Monday, October 22, 2007

On the Yankees' Managerial Change

Overall, I think that the Yankees erred in the way that they treated Joe Torre. He's a classy, dignified guy, and while $5 million is a lot of money to turn down, you simply don't treat a manager who led you to 12 straight playoff appearances and 4 World Series titles the way the Yankees did. Offering any manager with Torre's track record a one-year deal was dignity stripping, and the Yankees, who spend money the way Pac-Man Jones doles his out at a strip club, suddenly got awfully careful with their dollars when it came to their manager. Clearly, they really didn't want him to return, despite what Sons Steinbrenner have said publicly since the public relations fiasco of last week.

After all, Charlie Manuel, a manager who makes the late Casey Stengel look like a Shakesperean player and whose handling of pitchers won't be confused with that of Tony LaRussa, got a two-year deal in Philadelphia and he hasn't won anything. But the circumstances are somewhat distinguishable (and the expectations in the Cradle of Liberty are lower than they are 90 miles to the north) . Manuel did get the Phillies to their first playoff berth in fourteen years despite mentoring a team that suffered numerous injuries and fielded 28 pitchers during the season. Uncle Charlie, as he's now known, clearly deserved the new deal. He did a helluva job.

But is he Joe Torre?

And that leads to a whole bunch of questions. First, let's take a question that Colin Cowherd raised on his show on ESPN Radio. If you say that the ALDS loss wasn't Torre's fault (and his players were quick to rally to his defense), then can you give him credit for the four World Series titles? It's a good question, and it goes to the heart of how much difference a manager makes anyway. The answer, probably, is somewhere in between. Torre wouldn't have won any titles without the talent the Yankees paid for, but he did set a tone of professionalism and class that helped the Yankees ignore all of the NYC-induced pressures and led them to four world championships. Then again, remember an adage that Wall Street types are fond of turning to when the markets are red hot: "Don't confuse brains with a bull market." Put differently, years ago SI wrote an article on Whitey Herzog, the great Royals' manager, who opined that if you have a great manager with horsebleep talent or a horsebleep manager with great talent, he'd bet on the horsebleep manager every time. Bottom line: a manager makes some difference, but not to the degree that a head coach does in the NFL. It's hard, though, to calibrate that difference. Back to Cowherd's point -- Joe has some responsibility for the Yankees' not getting past the first round of the playoffs during the past three seasons. He can't be anointed with sainthood for the four titles and then not be held accountable for the "slide" that the Yankees have suffered during the past three seasons.

Fine, but it's more complicated than that, isn't it? The Yankees' pitching wasn't as strong during the past three seasons as it was when they won the four titles. So is that Joe's fault, or that of the front office, especially one that stops at nothing to acquire the talent that it thinks it needs. Still, in the end, there's another baseball adage -- it's easier to jettison the manager than a bunch of players, including pitchers who are past their prime or who were free-agent signing mistakes (such as Pavano, Igawa, etc.).

Then there's the question that unabashed Yankee hater Chris "Mad Dog" Russo posed on "Mike and the Mad Dog" on WFAN in New York (he is, by all accounts, an admirer of Joe Torre). Russo's position is that while it's all well and good to say that Joe hasn't done as good a job as in the past, who out there is better for this team at this point in time? It's a great point, because it's hard to know. Who wanted to follow Bear Bryant at Alabama or John Wooden at UCLA? After 25 years, it seems that 'bama finally has found a successor to Bryant (and this is written in jest because some fine men have filled that position, but to the fans they just weren't Coach Bryant). Can that new manager succeed?

Again, it's probably up to the manager, the front office and the players. Will the front office fortify the roster the way it has in the past? Will the manager establish his own identity and bond with the players? Will the core of the team let a new manager into their hearts, or will some of them -- Posada and Rivera -- bolt for other pastures? In other words, how long with the mourning period be, and how long will the adjustments take?

Then there's Hank Steinbrenner, King George's maligned son, who was publicly hurting when he lashed back at Torre after Torre claimed that the Yankees' offer was an insult. Hank made some good points, especially regarding the fact that in '95 Torre was a managerial re-tread two times removed and his father gave him the chance of a lifetime. It's an excellent point, for sure, but a hard one for the public to swallow. After all, the Yankees didn't manage the P.R. well, and all the fans know is that a man they truly trust no longer is running their team. People quickly forget the past (it's human nature but generally a good idea), and many fans don't remember that Torre's elevation wasn't exactly met with cartwheels in Manhattan when the Yankees selected him to be manager. Bottom line: Hank has a point.

So let's crystallize all of the arguments and come to a conclusion. All speakers -- Cowherd, Russo, Torre and Steinbrenner the younger make valid points.

Should Joe Torre have been fired?

Should he have been offered a two-year contract with an option for a third year?

Should the Yankees have done what they did?

Should Joe Torre be returning to the Yankees?

Did the suits, the beancounters, make a mistake? Did they forget the public relations aspect of their decision, or did they draw up the decision tree wrong?

I think that they goofed. The Yankees either should have told Joe Torre they wanted to make a change, feted him, offered him a sinecure position for the next 3 years, a Joe Torre day, etc. and scripted a grand and respectful exit, or they should have offered him a 2-year deal with an option at the same money he was making, not a deal with incentives depending on how well the team fared in the post-season.


Because that's how you treat a future Hall of Famer, in New York City, where even the most highly paid manager in the game gets paid what is tip money to Alex Rodriguez.

I wish Don Mattingly, Tony Pena and Joe Girardi good luck. The comparisons will be inevitable, and each of these men will fail in them. And their successors might fail, too.

It says here that you don't want to be the manager to succeed Joe Torre. You want to be the manager to succeed the manager who failed to replace Joe Torre.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Make sure you say "Thanks Joe Torre" at