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October 22, 1999

Joe Torre


Q. How does appearing in three World Series in four years compare with being alive and healthy?

JOE TORRE: Let me tell you something. In spring training when the cancer got me, baseball was the furthest thing from my mind, there's no question. When I came back in May, it was still a tenuous thing at best, not knowing how important it was going to be. However, you get into post-season play, you're back trying to sell your soul again, and you want to win a ball game and that's the only thing that's important. But for sure, it changes your perspective. I was able to let go of some tough games quicker realizing that it is a game and there are more important things than baseball. When you get to this time of year, this is pretty special.

Q. Could you speak a little bit about Bobby Cox, your relationship with him, how long you've known him. Are there any similarities, also, between you and he?

JOE TORRE: Well, Bobby, obviously, you know, so much is made -- and you look at Elway and you look at Jim Kelly, he keeps getting criticized for winning every year just because he only won one World Series. That's not the easiest thing in the world to win a World Series, because of those three out of five, four out of seven. Bobby, I remember when he was managing up in Toronto left here and I replaced him in Atlanta as the manager, then he came back as the general manager, I'd like to believe Bobby and I are close. We've managed against each other many, many times. You keep trying to improve yourself all the time, I mean I thought he did an outstanding job. I think he does an outstanding job every year. It's not easy with the same cast of characters to keep going back every year and still have it be important to those players. This year, losing Galarraga was big and of course Ligtenberg and Javy Lopez, those are main people, and trying to win a division, especially a tough division. You look who the final four teams were, it was the division winner and the wild card from the east. So it was a very tough division that he had to win in. I'm just -- I mean I'm pleased that he's back into the World Series. Of course I'm pleased for myself first, but it's going to be a battle. I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun. During the course of the game, it's, you know, it's war. But I think looking at the participants, it's the teams that I'd like to believe should be here.

Q. Are you alike in any way, he and you?

JOE TORRE: I don't know. I think we both want to win. As far as strategy, I think managers manage according to their personnel. That's the only way you can do it. We, I think, probably were the same in trying to be unpredictable. That's best pretty much what it comes down to. It's sort of like a catcher catching back then, you never want to follow a change up with a fastball or a knock-down pitch with a change up. You never want to get into any kind of a pattern where they can figure you out, hitting and running on certain pitches and stuff like that.

Q. One of the hallmarks of your team has been the patience at the plate. Is that negated at all by the consistency of their starting pitchers?

JOE TORRE: That's a good question. It's definitely going to come into play. What we have done and how successful we've been is to get the best at every at-bat and make someone throw a strike. What does help our side is the fact that we don't sit back and look for a pitch to hit out of the ballpark every time. As long as you have to throw it over that 17-inch or 19-inch or I don't know how wide the plate is from day-to-day, but the fact that we think more in terms of line drives than home runs, I don't want to say makes it easier to hit against them, but you don't have to get that prime pitch all the time, which you don't get from their pitching staff; there's no question.

Q. Is too much being made by us about this "Team of the Decade" thing?

JOE TORRE: I don't know if too much is being made. I think it's something you look back on and are very proud of, there's no question. Because I mean I look at -- when I was talking about Team of the Decade, I was saying the Braves, Braves, Braves, they're there every single year -- go to post-season play. To me, that's emblematic of a very successful franchise. The Team of the Decade, coming in here knowing if we win the World Series, the Team of the Decade is going to make us work harder at it. It's not that it's not important or that you're making too much of it, it's just that we know what we have to do to maybe be in the running for that. But we still have to think about winning the World Series and then let other people decide on who's the Team of the Decade.

Q. Aside from the Team of the Decade issue, almost every year of the '90s, one of the teams has been here for the first time or got here unexpectedly. In other words, they were just happy to be here. Does the fact that these two teams have been in the last few years increase the intensity level of the urgency of wanting to win?

JOE TORRE: There's no question. I'm sure both clubs go to spring training and you'd like to get to post-season play, but your goal is getting to the World Series. When you get to the World Series, it's fun because you realize that this is the only game left. And we're going to play until the last guy stands. But there's no question that we've beat clubs, like I'll give you an example, in 1996, we beat Texas and we were very lucky to do that. We lost the first game, we were losing the second game, and we beat them and then we beat them the third game and just going around town, it was like the first year they won the division and they were very -- the city seemed content with the fact that they've had a good year. And that -- you sort of sense that in certain areas. But you're right, with the Braves and the Yankees, I mean let's admit it. You work for George Steinbrenner, just getting to post-season play is not enough, which is fine. He's promised the people of New York a lot more than that. And fortunately, we've been able to deliver for three out of the last four years anyway.

Q. We all know about El Duque's personal history and what makes him so fearless because of it. But from a pitching standpoint, can you explain why he's so effective?

JOE TORRE: The whole thing about it is the fact that he changes speeds. That's what makes him so effective. You may see a fastball, and then there will be another fastball but maybe a few miles an hour quicker or slower. He uses both sides of the plate; he's able to throw the breaking ball from a number of different release points. He reminds me -- I mean he doesn't look like him or even the delivery -- but because he can throw so many pitches, so many different locations, Marichal. Juan Marichal, threw a fastball, screwball, curveball, slider, and he can do everything side arm, too. And that's basically what El Duque's all about. He's pitching with a lot of confidence right now, and when he uses both sides of the plate and, of course like every other pitcher, has to get ahead in the count. He's struggled the first few innings just trying to establish a strike zone and then basically trying to get used to the mound because it's usually different than the bullpen he warms up in.

Q. Can you talk about what Luis Sojo's status is for the series?

JOE TORRE: Yes. This is very difficult. Game -- I think it was Game 1 of the Championship Series, Luis came down, one of our trainers came down and said that Luis's dad was rushed to the hospital. He was in New Jersey at the time. And, you know, Luis left the ballpark, and he had an emergency surgery. Everything seemed to be going well. In fact, every day he got a little better, little better, little better. Yesterday, I understand they were basically just changing rooms in the hospital and he passed away. So we don't know what the status is; we don't have to hand in our roster until tomorrow at game time, and we're liable to wait as long as we can, only because it's Luis. He's going to go back with his mom with his dad, back home. He's going to the Consulate today to get the paperwork done. We're not sure when he is going to be able to leave with the body. And what, you know, when his plans are to come back. I think a lot of it depends on his mom. We're sort of up in the air on this thing. We'll wait as long as we can and pretty much wait until Luis lets us know if he'll be available and when that will be.

Q. How many times do you estimate that you guys could have traded Mendoza and did not and where do you think -- what do you think his role is going to be in the next three or four years with you guys?

JOE TORRE: He can pretty much do anything we ask him to do. He could start. One thing he does, he speeds up the game. Even the games he started, they were pretty quick. Plus, what he has proven here in the last week or so, coming out of that bullpen and shutting down the opposition in a very -- I mean we brought him in with no room to breathe. And he basically did the job we asked, and probably a little bit more. As far as his future, I think right now he realizes that he's of great value to us in the bullpen, he knows we call on him every once and again to start, and depending on what our starting staff looks like next year, you know, he's liable to be a candidate for that. But I really am reluctant to give him up in his role right now. We could have traded him any time. Every time we talk about a deal, we're interested in the player from somebody else's team, Mendoza is the first name that is mentioned. We always say no at first and then listen some more and see how sweet it's going to get. But when it comes down to it, we really haven't found a good reason to let him go.

Q. When you were with the Cardinals, did you foresee Brian Jordan being this type of impact player and do you remember the day you told him he was going to the Minor Leagues?

JOE TORRE: I told him that a couple of times unfortunately and he always told me he was going to go back and play football. At this point, I wish he had. But you now, Dal Maxvill, general manager, and I talked about it. We felt, because we initially signed him to keep him from playing football. I felt he was going to be a good player. I thought he'd hit .280, 20 home runs at the time. He's not that extend-arm home-run-type hitter. He's strong, fights the ball off a lot. A lot tougher to pitch to in situations. That's the one thing I noticed. Good hitters, to me, are not afraid to get jammed. He gets jammed a lot. So did Hank Aaron. To me, that was a good sign. And he didn't try to pull the ball; he used the whole field. He's a tough out. Plus, factor in the fact that you challenge him and he loves that. So he's proven that over the last -- this year, after Galarraga goes down, he became very important for this ballclub.

Q. Bobby Cox said that Derek Jeter's a player who catches his eye from the moment he goes out to warm up before the game. Is there anyone on the Braves who has that effect on you?

JOE TORRE: Well, Derek Jeter's a special kid. Chipper Jones, I told Derek a couple weeks ago when we started this post-season, I said, "Took me 35 years to get to postseason, you and Chipper Jones think it happens every year." And it has happened every year for them. But Chipper's got to get your attention. That kid in centerfield's pretty special. Andruw Jones, seeing him after the All-Star break when we played the Braves and seeing him a couple years ago, what a big difference it was. I know he hit two home runs against us in Game 1 in '96. But as a complete player, he's playing with so much more confidence, and it's a shame how easy it appears to be when he does it. Derek Jeter is a special kid also. I go out to the mound to change a pitcher, especially at the eighth inning the other day in Boston, which I felt myself squeaking going out there, and you look in his eyes and he's ready to fight, you know, the next anything. He's just very special.

Q. Questions on two guys. Where did you want Leyritz on the World Series roster? Also, Tino, he's had tough Octobers in the past. Why do you think that is and how do you think he's swinging this post-season?

JOE TORRE: Tino hit a grand slam last year in the first game of the World Series, I think we're over that. Over that problem. As far as Leyritz, Jimmy keeps telling you what a good player he is in post-season play, you giggle at first until you see the home runs and all things he does in the key situations. He would have been eligible for the Championship Series if it wasn't for O'Neill's cracked rib. I needed reassurance in case Paul took a swing one day, went down and we couldn't use him again. After O'Neill went through that series, sure, he may reinjure himself in a collision or diving for a ball, but I'm convinced the swing is not going to do it. That's why Jimmy's back on. He comes off that bench and he's a threat, especially when the Braves throw three left-handers at you.

Q. Bobby Cox said one of the reasons for your success in New York was you've been able to peacefully coexist with George Steinbrenner. He said he knew from personal experience that wasn't always easy to do. How have you done that? How has that relationship evolved over the years you've been there?

JOE TORRE: This was a bonus for me. I had no connection to New York Yankees. I knew George. I managed the Mets and we would come together at social functions during the off season and stuff, but going into New York, the only thing I was forewarned, what are you going to do when George calls or what are you going to do when he starts calling the dugout, things like that. I said I don't know what I'm going to do. When he does that, then we'll figure it out. We have created a mutual respect for each other. I think it's taken George a little time to get to know me and where he trusts me. Basically, you know, George is very demanding. And I'm demanding also of myself. So maybe we're both thinking along the same lines. Maybe George is a little older, I don't know, maybe he's mellowed somewhat. I have nothing to compare it to because I never worked for him before. Winning the '96 World Series, I'm sure, went a long way toward that relationship, but he is -- he's been very supportive. I'll tell you, during my tough time this spring, I showed up at hospitals for different scans and different stuff, and George Steinbrenner was there all the time. So we have this closeness right now, and I enjoy it; he does. And to make it even better, we've been successful doing it.

Q. Two-part question. First of all, how long do you see yourself willing to wait for Sojo? And, two, are you hesitant at all to use Spencer in light of his comments yesterday?

JOE TORRE: Don't tell me about his comments because I don't know about his comments yesterday. I never want a player to be pleased about not playing. Again, I have no idea what the comments were. Even if I did know what the comments were, it wouldn't affect what I think this club needs to do. But I don't know what that answer is on Luis. I think if he gives us, say, I can't be there Saturday, I can be there Sunday, you know, we will be willing to bite the bullet for a day. If he's talking about Tuesday or Wednesday, it may be a different scenario. I think once we have that, then we have to make a decision.

Q. Can you talk about the strength with some of the setup guys in your bullpen, particularly the experience that Nelson and Stanton bring for you?

JOE TORRE: No question. Nelson, he's a force, right-hander out of that bullpen, can strike people out. Stanton maybe has a little more durability than Nelson, I like to think, in terms of a key at-bat for Nelson where Stanton can come in and probably give us an inning or two and do it again tomorrow. Stanton needs work, to be sharp. And because our starters did such a good job in the last couple of series, they really didn't get a whole lot of work. They had to come out of that bullpen the other night in Boston in 30-degree weather and try to be sharp. That was tough to ask them to do. I'm pleased with the balance we have down there. That second left-hander in Allen Watson, who is pretty much a swing guy, if we got in trouble early, we'd use him, or we could get a man out, the thing about it is they come out of there real well and of course Mendoza speaks for himself.

Q. The fact that you are not playing the Mets in the World Series, does that make it easier to prepare for this World Series?

JOE TORRE: I think it's easier. I think you'll understand what I'm talking about. The tough part is the game. If we were doing this in New York -- not that it wouldn't be a great experience, don't get me wrong -- after it was over with, you'd look back and say, "wow, what an experience that was." But it would have been like a game before the game, a game after the game. It just would have been nonstop, and the fans -- the people of New York would have loved it because you basically choose up sides and go at it. But coming down here, it does put a little more focus on the game as opposed to the bragging rights and stuff like that.

Q. From Darryl's problems last year then through spring training and your sickness, this team's had so many adversities and the Sojo thing is just another example. Can you talk about how the team has bonded together? Is this as strong a unit as you've ever been in terms of camaraderie?

JOE TORRE: I think what we do, we accept whatever it is and we deal with it. There are things you can't do anything about. Why shouldn't bad things happen to us? They happen to the general population, and we're part of that. You know, I don't think we're exempt from any kind of diseases or sad stories. But our ballclub pretty much, I think it started in '96, when we found out David Cone had an aneurism. We sit around and say: Boy, if we had him -- we had too much of the season left to do that. I think we sort of got -- I don't want to say used to it -- but we sort of got going at that point in time in realizing that we have to play baseball and we'll do the best we can.

Q. If Sojo is not available, would that change your late-inning thinking on Knoblauch, and would you mind, once again, your view of where Knoblauch is with his problem?

JOE TORRE: Chuck and I talked again today. I was asked about did you see the Fox, you know, replay on looking at the ball out of his hand. I hadn't seen it. A number of people had mentioned it to me, Dal Maxvill, for one, actually, I was talking to him the other day on the phone. We talked about that. And, you know, he probably wasn't realizing he was doing it because he knows it's not the right thing to do. The initial conversation we had, because you sit there and you say if, you know, he's struggling with the routine play, he has plenty of time to throw the ball and he makes an error on the throw, so I wanted to talk and get a feel for it. And we had a conversation in Boston about the throwing aspect of it. I think, even though he doesn't buy into it, I think there's a little something going on in the shoulder, not that he can't play, but I think it's not as comfortable as everybody thinks it is. But he, again, he doesn't -- he won't say yes, there is, to me. But when I looked in his eyes and he said, "you're the manager, you do what you want to do, you make that decision," it wasn't as if he said, "well, that's okay, if you want to do that." I got a genuine look from him and feel that I wasn't going to lose the other aspects of his game by doing this. And that was important to me. Because if I felt I was going to lose Chuck Knoblauch as my leadoff hitter and a force in our line-up, I couldn't do this. I'd have to live with the eighth and ninth inning, which we put Sojo in the other day and he never touched the ball. You don't know that. But, yes, without Luis Sojo, it does change things. So he'll, in all likelihood, be out there unless you get to where you have a double-switch situation where you have to do here without the DH.

Q. Do you have a line-up?

JOE TORRE: No, I don't. I don't. I'm just thinking about the left-hand -- the leftfielder, I mean. So I really haven't put one together. I'm going to have everything tomorrow, I figure I'll wait till tomorrow just to try to get everything at one time instead of seeing if Luis's going to be here tomorrow or if he's not going to show.

Q. El Duque seems to have, in a short time, gained a reputation as a big-game pitcher which probably dates back to Game 4 of the LCS in Cleveland. You've been around great post-season pitchers. What is it that lifts the good pitchers to greatness in that situation and do you see that in El Duque?

JOE TORRE: I do see it. You look in the eyes -- Ken Venturi told me that a long time ago, you look in someone's eyes and it tells you a lot of things. It's a challenge. It's the challenge. He's sitting, having lunch last year right before Game 4, with Mr. Klapish, and he was up there doing the waiter service. He's serving food, I said, "Wow. He may lose tonight, but he's not going to be afraid." It's just something inside him. I guess it goes back to where he came from and how tough it was to get over here and have an opportunity to pitch at the Major League level. But once you do it, now you realize it's in that memory bank, and it's in that feel, and then you do it again and now, you know, we expect it every time we send him out there. It's not saying he's going to win tomorrow night, but I know one thing, he's going to drain the -- he's going to empty the tank.

End of FastScripts…

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