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Early exit sparks speculation on Torre

Early exit sparks speculation on Torre

NEW YORK -- Yankees manager Joe Torre was the clubhouse's focal point as the clock ticked toward midnight ET, telling his players how proud he was and reflecting on the fine future he believes the organization will have.

The only caveat is that Torre may not be around to manage it. With the Yankees' playoff elimination at the hands of the Indians following a 6-4 defeat in Game 4 of the American League Division Series, time may have run out on Torre's 12-year tenure at the helm.

In an interview published on Sunday, principal owner George Steinbrenner warned that if the Yankees were unable to proceed past the ALDS for a third consecutive year, Torre -- baseball's highest paid manager, earning $7 million this season -- was not likely to be brought back in 2008.

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A Game 3 victory, sparked by a key Johnny Damon home run, bought Torre the precious opportunity to at least fill out one more lineup card for the Yankees. But after reaching the postseason in every year with New York, winning four World Series titles and six AL pennants, the 67-year-old Torre's run in pinstripes may be complete.

"I'm not going there," Torre said. "This has been a great 12 years. Whatever happens from here on out, I'll look back on these 12 years with great, great pleasure, based on the fact that I'm a kid who had never been to the World Series, other than watching my brother [Frank] play in the '50s, and paying for tickets otherwise.

"To have been in six World Series and going to the postseason, I can tell you one thing -- it never gets old. It never gets old. It's exciting. The 12 years just felt like they were 10 minutes long, to be honest with you."

Steinbrenner's comments, published in The Record of Hackensack, N.J., are the only indications to date that a move may be imminent, though organizational meetings are expected to begin shortly to plot a course toward 2008. Certainly, Torre's status is a major stumbling block -- perhaps the first order of business.

"I don't know why they would do that," said Yankees closer Mariano Rivera of a potential decision to proceed without Torre. "Again, they have all the power to do that. But I don't know why they would."

Torre's contract expires at the end of this month, a calendar page that he had planned to mark by making pitching changes and trying to maneuver the Yankees to a 27th World Series title. Instead, he said, he would simply spend some time at his home in New York's Westchester County.

"You know, enjoy the things I don't get a chance to once this grind starts," Torre said. "It's usually decompress time."

General manager Brian Cashman said that, without the face-to-face meetings among club brass, there was little light he could shed on Torre's employment status or his future with the organization.

"We have not started on '08," Cashman said. "I can't say it any plainer than that. Unfortunately, all these discussions are going to have to start rather soon -- sooner than we'd hoped. But I don't have an answer for any of it at this point."

But Cashman -- who recently reflected on his relationship with Torre and the bond they have shared, even conversing via telephone after every West Coast game -- said that Torre has fulfilled his duties as manager in honorable fashion.

"I think Joe has been very consistent, year after year," Cashman said. "I think he's done a fantastic job. He always has. I do have a hard time differentiating one year from the other because I think he has been consistent every step of the way. He gives you everything he's got; he never gives in, never gives up. Obviously, the results are on the resume."

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If a decision were to be based solely upon the 162-game regular-season slate, it would be difficult to imagine Torre not receiving a passing grade. Hampered by severe injury problems and underperforming players, Torre's Yankees hit their low point on May 29, a 21-29 hole that put them 14 1/2 games behind the division-leading Red Sox.

They rallied back and became the best club in the Major Leagues from that point on, eventually securing the AL Wild Card. The performance earned rave reviews from some corners.

"Joe Torre is the best manager in baseball," catcher Jorge Posada said. "It's not his fault. He put the same lineup from April until now. It's the same lineup, the same guys. He doesn't throw or hit or do anything on the field. He does everything possible to keep us positive, and he gets us to win."

Derek Jeter's 12 Major League seasons have mirrored those of Torre, the only manager the team captain has played for throughout his career. Jeter said that guiding the Yankees through that treacherous run should cement Torre's place as "the best."

"Every season, you ask him if it's his best year, and this was by far probably his best year," Jeter said. "It's kind of difficult to say because of all the success he's had, but it goes without saying."

Should the Yankees decide not to have Torre back, bench coach Don Mattingly has been rumored as a possible candidate, as well as YES Network broadcaster Joe Girardi, the 2006 National League Manager of the Year.

Mattingly has made little secret of his aspirations to manage in the Major Leagues one day, but throughout his first season as Torre's bench coach, the former All-Star was cautious to point out that it has never been his intention to swoop in and take Torre's job.

Rather, Mattingly said, he has simply been appreciative of the opportunity to soak up some of Torre's dugout finesse.

"I learned everything from Joe -- the way he handles himself, the way he handles his players," Mattingly said. "Just tons of baseball. It just comes easy to him. He sees everything that happens on the field, can tell when a guy's dragging his head or not in the right spot. I learn on a daily basis from Joe."

If the Yankees do not want Torre for 2008, perhaps another club will. Torre -- who has also piloted the Braves, Mets and Cardinals -- smiled when asked about the idea, joking that he had no desire to manage another club for at least the next three days.

"Let's see what happens in the next few days," Torre said. "Whatever comes next, you know, if I have some options, I'll look at it. I'm certainly not ready to move somewhere and not do anything, I can tell you that."

Yankees players have been careful not to criticize Steinbrenner, each indicating that the Boss writes the paychecks and should be permitted to speak his mind freely about the club.

But in the wake of Monday's loss to the Indians, inking another disappointing conclusion to a postseason series, several Yankees indicated that they would want to try their luck again with Torre behind the manager's desk.

"I'm biased," left-hander Andy Pettitte said. "I've been here and been in the playoffs every year. You understand what [Steinbrenner] expects from the players. He gives us the salaries we get, and we're not expected to go out in the first round. Maybe some other cities might be fine with that. In New York, you realize that's the way life is."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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