbrenner sons aimed their eyebrows toward the back of the room where the outlines of a human figure were visible behind a black curtain.
As he has countless times over the course of their long affiliation, the legendary PR maven magically emerged from behind the curtain to offer his sage counsel.
“Rubenstein, you’re fired! Pack up! Immediately! If you’re not off the premises in thirty minutes I’ll have you escorted to your hotel.”
“But George…this is ridiculous…I don’t understand…”
“Not another word. I’ve made up my mind. This conversation is over.”
Given the magnitude of the development and the need for utmost delicacy in its handling, Steinbrenner turned to the man he trusted most – Howard J. Rubenstein – to announce the firing. During his hastily arranged press conference, it remained unclear whether Rubenstein still worked for George Steinbrenner and the Yankees or not.
”Is this the end, the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?” mused Rubenstein. “That I don’t know for sure. But suffice it to say that at roughly 4PM today, it appeared my long term relationship with George Steinbrenner and the Yankees had run its course. A half hour later we sort of entered a grey area, and as far as I can tell, that’s where we remain. I suppose it’s a matter of how you look at it: if the boss says you’re fired and tells you to vacate the premises within 30 minutes, it’s safe to say you are no longer employed by that person or that organization. But three hours later, here I am, in an official capacity addressing my firing. I wish I had a straight answer…actually, come to think of it, maybe not. At this stage of my professional life you don’t want to get into any bad habits.”
Rubenstein, who has done yeoman’s work trying to explain away the Boss' conspicuous mental decline – the pr equivalent of readying a cadaver for an open casket – was and perhaps still is an indispensable member of Steinbrenner’s inner council, which made many in the press confused as to why he’d be left dangling in a state of uncertainty. But dangle he did – for several hours, as he staged what can only be described as a bizarre, one-man media frenzy, intermittently fielding questions from a dumbstruck press corps, as he continued his yes/no/, on again/off-again, absolutely certain/haven’t a clue brain twister of a news conference.
According to a source who reported seeing Steinbrenner watching the spectacle from a monitor in his office, the Yankee boss looked “ecstatic.”
“These days George has but two expressions: rage and a look of mild surprise. But for the first time in as long as I can remember he was just beside himself with a strange combination of wonderment and awe – what you feel when you’ve just discovered something miraculous. Or stumbled into a wormhole and entered an entirely new dimension. Imagine how it must have felt sitting in George’s hospital slippers, watching Rubenstein trying to puzzle his way out of an unsolvable conundrum, where he’s simultaneously hired and fired, all without George having to lift a finger. I’m just happy that George can still appreciate moments like this. Geez, the whole thing was right out of Lewis Carroll – makes you wish we had a guy like that to handle Boras.”
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