NEW YORK — After all he had accomplished — four World Series titles, 12 straight years in the playoffs, almost certain entry into the Hall of Fame — and after all the indignities, this was one Joe Torre wasn't going to stand for.
He wasn't going to take a pay cut from the New York Yankees, no matter that he still would have been the highest-paid manager in baseball, and he certainly wasn't going to prove himself all over again.
Torre walked away Thursday, turning down a $5 million, one-year contract — $2.5 million less than he made this season, when the Yankees failed to make it past the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year.
"A difficult day," general manager Brian Cashman said. "He will always be a Yankee."
Bench coach Don Mattingly is the leading contender to replace Torre. Yankees broadcaster Joe Girardi, the NL Manager of the Year with Florida in 2006, is another top contender. Tony La Russa and Bobby Valentine also could be considered.
Most Yankees fans could see this day coming.
After losing the first two playoff games to Cleveland, owner George Steinbrenner said he didn't think Torre would be asked back if the Yankees didn't advance. New York hasn't won at all since 2000.
Torre took a morning flight to Tampa, Fla., to meet for an hour with Steinbrenner, his sons and team management. Torre listened to the offer and said it wasn't acceptable. They shook hands, and Torre headed home.
Torre declined to speak to a group of reporters gathered outside his house in suburban Harrison. His wife, Ali, arrived a few minutes later and said their time in New York had been fun.
"It's always difficult to say goodbye," she said, "but there's always hello."
The 67-year-old Torre, who made the playoffs in every year with the Yankees, scheduled a news conference for Friday. He indicated last week that he might be interested in managing elsewhere.
New York's offer included $3 million in bonuses if the Yankees reached next year's World Series and an $8 million option for 2009 that would have become guaranteed if New York won the AL pennant.
Torre just completed a $19.2 million, three-year contract. The Chicago Cubs' Lou Piniella was the second-highest paid manager at $3.5 million.
"Under this offer, he would continue to be the highest-paid manager in major league baseball," team president Randy Levine said. "We thought that we need to go to a performance-based model, having nothing to do with Joe Torre's character, integrity or ability. We just think it's important to motivate people."
It appeared to be an offer designed to be rejected. Scott Boras, the agent for Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, said players would have interpreted an acceptance by Torre as weakness.
"It is difficult, near impossible, to accept a salary cut," Boras said. "Successful people can afford their principles. They understand if they accept the position, there is a great risk the message to all under him is dissatisfaction. "
Torre called Cashman on Tuesday and asked to meet with the 77-year-old Steinbrenner and the owners' sons, Hal and Hank, who have taken an increased role in recent month. They spent an hour together, and then Torre was gone.
Steinbrenner let his sons do the talking.
"The objective of the Yankees since the '20s has been to win the championship every year, just as the objective of (Vince) Lombardi with the Packers was or (Bill) Belichick and the Patriots," Hank said. "None of us think we can win the championship every year, but that's the goal. Period."
Torre led the Yankees to 10 AL East titles, but they haven't reached the World Series since 2003.
With 2,067 regular-season wins, Torre is eighth on the career list and was third among active managers behind the St. Louis Cardinals' La Russa (2,375) and the Atlanta Braves' Bobby Cox (2,255). Torre's four World Series titles are likely to earn him a place in the Hall of Fame — every manager with three or more has been inducted.