Perhaps that threat was genuine, perhaps it was a bluff, or perhaps it was a bit of both. Whatever it was, it remains far more deeply rooted in speculation than in fact.
The facts that do exist say that Torre is still the manager and Mattingly remains the bench coach. And unless -- or until -- one of those truths changes, there's no reason to analyze the other.
"I don't think it's the right time to even talk about it, because no decisions have been made," Mattingly said. "Joe's my direct boss, and he's treated me great through this whole thing."
So it's an awkward situation that greeted Mattingly after his first season as Torre's right-hand man. He'll answer to Torre for as long as he's in charge -- could be a day, could be a week, could be a year or more. But even if that situation doesn't change this winter, it eventually will.
And Mattingly knows it.
Steinbrenner personally recruited Mattingly as his hitting coach four seasons ago, and the assumption formed that he'd also be Torre's successor. When then-bench coach Joe Girardi left to become the Marlins manager two years ago, Mattingly's foot lodged further into the door. And even with Girardi now again a possibility, it would be difficult to discount the immensely popular Mattingly's stature.
It would also be tough to ignore the notion that Mattingly is an unabashed Torre disciple. He's the first to admit it, which means that if he took over, the status quo around Yankee Stadium wouldn't budge. That could potentially soften the blow to a core group of Yankees -- namely free agents Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera -- who have vocally defended Torre's name in recent days.
"From my experience, you take who they worked under, and that's the basis of what you're going to get," first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said. "I think Donnie would be awesome. He's got a great baseball mind."
An awesome second option, perhaps. The players all insist they want Torre back, but if -- and that's a large and looming if -- Steinbrenner wasn't bluffing, then Mattingly appears to be the fashionable choice.
"Donnie's been able to do everything successfully in his life," Mientkiewicz said. "I don't see why this would be any different."
Mattingly, in his own right, seems a bit unsure of the whole situation. In one breath, he calls Torre's position a "great job" and a "great opportunity," and in the next he renounces its finer points.
"It's pretty much a no-win situation for someone coming in here," Mattingly said. "To be able to live up to the expectations or live up to what he did, it's not going to happen. So as far as someone coming in and taking over this job, it's not necessarily a great situation."
Perhaps that's why Mattingly spent a heavy chunk of Tuesday afternoon defending Torre with all the fire language can afford. Should Torre manage again and ultimately retire on his own terms, his successor -- Mattingly or not -- would have at least some semblance of an easier time. No doubt the expectations would still carry with them a New York swell, but there wouldn't be such a heavy sense of urgency. There wouldn't be as much of an ultimatum to improve.
And managing, without doubt, holds its lures. Most notably, the job would afford Mattingly another shot at the World Series ring he never won as a player -- not to mention it could pave him another path to the Hall of Fame. Like Torre, Mattingly fell just short of Cooperstown on the field. But now, after four World Series titles as a manager, Torre has almost certainly found his ticket in the dugout.
Mattingly eventually -- or perhaps inevitably -- might find one too.
At its core, this situation revolves much more tightly around Torre than it does around Mattingly. Right now, he's just a byproduct of the manager's future, which explains why he's unwilling to discuss the uncertainties that future holds.
He claims he doesn't know if he'll come back as bench coach under anyone other than Torre, just as he says he won't consider the prospect of managing until there's a managing job to be had. About the only thing he did claim to know was his opinion of the man he may soon replace -- if and when and how that happens.
"It's really totally their right to do anything they want and how they want to do it," Mattingly said of his ownership. "And I don't think any of us have any problems with the way they do it. For me, I just hope that no matter what happens or how anything shakes out, that Joe Torre doesn't get treated with anything but respect."