Wednesday, October 19, 2005

On The Yankees Search For A Pitching Coach

It's not that they're interested in hiring Braves' pitching coach Leo Mazzone that's intriguing about all of this. Mazzone has been the Braves' pitching coach since 1990, and he has done a great job with some good talent. He's helped some pitchers pitch beyond their capabilities, and he's helped others harness substantial talent or re-kindle magic that they once had. He'd be a great get for the Yankees.

What's intriguing is that from this article it would appear that perhaps the Yankees front office had been talking with Mazzone's agent initially without the knowledge or input from skipper Joe Torre. Read Torre's quote early in the article and you'll see what I mean.

The skipper was quoted as saying that he hoped he'd have a lot to say on the choice of a pitching coach. That's not a ratification of the Yankees' front office, is it? Torre has been an outstanding manager in NYC for a decade and did a great job this year with an old team (average age 34) and a sometimes battered pitching staff. He has more than earned the right to have the primary say as to who should be on his staff, subject to a veto from the GM and owner if they were to believe that Torre's choice made absolutely no sense (example: were he to want to hire, say, David Wells, to be the pitching coach).

Now, it's hard to argue about the choice of Mazzone, but how will the managerial staff work if Mazzone basically gets hired without much input from Torre? How will the staff function if the primary recruiters of Mazzone are George Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman? Who really will Mazzone think he reports to -- them or his manager, Joe Torre? If you work for any kind of organization, you can readily see how messed up this situation could get quickly -- even if there are two highly qualified people filling their positions. The reportorial chain is very important, especially to highly motivated and highly successful -- if personally mellow and delightful -- managers like Joe Torre. If Mazzone thinks he can take his cues from Cashman and Steinbrenner -- and not Torre -- the relationship in the dugout will be dysfunctional.

What George Steinbrenner needs to realize is that the pitching coach isn't the source of his problems. He can sign Leo Mazzone, but Leo Mazzone does not have a sufficient amount of magic dust to cure aching bodies or turn Tanyon Sturtze into Mariano Rivera. He can't turn back Father Time for Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina, and he cannot heal injury-prone Carl Pavano. True, he has worked wonders in the past, but I would submit that it's the substance of the staff that matters a whole lot more than who is coaching them.

Yankee fans should note that also on the list is Yankees' scout (and former Expos', Red Sox' and Phillies' pitching coach) Joe Kerrigan. Kerrigan excelled in Montreal and for a time was viewed as one of the premier pitching coaches in baseball. He also did a nice job in Boston (in the time before he became the manager, where he was a disaster and lost the confidence of the clubhouse) and turned some careers around, such as Tim Wakefield's. He stumbled, though, in Philadelphia, and it's hard for me to tell whether he tinkered too much with the pitching staff there or conflicted mightily with his manager, Larry Bowa. As tough as Bowa can be, if you work for your manager, you have to work within his vision and framework. It's hard to say whether Kerrigan did that or not, but hiring Kerrigan here would seem to be a bold move -- and a risky one -- for the Yankees.

A friend who is a Yankee fan think that Mazzone will return to the Braves and that he's talking to other teams to get a better contract from the Braves. The Orioles are also interested in Mazzone, and that job could be a real challenge for a man who has accomplished much in his career. What sane pitching coach, however, would want to mentor the mound staff that plays in the best hitters' park in the American League?

Stay tuned. There's something brewing in the Bronx, as always.

In my mind, the big question for the Yankees this off-season is how do they get younger and quicker?

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