What are you gonna do George Steinbrenner?
Oct 9, 4:31 PM (ET) Email this Story
By JIM LITKE
Nobody tells a guy who spent $200 million on the hired help what he can or cannot do. So go ahead, fire Joe Torre if it makes you feel better. Just ask yourself something first. What would Lou Piniella or any other manager have done differently?
Scream more? Hit and run less? Use the hook on one pitcher a little earlier or another a little later? Because even if Torre - or Piniella, or the ghost of Connie Mack, for that matter - had done any or all of those things, the result would have been the same.
If you're compiling a list of the people who let you down the past half-dozen seasons, his name doesn't even make the top 10.
This doesn't mean you have to stand pat. Just the opposite. The best thing about your stewardship is that the Yankees' glass never looks half full. If you're not happy, then nobody else in the organization is going to be, either. Sure, it's a miserable, nerve-racking way to run one of the greatest franchises in sports. But no one is ever going to utter your name and the word "complacent" in the same sentence.
So get general manager Brian Cashman on the phone, tell him to pull out a copy of the roster and a red pen. Start by having him draw a line through the third baseman's name, because everybody in New York already has.
Adding Alex Rodriguez was wonderful in theory, but, like communism, not so wonderful in practice. He's tried adapting, agreeing to move from shortstop, where he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer, to the far side of the diamond to give Derek Jeter plenty of space.
He tried being cocky, because A-Rod thought that's what the town wanted, then humbled himself when pity seemed like the quickest way back into its heart. He's always the first ballplayer to show up for extra practice, and often the last to leave. That might have endeared him to the coaching staff, but A-Rod will forever be dragging his price tag behind him like a ball and chain. Cut him loose, cut your losses while you still can, and ship him to the Angels, Dodgers or Cubs for one of those young arms that have been so effective against your lineup the last few postseasons.
And while we're on the subject of pitchers, it's time to stop thinking of your staff as a way station for AARP millionaires. Grabbing Roger Clemens a few years ago was a stroke of genius, but he was the exception and not the rule. Remember Kevin Brown, whose name rhymes with "broken down"? Well, Randy Johnson is already 43 and Mike Mussina turns 38 in December and they're eating up $35 million annually.
The good news is that Mussina is in his option year, the better news is that Gary Sheffield is, too. Cut them loose and use the money for another young arm. It seems like ancient history now, especially because a lineup card glittering with All-Stars is hard to see past, but the bedrock of those four World Series titles in five years at the start of Torre's tenure was strength up the middle and pitching.
Take out the contributions of Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, who both hit .500 against Detroit, and the rest of the batting order went 18-for-104. That's a .173 average. Everybody else in baseball understands your hitters were geeked once they fell behind early and responded by trying to hit every ball out of the park. That's because they figured it was only a matter of time before the other team started doing the same to the Yankee pitchers.
Torre, on the other hand, has been consistent, maybe the best thing that ever happened to you. He was the buffer all these years between expectations and reality, and every year he got your team close enough to win it all.
He kept everybody happy when dividing playing time among a bunch of midlevel talents like Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill was touchy, and he kept the spare parts like Jose Vizcaino and Luis Sojo sharp. He made room and time for budding superstars like Alfonso Soriano and Robinson Cano to develop and he usually had all the issues sorted out when the playoffs rolled around.
Now he's got a roster full of guys who - at least on paper - should be penciled in every day, and less flexibility than ever to make decisions. He treated them like the professionals they're supposed to be, moving pieces around to account for age and injury, and tried to stay out of their way.
Remember how well that worked for the 2000 team, the one that Torre insisted prepared so well on its own that managing was almost too easy? "I'd have meetings sometime," he said then, "for my own sake." Well, this is not that kind of team.
No, this is team that could use a big, swift kick in the pants, and Torre isn't so timid that he wouldn't apply the occasional thwack. But ballplayers will forget the sting soon enough unless they know the manager will be around long enough to do it again.
Torre has shown more patience than the job merited, sought less credit than he deserved, won as often as he should have and never once complained.
If that adds up to a pink slip now, you'd better have a pad of pink slips handy. You won't find anybody that good at covering your back for twice the price.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com