Joe Torre recounts the story of how the Yankees wanted him as GM and Tony La Russa as manager back in October 1995. Imagine how the MLB landscape might have changed.
It was a much different time for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1995. The club was in the midst of its eighth consecutive year of missing the playoffs, comparable to the current futility string held by the Seattle Mariners.
Beloved leader Whitey Herzog was long gone, owner Gussie Busch had died in 1989 and disinterested Anheuser-Busch executives were not providing necessary leadership or financial support. Their field manager since 1990, Joe Torre, was a link back to better times in the early 1970’s. Unfortunately, the former Most Valuable Player had retired from active duty 15 years before and the team on the field wasn’t good enough to contend.
47 games into the 1995 campaign, new general manager Walt Jocketty sacked Torre after Joe had posted a 351-354 record at the helm of St. Louis. At that point, having been fired from his third major league managerial job (New York Mets and Atlanta Braves), Torre had never led a team into the World Series nor did he appear in one during his 18 years as a player.
Just a week after Anheuser-Busch made their surprise announcement of their intention to sell the Cardinals on October 25, 1995, Torre was named the manager of the New York Yankees.
Ten days prior, then 51-year-old Tony La Russa had been introduced by Jocketty as the new skipper of the Cardinals.
In a charity appearance in Los Angeles this past weekend, Torre provided insight into the interlocking wheels that were spinning at the time. He was he was the Yankees’ choice as general manager, a job he turned down, but was the fourth priority on the candidate list to become the team’s manager, after La Russa, Davey Johnson and Sparky Anderson.
“Davey Johnson had already committed to Baltimore,” Torre told MLB.com. “Tony La Russa took over for me in St. Louis, where I was fired, and Sparky didn’t want to come east. And there I was, the great choice.”
Despite the roads taken having been excellent for both men, I can’t help but wonder what might have been with Torre as the GM and La Russa the field manager of the Bronx Bombers – not to mention how the fate of the St. Louis Cardinals would have been altered.
Of course, Torre did pretty well on his own, having one of the most successful managerial runs in MLB history while with New York. He led the Yankees to World Championships in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and to American League pennants in 2001 and 2003. Despite three first-place finishes, four consecutive non-title seasons followed, which led to Torre’s departure for Los Angeles. As Cardinals fans are painfully aware, Torre’s Dodgers dispatched the Cardinals in three straight in the 2009 National League Division Series.
La Russa didn’t fare too shabbily either. His 14-plus years of continuous managerial service with St. Louis is a club record, as is his 1,232 wins in the uniform. La Russa’s Cardinals teams have posted winning records in 11 of those 14 seasons, won eight division titles, two National League Pennants and the organization’s tenth World Championship in 2006.
While we will see both men inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame one day, it is still natural to wonder, “What if?”
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