In the second part of Jack Curry's interview with Brian Williams, the NBC Nightly News anchor talks about finding outlets for his sense of humor, his most harrowing moment as a journalist and much more.
In the latest episode of JCTV, NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams joins Jack Curry to talk about the anchor's admiration for Walter Cronkite, his passion for television and his life-long love of sports.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA - It's not supposed to unfold like this, not in baseball. A man is not supposed to experience his greatest job triumphs after his 55th birthday. Baseball doesn't work that way. But that's what happened with Joe Torre, who was hired as Yankees manager by George Steinbrenner and watched his career skyrocket into an unfathomable place, into the Hall of Fame.
When Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa were unanimously voted into the Hall by the 16-member Expansion Era committee on Monday, the managers were naturally emotional. Torre said the delirious news, which he knew had a strong possibility of happening, "hits you like a sledgehammer." Torre cut his acceptance speech short because he was worried about crying.
But, eventually, Torre sat at the end of a stage and talked about the incredible baseball journey he has experienced. Before Steinbrenner called Torre, it was a journey that seemed to have ended for Torre. He had an excellent career as a player, a career that he said wasn't worthy of the Hall, and then managed the Mets, the Braves and the Cardinals to an 894-1003 record. In November of 1995, Torre thought his expiration date as a manager had passed. That's when Steinbrenner called and offered the job
"George Steinbrenner changed my life," Torre said.
With Derek Jeter and Torre both assuming full-time roles in 1996, the Yankees won their first World Series in 18 years. Before Torre joined the Yankees, he had managed or played in 4,722 games without making it to the World Series. Once Torre made it to that hallowed place with the Yankees, he helped make it habitual to return there as the Yankees won titles in four of his first five seasons.
While voters were instructed to judge candidates on the totality of their careers, Torre stressed that he wouldn't have been voted into the Hall if he hadn't managed the Yankees. Although Torre is proud of what he accomplished as a player, he catapulted himself into contention for the Hall based on what he did in the dugout. Torre guided the Yankees to 12 straight post-season appearances and finished with a record of 1,173-767. He had a soothing style, always projecting to his players that he believed in them and that the Yankees were only an inning away from another comeback.
"On behalf of the Steinbrenner family and our entire organization, I'd like to congratulate Joe Torre on his induction into the Hall of Fame," said Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees' managing general partner, in a statement. "Joe led our team during one of the most successful runs in our storied history, and he did it with a quiet dignity that was true to the Yankee way. Joe's place in history has been secure for quite some time and it is appropriate that he now gets to take his place among the greats in Cooperstown."
When Torre became the Yankees' manager, I wrote in The New York Times that he was a "respectable, but hardly overwhelming choice." That wasn't as damning as the "Clueless Joe" headline that ran in The New York Daily News, but there was a definite curiosity about why Steinbrenner hired a manager who had failed in three other places. In Torre's first year, he helped proved why Steinbrenner had made the right decision.
Besides Torre, LaRussa and Cox, no candidates, which included Marvin Miller and Steinbrenner, received the 12 votes that were necessary to be elected into the Hall. In fact, none received more than six votes. Torre lamented that Miller, the former head of the player's union, had been snubbed again. It's ludicrous that Miller isn't in the Hall. Eight of the 16 voters are former players. How did Miller not at least get eight votes?
And Torre also spoke about Steinbrenner, the man who had changed his life when Torre was 55. Torre said that his old boss deserves to be in the Hall, too.
Prominent members of the Yankees' organization agree with Torre. Randy Levine, the Yankees' president, congratulated Torre, LaRussa and Cox and said they were superb candidate who deserve to be in the Hall. But Levine added that Steinbrenner should be in there, too.
I think they made a mistake," Levine said. "There's no one that impacted the game more than George Steinbrenner. He deserves to be in the Hall."
Two years ago, Robinson Cano stood on the rooftop of a hotel in Taiwan and described how meaningful it was for him to be a superstar. He wanted to be celebrated for his abilities, he wanted to be recognized for his talents and he wanted to be lionized for being the next great Yankee. He seemed to have a script in mind for making this unfold.
While Cano was in Taiwan for a Major League Baseball exhibition tour, he was adored. And he loved it. Cano embraced every aspect of the attention, even happily marching through the streets with over a hundred people trailing him like a Pied Piper. He was a Yankee and marveled about how fans that lived 8,000 miles from Yankee Stadium were so interested in him.
As Cano's free agency has evolved, I've thought about what he said at the hotel and the scenes I witnessed in Taiwan. Cano admitted that the love he received in Taiwan was, in part, because he played in New York and because the Yankees' brand traveled around the world. He stressed that he loved being linked with one of the most famous teams in professional sports.
"When you play in New York," Cano said, "you have fans all over."
Now Cano's connection with the Yankees has ended. According to ESPN, Cano has agreed to a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners haven't officially announced the deal, but that should happen after Cano's physical next week. One of Cano's former teammates told me he was "stunned" by Cano's decision. A part of me is surprised that Cano left the Yankees, where he was building a potential Hall of Fame career, for Seattle. The Mariners have averaged 68 wins in the last four seasons. But, of course, the most important number to note is that Seattle's offer was $70 million more than Cano's next best offer.
I'm not being naïve about Cano's situation. Players wait six years for free agency and they are free to sign with any team they want and for any amount. It's the player's decision, not anyone else's. Last month, general manager Brian Cashman said Cano "loves the money" as he talked about whether the Yankees would sign Cano. Cashman said the Yankees would make a substantial offer, which they did at seven years for about $170 million, but added that another team might outbid them. That's exactly what happened.
Cano was the best player on the Yankees, a durable second baseman who provided power and who offered Gold Glove caliber defense. From his sweet swing to his stylish plays, Cano will be missed in many ways. But the Yankees were adamant about not giving Cano a 10-year deal or even an eight-year deal. The Yankees were very comfortable giving Cano a seven-year contract with an average annual value of almost $25 million. After the Yankees signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $275 million that they ended up regretting, they refused to extend that lengthy an offer to Cano.
As difficult as it was for the Yankees to lose a talent like Cano, they have an offseason plan for improving their club and they are executing that plan. They have invested over a quarter billion dollars to sign Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kelly Johnson and Brendan Ryan and to re-sign Derek Jeter. Cano could have remained in New York, but he would have had to accept the Yankees' terms. He didn't. That's his prerogative. The Mariners offered the most money, by far. So the player that loved being a Yankee must learn to love being a Mariner.
When the 2013 season ended without a postseason spot for the Yankees, they had internal discussions about being aggressive shoppers in the offseason. The Yankees wanted to move smartly and quickly to address the issues that loomed over them. So far, they are following that plan.
By signing Jacoby Ellsbury to a 7-year, $153 million contract, the Yankees continued to show that they don't want 2014 to be a repeat of 2013. The agreement with the former Red Sox center fielder came a few hours after the official announcement that the Yankees had signed catcher Brian McCann to a 5-year, $85 million deal.
So the Yankees signed two marquee players for $238 million in contracts and they aren't done adding players. The Yankees believe they can still sign Robinson Cano, although they are firm about not stretching their offer beyond the 7-year, $170 million range. If Cano wants to bolt to Seattle because the Mariners make a superior offer, the Yankees have told him they won't engage in a bidding war.
As the Cano situation evolves, the Yankees will stay busy. The Yankees are close to signing Kelly Johnson, a second baseman and left fielder, to a one-year deal for about $3 million. While Johnson isn't a solid defensive player, he gives the Yankees some insurance if Cano signs elsewhere. Again, the Yankees would love to have Cano in their lineup. But they want to do that at their number, something they have said again and again.
If the Yankees sign Cano, they could field a lineup of Ellsbury, Derek Jeter, Cano, Mark Teixeira, McCann, Alfonso Soriano, a third baseman to be determined, Johnson or Brendan Ryan (depending on whether Jeter is the designated hitter that day) and Brett Gardner. That is a vast improvement from the team that managed 650 runs last season, a season in which the bottom three in the order were often black holes.
But, as impressive as that lineup would be, the Yankees also need to strengthen their starting rotation. Manager Joe Girardi has said his only certainties in the rotation are CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. The Yankees have made a one-year offer to Hiroki Kuroda and are optimistic that he will return. If Major League Baseball officials and Japanese baseball officials agree on revamping the posting system, the Yankees would be major players for Masuhiro Tanaka, too. Michael Pineda, David Phelps and Adam Warren will likely compete for the fifth spot in the rotation.
In an offseason that has featured discussions about Alex Rodriguez's arbitration case and more chatter about how the Yankees will keep their payroll under $189 million, the attention switched to Ellsbury on Tuesday. The Yankees have raved about Ellsbury's speed, defense and ability to get on base and they also think he will hit more homers at Yankee Stadium. Ellsbury was an important name on the Yankees' shopping list, a player they feel will help make sure 2014 ends differently than 2013.
In the latest episode of JCTV, host Jack Curry talks with musician Chris Allen of the band Neon Trees. Allen discusses his beginnings in music, his biggest influences and his family's passion for baseball.
There are numerous times when Joe Girardi is asked questions and gives brief answers. That is Girardi's approach as the manager of the Yankees. Sometimes, topics are off limits. But there are also times when Girardi offers enough insight to reveal what he is thinking. I think Girardi did that during his end-of-the season press conference in Houston.
If you analyzed Girardi's answers that day, you wouldn't have been surprised that Girardi agreed to a 4-year, $16 million deal Wednesday to remain as the Yankees manager. As a relaxed Girardi sat in the dugout on that Sunday, he was chatty about his future. My evaluation of what Girardi uttered is that he needed to talk with his family, but that he was almost certain to be back with the Yankees in 2014.
In the end, that's what happened. Girardi's connection with the Chicago Cubs was mentioned a lot, but the sides never even spoke because he was still under contract with the Yankees for the rest of the month. There was also the possibility that Girardi would return to broadcasting or maybe even take a year off. I never thought those were serious options. The Yankees like Girardi, he liked his prestigious job and it was logical to believe both sides would reach a quick agreement.
"To me, I want to be part of this," Girardi said. "I want to be part of us getting back on top."
Girardi couldn't have negotiated with any other teams until November 1, but he still had some leverage because of the superb job he did in 2013. In a season in which the Yankees were hampered by an endless trail of injuries and had to deal with the distraction of Alex Rodriguez's looming suspension, Girardi helped push the club to 85 wins. The Yankees remained in the hunt for a wild card until the last week of the season.
Now Girardi, who initiated the idea of a fourth year on his deal, will be back and he will join with the front office to try and make the Yankees a better team in 2014. Can that happen? When Girardi was asked about the distinct possibility of the Yankees having to assemble a winning team with a payroll under $189 million, he said, "I think $189 million is still an awful lofty number."
Still, Girardi acknowledged that he will be managing the Yankees in a period where there will be some "uncertainty." Both Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte have retired. Robinson Cano, the best player on the Yankees, is a free agent. So are Hiroki Kuroda, Curtis Granderson and Boone Logan. Derek Jeter played in 17 games this year and will turn 40 years old in June. CC Sabathia was disappointing and didn't pitch like a $23 million ace. The Yankees missed Russell Martin and need a reliable starting catcher.
But, despite the many questions, Girardi said, "I wouldn't have come back if I didn't think we could win a championship." Although Girardi stressed the importance of young players producing, the Yankees will also investigate the free agent market. If Rodriguez is suspended and his salary doesn't count against the payroll, the Yankees will have more financial flexibility. Beyond Cano and Kuroda, the players the Yankees like include Brian McCann, Shin-Soo Choo and Masahiro Tanaka, who was 20-0 with a 1.24 earned run average in Japan this season.
"I have faith they'll give us everything we need," Girardi said.
Once Girardi agreed to the new contract, he told his wife and three children how rare it was for a manager or a coach to work in the same city for 10 straight years. As long as Girardi fulfills the length of this deal, a decade is how long he will have managed the Yankees. So Girardi is back, back to the place he never left.
"I don't manage to just work," Girardi said. "I manage to win championships."
We all knew Mariano Rivera was going to pitch at Yankee Stadium for the final time on Thursday night. We all knew the bullpen door was going to open and Rivera was going to jog to the mound and do what he has done for almost two decades. We all knew the star of the show and we all knew what was supposed to be in the script. We had this night all figured out, right?
But there wasn't actually a script for Rivera's last appearance in pinstripes. There was emotion, an endless flow of emotion from the unforgettable pitcher, and there were tears, an abundance of tears that Rivera predicted would never appear. So, on a night where we all thought we knew what to expect, we witnessed scenes that we had never envisioned. Rivera's good-bye was riveting.
Even though we presumably knew what was about to happen with Rivera, we were still in awe. We watched every move he made because, as it turned out, we didn't really know what was about to happen. We knew the cast, but we didn't know how this night would unfold. That's what makes a baseball night like this so great. It's something unpredictable, like Rivera's tears after two of his teammates surprised him on the mound. It's something you'll still be talking about in a decade.
Ten years from now, few people will care that Alex Cobb outpitched Ivan Nova and the Tampa Bay Rays quieted the Yankees, 4-0, on September 26, 2013. Those are the facts of the game, but those facts were shoved aside by Rivera's exploits. The kid who first tried to get signed by the Yankees as a 155-pound shortstop evolved into the greatest closer of all-time. On Thursday, we saw another example of his flair, his class and his dignity.
From the moment Bob Sheppard's voice introduced Rivera in the eighth inning, there was a different buzz about a game that was meaningless for the Yankees. The Yankees weren't in contention for a Wild Card spot anymore, but the fans had something valuable to hold on to in the 159th game of the season. They had come to see Mariano, the mighty pitcher with the amazing cut fastball. They had come to see him, praise him and watch him for the last time.
And, of course, Mariano put on a show. He retired two batters on five pitches to motor through the eighth. Before pitching the ninth, Rivera sat in the dugout for an abnormally long time. While Rivera was waiting for JR Murphy to put on his catcher's gear, he was also absorbing as much of the moment as he could. He was about to go to that mound for the final time. The Yankee Stadium part of his career was about to die forever.
After Rivera notched the first two outs in the ninth, Manager Joe Girardi unveiled an excellent surprise for him. Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter, Rivera's forever friends, became part-time managers and strolled to the mound to remove Riverafrom the game. It was a brilliant move by Girardi as he inserted the two players with strongest bonds to Rivera into Rivera's swan song at the Stadium.
When Rivera saw Pettitte and Jeter, he erupted into a smile. Then Jeter smiled back and said, "Hey, it's time to go." Rivera handed the ball to Pettitte and hugged him, but Rivera wouldn't let go. He hung on tight to Pettitte, maybe thinking he was hanging on to the last few seconds of his career in the Bronx. Pettitte patted Rivera's back and then his head, the way a parent would treat a child. The embrace seemed to last five minutes. Then Rivera hugged Jeter, too. When Rivera finally departed the mound, he had tear stains on his cheeks.
As Rivera approached the dugout, he hugged Girardi. Rivera dropped the game baseball, but Girardi quickly stuffed it back in the pitcher's glove. Rivera hugged his teammates, waved to the fans after a curtain call and waved to the classy Rays, too. Once the game was over, Rivera was the last man to leave the first base dugout. He walked back to the mound, dug at the pitcher's rubber with his cleats to loosen up some dirt and scooped up the dirt. He wanted a keepsake from the home he was leaving.
During our post-game show on the YES Network, Bob Lorenz was the first person to mention that Rivera shouldn't even pitch in Houston this weekend. As soon as Bob said it, I emphatically agreed. There is no reason for Rivera to throw another pitch in his Major League career, no reason for him to try and add any more details to a remarkable story.
If Girardi wants to let Rivera play center field for a few innings against the Astros, that's fine. Let Rivera run around in the outfield as if he's a boy running on the beaches of Panama again. But Rivera shouldn't throw any more cutters. On a pulsating Thursday, Rivera and the Yankees crafted a beautiful ending to his pitching career. It's a scene that won't ever be topped. Rivera should leave that script as is.