NEW YORK Win or else! That was George Steinbrenner's message to Joe Torre before the New York Yankees played the Cleveland Indians on Sunday night.
With the Yankees trailing 2-0 in the best-of-five, first-round playoff series, Steinbrenner reverted to the blustering boss of old and said Torre likely wouldn't return as manager unless New York reaches the AL championship series for the first time in three years.
"His job is on the line," the owner was quoted in Sunday's editions of The Record of New Jersey. "I think we're paying him a lot of money. He's the highest-paid manager in baseball, so I don't think we'd take him back if we don't win this series."
Torre was hired before the 1996 season and led the Yankees to four World Series titles in his first five years but none since. New York last reached the World Series in 2003, wasted a 3-0 lead against Boston in the 2004 ALCS, then was eliminated by the Angels and Detroit in the first round the last two years.
"You're not surprised by whatever comes down the pike," Torre said. "You don't always get used to it, but you understand if you want to work here and there's a great deal of upside to working here that there are certain things you have to deal with. We've had ultimatums during the season, early in the season. This obviously is down to a game we need to win, and you'd like to believe everybody's trying to pull in the same direction."
Torre has led the Yankees to 12 consecutive postseason appearances, winning 10 AL East titles and two wild-card berths. His 1,173 regular-season wins are second among Yankees managers behind Joe McCarthy's 1,460.
"If we don't perform, it shouldn't be a reflection of his abilities. The reflection should be on us, not on him," pitcher Mike Mussina said. "I don't think you can ask any more from somebody who's dealt with every circumstance that has come up, from injuries to people not playing up to their abilities or scrutiny or everything, and he's stood tall and got us in the postseason every year."
In the final season of his current contract, Torre is being paid $7 million. He hasn't decided whether he would want to return but has seemed open to it in recent weeks.
"It's too early for me to address that because, you know, the most important thing for me right now is winning Game 3," he said.
Torre matter-of-factly answered questions for 12 minutes about 2 1/2 hours before game time. He found out about Steinbrenner's comments when he arrived at Yankee Stadium.
"I choose not to read the papers and stuff when we don't do well," Torre said. "I jump in there when we're doing well."
Steinbrenner didn't comment as he walked into Yankee Stadium. He changed managers 20 times from 1973-95 and nearly fired Torre after last year's four-game elimination. Torre had a humorous response when asked whether his job would be safe in the Yankees did come back.
"Till the next series, right?" he said.
"You have seen managers who have been here before me. I don't think any of them have been on easy street as far as the day-in, day-out operations here," he said. "So whether I think it's right, wrong, fair, foul or whatever is really not the point at this point in time. I'll save all that stuff for later on when there's really nothing left for me to do here."
New York plays have long been accustomed to Steinbrenner's pointed remarks.
"Obviously he speaks his mind at any time," general manager Brian Cashman said.
Steinbrenner also criticized umpire Bruce Froemming for not stopping play when insects invaded the field during Game 2 in Cleveland on Friday. Rookie reliever Joba Chamberlain threw two wild pitches that allowed Cleveland to tie the game in the eighth, and the Indians went on to win 2-1 in 11 innings.
Froemming called it "just a little irritation." Steinbrenner profanely dismissed Froemming's explanation.
"He won't umpire our games anymore," Steinbrenner said.
The 68-year-old Froemming the longest-tenured umpire in major league history is retiring after this season. The Yankees complained to baseball commissioner Bud Selig.
"(Selig) just said, 'That's in the umpires' hands.' ... It was terrible. It messed up the whole team, (Derek) Jeter, all of them," Steinbrenner told the paper.
A little more than an hour before Game 3, Froemming stood by his decision.
"George is entitled to his comments," the umpire said. "Nobody complained about it. Neither manager, nor the players. They put the spray on 'em, 30-40 minutes they were gone. So, it was a non-issue. We have worse situations with rain and cold in the spring."
Steinbrenner also predicted Alex Rodriguez will remain with the Yankees. A-Rod has the right to opt out of the final three years of his record $252 million, 10-year contract after the World Series and become a free agent.
"I think we'll re-sign him," Steinbrenner told the paper. "I think he's going to have a good run the rest of the (postseason). I think he realizes New York is the place to be, the place to play. A lot of this (postseason) is laying on his shoulders, you know, but I think he's up to it."
The 77-year-old Steinbrenner, who has appeared to be more frail in recent years, said he will make the decisions on Torre and Rodriguez."I have full control," Steinbrenner said.
AP Baseball Writer Mike Fitzpatrick and AP Sports Writer Jay Cohen contributed to this report.