Torre's team meeting in Seattle helps turn season around
SEATTLE (April 7, 1998) – On Buster Olney’s ESPN Baseball Tonight podcast earlier this year, David Wells was his guest, and the topic of discussion was mainly the Yankees historic 1998 season. Wells was in his second season with the Yankees, and Olney was in his second season covering the club for the New York Times. Not surprisingly, one of the first topics Olney broached was the famous team meeting in Seattle prior to the sixth game of the year. After their first win in Oakland, the Yankees went up to Seattle to start a three-game series and were thumped 8-0 by the Mariners, and all the angst returned. The 0-3 start was now 1-4, and if you read the tabloids or listened to talk radio, you’d swear the season was in tatters before the home opener had even been played at Yankee Stadium. Very few times did this dynastic team need a tongue-lashing, but Joe Torre decided this was one of them. “Joe Torre got pissed,” Wells told Olney as he thought back to 22 years earlier. “We had a team meeting. Not too many guys were happy with it, but it was a great motivating speech. What happened after that really solidified that season and struck a nerve with a lot of guys. And we went on a rampage.” Did they ever, and that night, after Torre scolded them for the way they had played and told them to buck up and get their heads out of their asses, the Yankees responded with a 13-7 thrashing of the Mariners at that most despised of buildings, the Kingdome. In the book The Yankee Years, written by Torre and Tom Verducci, Torre recalled that meeting this way: “That day when I spoke to them, I basically told them how I felt and how bad they were and how pissed I was. I pretty much went through everything with them. We were playing horseshit.” No one could really argue with the manager. They had been outscored 36-15, their offense was stagnant with a cumulative .209 batting average, the pitching was terrible, and the mood in the clubhouse was darker than an Edgar Allan Poe piece of prose. David Cone remembered the meeting in The Yankee Years this way. “It was one of the more forceful meetings. There was a lot of talk from people who said nobody had gone 1-5 to start the season and come back to win a World Series. I remember Joe started it off and he wasn’t happy.” Suffice it to say, the temperament was a bit more upbeat after the Yankees pummeled Seattle starter Jim Bullinger for 10 earned runs on 12 hits inside the first four innings. Wells started for the Yankees, and when he was asked that night if he felt bad for Bullinger, his fellow pitcher, he scoffed at the notion. “I say good; let him get his ass kicked. I don’t feel bad for anyone. Look at the six runs I gave up. You think anyone felt sorry for me?” Six of the runs against Bullinger came before Wells threw a pitch. Chuck Knoblauch hit Bullinger’s first offering over the fence in left, Daryl Strawberry hit the first of his two homers, a two-run bomb to right, and Jorge Posada closed the first-inning onslaught with a solo blast to right. “That stuff is catching,” Torre said of the early explosion. “You get a couple of hits, it takes the pressure off. Guys don’t feel like they have to do it all themselves.” When he was asked about the team meeting, Torre didn’t go into the same detail with the media compared to what he shared with Verducci many years later for the book. That night, all he said was, “It was a meeting. We are down, we are going to have to fight our way out of this thing. I don’t care how good a club you are, you still are going to go through times when you have to find a way to turn it around.” Torre didn’t know it that night, but the turnaround was underway.
NEXT POST on July 6: Yankee Stadium damage sends Yankees to Shea.