08/10/2004 8:57 PM ET
Tamer Torre deals with Boss
Manager counsels new players in coping with criticism
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- For Joe Torre, it's a whole new ballgame.
The Yankees' manager responded to criticism by owner George Steinbrenner on Tuesday, but Torre didn't come back with harsh words. Instead, this kinder, gentler Torre said he understood why the Boss was upset with Kenny Lofton's play in right field on Monday -- though he didn't say that Steinbrenner's words would prevent him from using Lofton out there again.
Lofton made his first career start in right field on Monday, committing an error that led to a Toronto run. Steinbrenner told some reporters following the 5-4 loss that he was concerned about his team's defense, particularly the sight of Lofton in right field.
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"I don't want to see Lofton in right field," Steinbrenner told reporters, creating back-page headlines in the New York tabloids. "The error wouldn't have been made out there if [Gary] Sheffield had been out there."
Steinbrenner was also upset about a home run hit by Toronto's Gabe Gross, a shot that skimmed the top of the right-field wall about 20 feet from the foul pole. According to Steinbrenner, Sheffield would have had a better chance at making the play.
"I think he might have caught that home run," the Boss said. "That home run barely got [out]. Sheffield goes right up after it."
Torre, who started Lofton in right field to give Sheffield and his injured right shoulder a rest from the field, said that last season, Steinbrenner's words may have caused him some stress. Now, having patched things up with the owner during the spring, and having signed a three-year extension worth $19.2 million, Torre is letting the words roll right off his back.
"It probably would have [bothered me] last year," Torre said before Tuesday's game in Texas. "George wants to win; I understand that. I'm going to do the best I can, and I have reasons for everything I do. I feel bad for Kenny, because he was taking one for the team."
Lofton, who was signed this winter at the urging of Steinbrenner, didn't seem bothered by Steinbrenner's comments.
"Joe puts the best team on the field, and whatever happens, happens. He can't control everything that happens in the game," Lofton said. "Whatever he has to do, he's going to do. If we win yesterday, there are probably no words being said.
"If anybody says anything, I can't do anything about it. I just listen to it and keep on going," Lofton added. "I don't worry about it. I just play baseball. ... I guess I'm a Yankee now."
"We talked in Spring Training that this is the owner, that the Boss is going to be the Boss," Torre said of an earlier conversation with Lofton. "It goes away. The Boss doesn't go away, but it goes away. He seems fine."
Torre and Steinbrenner went through some difficult times last season, beginning in April, when Steinbrenner overruled Torre's decision to send Jose Contreras to Triple-A, instead ordering him to Tampa to work with Billy Connors. That prompted Torre to say over the winter that he would not seek a contract extension, though he eventually changed his mind during Spring Training.
"Last year, I thought maybe the eight years was enough," Torre said. "I thought maybe we were tired of each other, that I'd work my contract out and that would be the end of it. This spring, I changed my whole perspective with the contract. Yesterday, we were all disappointed we lost. That didn't bother me."
Steinbrenner has remained in the background for much of this season, as the Yankees started slowly before opening a huge lead over the Red Sox in the AL East. Despite the 10 1/2-game cushion, Torre hardly seemed surprised by the Boss' displeasure with Monday's loss.
"George is George," Torre said. "He wants to win and he takes nothing for granted. He wants everything to be perfect. We all do."
Lofton was back in center field on Tuesday night, but Torre said that he wouldn't hesitate to use him in right field again during the regular season. That said, the manager added that come October, Sheffield will be in right field for every game.
"There are so many things you do day to day as a manager, you can't get on the phone and explain everything you do," Torre said. "As I said early on, the fact that he's George, he's going to say things."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.