Jim Leyritz: Don Zimmer Was Silent Mastermind Of 1996 Yankees

When you think of the New York Yankees’ dynasty of the late-1990s and early 2000s, you probably think of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Joe Torre, among others.

But the key to those teams may have been the coaching staffs, especially after going from Buck Showalter in 1995 to Torre in 1996.

“It was a little bit different,” former Yankee great Jim Leyritz said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I think the biggest difference was the coaching staff that Joe Torre put around him. Buck, there wasn’t too many major leaguers on his staff. There was a lot of friends and a lot of guys that he had been through the minor leagues with that he was giving opportunities to. I think Joe Torre saw it and said, ‘Listen, if I’m going to take this job, I’m going to surround myself with the best people possible if I’m going to go down with this ship.’ Sure enough, with the coaches he hired and his ability to manage people, (it was a success). His ability to have guys like Don Zimmer, Willie Randolph, Chis Chambliss, Mel Stottlemyre, to be able to work with his players, and for him just to be that leader, to be that clubhouse presence, to be that guy to control the egos and control all the other stuff, I can’t think of a smarter move that any person has ever made in the game of baseball.”

Zimmer, in fact, may have been the mastermind of those teams. Go back and watch the tape of a Yankees playoffs game from those days. You’ll see Torre, yes. But you’ll see Zimmer sitting right next to him.

“I always used to kid Don Zimmer that I thought Zim had the best job in baseball,” Leyritz said. “He pretty much gave Joe every decision to make on the field, but he was not held accountable for any of them. That combination of him and Joe Torre, I have never seen anything better in the game and they rode that out all the way through 2003.”

Leyritz doesn’t know if the Yankees would have won the World Series in 1996 if Showalter were still the manager.

“I see how Buck has become a different manager,” Leyritz said. “He’s able to handle personalities now. He’s able to handle all 25 guys. There’s no doubt in my mind that Buck Showalter was the smartest manager as far as the game goes, anticipation, knowing what the other manager might do. But as far as dealing with the people and really working with all 25 guys, he wasn’t quite there yet in 1995. Joe Torre, maybe after being with a couple organizations, he had a little bit of seasoning to where he realized, ‘I’m going to need all 25 guys in this clubhouse, and I need to make sure that all of them are 100 percent ready and 100 percent confident when I call their name.’ That’s really what Joe Torre did so well.”

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