Torre actions speak louder than words

The Cincinnati Enquirer

ATLANTA - Joe Torre talked a lot about loyalty, but he is paid for his logic.

For all the lip service he paid to Tino Martinez Monday night, the Yankees manager benched his slumping first baseman for Tuesday's third game of the World Series.

He was planning to do so even as he insisted otherwise.

''Last night, I must admit, I lied to you,'' Torre told reporters before Tuesday's game. ''Please forgive me. I didn't talk about this last night because it wasn't the time to talk about it. I didn't want anyone to talk to Tino before I did. I wanted to be the first one to tell him he wasn't going to play.''

Baseball managers typically place a higher premium on tact than they do on truth. They are not pathological liars - not all of them anyway - but they periodically find candor inconvenient.

During the 1990 National League Championship Series, Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland went so far as to have Zane Smith pretend he was pitching the next day so he might spring Ted Power on the Reds as a surprise starter.

Strategic moves

With a whole season at stake, a man does what he has to do.

Joe Torre was moved to bench two former batting champions and his leading run-producer Tuesday night. To the untrained eye, it might have seemed desperation. To Torre, it was mainly a matter of matchups.

Wade Boggs, Paul O'Neill and Martinez are all left-handed hitters. Tom Glavine, the Braves starting pitcher, is also left-handed.

Torre thought the percentages were more promising with Charlie Hayes at third base, Darryl Strawberry in right field, and Cecil Fielder at first base, and he had no choice but to make someone unhappy.

Without the luxury of a designated hitter in the series games played in the National League park, some big-name hitter was going to have to sit. Boggs and O'Neill have grown accustomed to being platooned lately, but Martinez missed only seven games during the regular season.

Torre wanted to handle him tenderly.

''He's been struggling and I think the biggest reason is the fact that he's had a tough postseason driving in runs,'' Torre said. ''I think he's put a lot of pressure on himself and Cecil's been swinging the bat really well. I still feel very loyal, but you're at a point now where you talk to Tino and he understands.''

For the greater good

Even before the Braves lay siege to their spirit in New York, the Yankees were known as a team without ego. True to form, there were no tantrums when Torre posted the lineup card Tuesday.

''I want to play, but I understand it,'' Martinez said. ''I'm disappointed, but I understand. I'm not upset. Whatever it takes for this team to win. Whatever Joe decides, I'm all behind it.''

''I think he had a lot of decisions to make today,'' O'Neill said. ''That's his job . . . Darryl (Strawberry) sat out last night and felt a lot better today, so he's going to give him a shot at playing. He can change the game with his bat. Right now we've got some guys struggling to do that.''

The Yankees compiled a .175 team batting average in their two losses in New York, and arrived in Atlanta with no player in a position to affect outrage.

''I think it's better that we got out of that ballpark,'' O'Neill said. ''Sometimes you get in a rut and those guys (the Braves) for some reason came in there just smoking.

''I'm sure it was a shock to everybody to come in Game 1 and get beat up like we did. And then Game 2, even though we were down a couple runs most of the game, the way (Greg) Maddux was throwing it felt like it was 11-0.''

When a team gets beat as badly as the Yankees have been, it has to stay open to suggestion.

''Sometimes these things work out, sometimes they don't,'' O'Neill said. ''We're here as 25 people trying to win four games.''

For a team to succeed, its players must recognize their ultimate loyalty is to each other.

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Oct. 23, 1996.