Ed. Note: When Mariano Rivera set the all-time MLB saves record in September, Sad City broke format to bring this almost certainly fictional interview with former manager Joe Torre. With Mariano's season ending injury Thursday, we revisit the tale.
After his tell all autobiography the Yankee Years, it seemed Joe Torre had aired all of his baseball grievances. Not so. In a recent interview with Sad City, Torre gave his shocking reason for managing so many years, “I hate relief pitchers. I hate them with a burning passion. My main goal in managing was to burn out as many relief pitchers as possible. Each career ending injury was more enjoyable than a World Series victory.” Torre told a shocked Sad City staff.
Pressed for details the former catcher elaborated “It all started when I was catching for Atlanta in 1967” Torre said. “That year we had Phil Niekro on the staff. “Niekro threw a knuckleball, which is a nightmare to catch.” Between bites of his chicken parmesan Torre described catching the knuckleball “Imagine putting a little stone in a wiffle ball. Then imagine the wiffle ball is hard and going 60 miles per hour. It’s anyones guess as to where that thing is going to go.”
While we could see how catching a knuckleball could be frustrating, we still didn’t see how this lead to Torre’s deep-seated hatred for relief pitchers. After all, Niekro was a starting pitcher who won over 300 games in his Hall of Fame career. “It wasn’t bad enough that I had to catch Niekro when he started games” Torre explained, “but that year we used Niekro as a relief pitcher, not only did he start 20 games but he came in relief even more often! You’d think you would have a night off from that damn knuckler and then in he comes.”
In today’s modern game with specialized roles and designated one inning closers on every team it’s hard to imagine such a situation, but it did happen. In 1967 Niekro started 20 games for the Braves, came in as a reliever 26 times and lead the team with 9 saves. “It was a relief appearance of Niekro’s; the knuckler was all over the place, I jammed my fingers, bruised my shins, I said to myself that day, if I could do anything to rid the world of relief pitchers I would.”
Torre’s last year as a player was 1977. That year he also became player manager of the Mets. Since he started managing the role of the relief pitcher has changed drastically, from that of a multiple innings workhorse like Goose Goosage or Kent Tekulve into today’s one inning or even one batter specialists. That change has only increased Torre’s hatred of relief pitchers.
“If you only are going to pitch one inning or to just one batter, you better believe I am going to expect you to do it every day!” Torre fumed “I used to catch 130-140 games a year. All nine innings! Fastballs, curveballs, knuckleballs, no one worried about the catcher!”
While no one can question Torre’s managerial credentials in wins, no one can also question his ability to burn through relief pitchers. Torre really started ratcheting up the abuse of his relief pitchers while managing the St. Louis Cardinals in the early 1990’s when multiple relief pitchers would see over 70 appearances per season, but it was his stint with the Yankees where he really honed his arm destroying capabilities.
“John Wetteland, pushed him right into retirement.” Torre crowed. “Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson, they were two tough nuts, but eventually I cracked them.” “Ramiro Mendoza I had to use a different tactic with. With Ramiro it wasn’t about the amount of games as much as it was leaving him out there for a few innings.” “I got him him though too, remember when he signed with Boston?” “I didn’t think so.”
Once those pitchers burnt out in the early 2000’s, Torre was onto his next batch of unwitting relief pitching victims. Steve Karsay and Paul Quantrill were blown out after only one year. Tom Gordon was trotted out for 80 plus games two years straight before his arm succumbed. Perhaps his most spectacular flameout came after Torre moved onto Los Angeles.
With the Dodgers, Torre had the large, young flamethrower Johnathan Broxton. Broxton was been one of the best relievers in baseball for two straight seasons and looked to have a bright future ahead of him. Torre took care of that one weekend when he brought in an already overworked Broxton and let him throw 46 pitches. Broxton has never been the same since and missed most of 2011 with arm troubles. “One of my greatest pieces of work.” Torre marveled.
The one that still bothers Torre is the indestructibility of Mariano Rivera. “It’s not possible, he must be a cyborg!” Torre concluded. “I did everything in my power, multiple innings, back to back games, everything, this guy never even falters!”
The great Rivera survived over a decade of constant use from Torre. The over 40 Rivera is still going strong today while Torre is retired. “He can’t be human.” Torre groused.
“Look at the wasteland of relief pitchers I left behind.” “Mariano Rivera’s arm is the great white whale of baseball.”