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If you've given up following baseball because -- well, you've had a belly full of the Orioles and the Ravens are all the aggravation you can handle at the moment -- you may have missed that George Steinbrenner is in 1970s form.

A magazine article earlier this year implied that Steinbrenner wasn't quite himself -- no, that's putting it too mildly -- wasn't anywhere near the Steinbrenner anyone had come to know over the last three decades or so. What I inferred from reading the description of the writer's brief but fairly well publicized visit with Steinbrenner was the Yankee owner was only vaguely aware of what was going on with his team -- and certainly not the fully engaged Steinbrenner who is the stuff of legend and Seinfeld episodes.

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But he had no trouble handing Joe Torre an ultimatum through the media over the weekend after the Yanks had fallen behind, two games to none, to Cleveland in the opening round of the playoffs. If you watched The Bronx is Burning this summer on ESPN, you were reminded how Steinbrenner would use the newspapers to send messages to the late Billy Martin about how he wanted the team run. Well, Martin was every bit the loose cannon that Steinbrenner has always been so there's no pointing fingers as to who was to blame for what transpired in that bizarre relationship. But Torre certainly deserves better than to find out in the clubhouse just before a brink-of-elimination playoff game that his job hangs on the final score.

Hey, maybe it was obvious -- the Yankees have spent more than a billion dollars since their last World Series win. But Torre didn't have to actually hear that Steinbrenner made the following  announcement.

"His job is on the line. 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."

Well, the Yankees staved off elimination, beating the Cleveland Indians, 8-4, and Torre is still employed by the Yankees for the moment.

But what I was impressed by was Torre's reaction. He didn't shut down reporters and say he wasn't going to talk about it. He didn't lash back at George. He gave a candid but diplomatic response that acknowledged the media's legitimate interest in the story  -- and by proxy, the interest of the public. And he managed to do it in a way that insulated his players, as much as possible, from additional pressure.

This is what Torre had to say.

"It's that time of year. I'm not saying you get used to it, but it's something you know you have to deal with. And my concern is, obviously, winning a ballgame today and doing the best I can to get this ballclub in the right frame of mind. I think we've done that."

It's almost enough to make you root for the Yankees. Well, that might be stretching it, but at least root for Torre.

Photo credit: AP

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