Torre, Yanks split came at right time

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Three years after the divorce, most of the hurt feelings seem to have healed.

Joe Torre prefers to remember the good times, the championship years, the 12 straight trips to October and not that last trip to Tampa, the one on which he learned that his services were no longer required, or desired, by the New York Yankees.

It was a bitter divorce at the time, full of recrimination and regret, and more than a little doubt on both sides. Had Torre done the right thing to spurn a one-year, $5 million contract that basically required him to win or walk? And were the Yankees being foolish to cut loose a manager who had done just about everything right for a dozen years and then just about everything wrong for the final six months?

In his first year as the Los Angeles Dodgers' manager, Torre took his team to the NLCS while his successor, Joe Girardi, failed to get the Yankees to the playoffs for the first time since 1994. It certainly looked as though Torre would now repent in leisure.

But now, through the prism of 2010, with a Girardi-led Yankees team having won a World Series and Torre having re-established his credentials as a manager and enjoying a resurgence of his celebrity in Hollywood, one thing is becoming increasingly obvious: Torre and the Yankees split up at exactly the right time for both of them.

The best evidence of that can be summed up in two loaded words: Alex. Rodriguez.

By now, we all know the story of how the old-school manager and the diva third baseman got along about as well as Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin. Torre dropped him to eighth in the lineup for a playoff game, then dropped a dime on him in a book.

Although Torre said Thursday night, "I don't feel like I violated anything with Alex," A-Rod made it obvious on Wednesday that he feels differently.

First, while all around the Yankees' clubhouse, his teammates were tossing verbal bouquets to the man many of them consider a "mentor"and "father figure," A-Rod said tersely, and pointedly, that Friday night's reunion with Torre's Dodgers at Dodger Stadium would be "business as usual.''

A few seconds later, he cut off any more questions about his former manager with the tight little smile and nod he uses when he is done with a conversation.

Now, here is the point: It was Oct. 19, 2007 when the Yankees and Torre officially parted ways after their third straight first-round playoff KO. Less than a month later -- Nov. 5, to be exact -- the Yankees extended Rodriguez's contract for an additional 10 years.

Not only did that reaffirm the perception that these would no longer be Joe Torre's Yankees, it ensured that even had Torre swallowed his pride and accepted what he considered an "insulting" contract, it would not have taken long for him to be absolutely miserable with his decision.

Torre and Rodriguez simply could no longer co-exist, and only one of them was guaranteed to be here for a long, long, loooong time. That one was not the manager.

In retrospect, it is clear that as he has done throughout his professional and personal life, Joe Torre got out while the getting was good, for everyone involved.

As soon as Hal Steinbrenner decided to go against his GM's wishes -- remember, Brian Cashman had said if A-Rod chose to opt-out of his contract, the Yankees would opt-out on him -- and give Rodriguez an extension and a raise, managing the Yankees would never again be a workable situation for Torre.

So no matter how much affection he retains for Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte -- he referred to them as "my kids,'' -- and they for him, it was obvious that the team was transitioning into a new era.

The era of A-Rod.

"I stayed there a long time, maybe too long," Torre said Thursday night in the visiting dugout at Angel stadium, where his Dodgers were trying to salvage the final game of a three-game series against the Angels after having been swept in Boston.

"When I left there, it wasn't fun anymore," he said. "And once I knew it wasn't fun, I walked away with no hard feelings, no regrets. I wasn't angry at all."

Sad, perhaps, over his broken relationship with Cashman, a business friendship permanently severed with the publication of "The Yankee Years," Torre's collaboration with Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci, which laid bare many of the team and front office secrets.

Puzzled, perhaps, over the cold and calculating way in which he felt the Steinbrenner sons and team president Randy Levine were able to offer him a deal they knew he would, and must, refuse.

Regretful about leaving Jeter, Posada, Rivera and Pettitte behind.

But throughout his baseball career, in which he played for four teams and managed four others, Torre has never had a problem walking away from a situation that was no longer working for him.

With Rodriguez bound to the organization until 2017, there was no way the situation with the Yankees was going to work for him much longer.

Instead, he reinvented himself again as manager of the Dodgers, and the Yankees, after a one-season detour, returned to where they feel they belong every year, this time under the guidance of a new and very different manager.

The first thing he did on Thursday, after the Yankees arrived in town from Phoenix, was arrange to have lunch with the trainers, Gene Monahan and Steve Donahue. He had already spoken with Jeter by phone on Wednesday, asking his permission to honor him at his Safe at Home Foundation dinner in November. He acknowledged that Friday night's game, and especially the pregame reunion with "his kids," would probably be emotional for him. He admitted it would be strange to "pull against people I've never pulled against before."

He spoke about having watched the Yankees win the World Series last year, about calling George Steinbrenner to congratulate him and texting as many of his former players as he could get a hold of to express his happiness for them.

But he seemed to know that his time there had come and gone. "Not for one minute did I wish I was in that dugout," he said.

Asked if he would ever like to return to Yankee Stadium again, he said, "Yes. In October, as the manager of this team."

And that's really the only way it can be anymore. The divorce between Joe Torre and the Yankees has been final for a long time now, long enough for both sides to admit that really, it's better this way.

Wallace Matthews is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.