By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2008
VERO BEACH, Fla., Feb. 13 -- In Washington, Roger Clemens was somewhere between his 112th and 113th denial of steroids use when, 900 miles away, his former manager took a seat under a framed Jackie Robinson jersey, in a faded flower of a village nicknamed Dodgertown, and mustered a smile. This is the first week of spring training, the first chapter of Joe Torre's next baseball life, and while there will be a time to celebrate and explore one of the sport's best stories -- the union of Torre and the Los Angeles Dodgers -- that day was not Wednesday.
It was under Torre's watch, during the glory years of the New York Yankees, that Clemens and Andy Pettitte became fast friends and training partners under an assistant strength and conditioning coach named Brian McNamee, and it was during this period that a sequence of events -- many of them disputed -- began that led to Wednesday's hearing on Capitol Hill into Clemens's alleged use of steroids and human growth hormone.
"It's just sad. What can I say?" Torre said Wednesday. For the first half hour of an hour-long news conference, he was asked about nothing else except Clemens, Pettitte, McNamee and what went on between them while with the Yankees. "It's tough to watch, and I'm just sorry it has to happen. But to move on, we have to go through this."
Torre, 67, joined the Dodgers in November after walking away from the Yankees, who had made only a feeble effort to retain him following a season that ended in the first round of the playoffs. Wednesday morning, on his first full day at the Dodgers' spring training headquarters, Torre kept an eye on the television, where Clemens and McNamee were facing questioning from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, while preparing for his first staff meeting later in the day.
"And then the electricity went out," Torre said, as rain pelted the window to his right, "and that was the end of that."
It will never be easy for Torre to escape his Yankees legacy -- not that he is eager to do so, since it includes 12 playoff appearances in 12 seasons and four World Series titles -- but it was impossible on Wednesday, with the questions flying about whether Torre knew what was going on in his own Yankees clubhouse, and whether the Yankees' championships (and by extension, Torre's own legacy) were tainted by drug use.
To the first question, Torre replied, "I never saw anything that sort of raised a red flag to me." And to the question about his legacy, he said: "That's for someone else to decide. As far as I'm concerned, that's a chapter in my life I'm very proud of."
Torre's loyalties in the Clemens-McNamee dispute clearly lie with the pitcher who won 83 games, two World Series rings and a Cy Young Award during his six years with the Yankees. Since McNamee, despite holding the title of Yankees assistant strength coach until being fired in 2001, worked almost exclusively with Clemens, and later Pettitte, Torre's dealings with him were few.
Asked what he would say to Clemens if he spoke to him, Torre said: "I'd just want to know he's all right. There's a certain trust I always give to players."
As an example, Torre cited a story -- the same story, as it turns out, that Clemens used during an interview with Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes" last month to demonstrate his dedication to his job. It was prior to the Yankees' decisive Game 5 of the 2001 American League Division Series against the Oakland Athletics. Torre knew Clemens, who was scheduled to start, was hurting, and he wanted assurances that Clemens could pitch.
"He assured me," Torre said, "that he'd get the job done."
And what if it becomes clear Clemens was able to take the mound that night -- and pitch 4 1/3 innings in what became a clinching victory for the Yankees -- because he had used substances that allowed him to pitch through nagging injuries? In fact, seven members of Torre's 2001 Yankees team were named in the Mitchell Report as having used steroids and/or HGH.
"Is this stuff a revelation? Sure," Torre said. "But I chalk it up to guys who have the resolve to make sure they're out there for their teammates. Am I naive? I guess. But I didn't see anything [personally] that really caught my attention."
Despite the gravity of the day's dominant story, Torre appeared relaxed and content in a Dodger-blue polo shirt and jeans. As much as he enjoyed the resources, the talent and the glamour associated with the Yankees, he was beaten down by the win-at-all-costs culture, in which anything less than a World Series title was unacceptable.
Ultimately, it was that culture that made him walk away. At the end of the 2007 season, the Yankees offered him a one-year contract for 2008 with a pay cut and bonuses tied to winning postseason series, Torre called it an "insult," saying he didn't need additional motivation to try to win.
"If I felt they really wanted me," Torre said, "I would have been there."
He acknowledged having considered retiring to a broadcasting job, or maybe hitting the lecture circuit, and said the Dodgers were the only team that called him about a managing job. Even then, he considered turning it down.
"I don't think I have anything to prove," he said. "I just wasn't ready to say, 'I don't want to do this anymore.' "
When the news conference ended, Torre still had another hour to kill until his staff meeting began. The electricity was back on, and the hearing on Capitol Hill was still going strong, with everyone in baseball still looking back before they could look forward.