Sunday, October 08, 2006

Postmortem, Part II: Word Around Town

Here's some links and comments:

As we implied last time, the Daily News indicates that Joe Torre's gone, and that Lou Piniella is the likely candidate to take his place. Here are a few quotes:

From Torre Now an Average Joe (T.J. Quinn):

Several sources within the organization said there has been a widespread feeling that Torre has been increasingly disengaged from the team, and that his failure to get out of the division series yet again, despite his autonomy, is more than Steinbrenner can stand


Members of the organization now speak of a Torre who they think is distracted by his outside interests, his family, his Safe at Home Foundation. All are admirable pursuits, but a Yankee's only mandate is to shave frequently and win constantly. When Torre took over the team in 1996, sources said, he was a manager and little else.

From Piniella Looms Over Joe (Anthony McSparron):

Now, with the Yankees reeling after being eliminated yesterday by the upstart Tigers in the division series, it's conceivable that Piniella will get the chance to show Steinbrenner how he'd manage The Boss' beloved, $200 million team. A second straight first-round failure has jeopardized Joe Torre's job and Piniella is a likely replacement.

Steinbrenner has privately said for years that the biggest mistake he ever made was letting Piniella go. He's waited nearly 20 years, during which time Piniella managed the Reds, Mariners and Devil Rays, for the chance to bring him back.

Tim Marchman, who's a must-read at the New York Sun (now available online without a subscription) thinks that it's time for Torre to leave, but disagrees as to the choice of replacement:

Still, he has to go. He's been with the Yankees for 11 years now, and that's a long time to manage in New York. He's not a failure, and any movement to paint him as one over the next few days will be stupid — the team may not have won a World Series since Bill Clinton was president, but they've won two pennants, developed some great young talent, and been consistently excellent over the last six years, often in quite trying circumstances. (The rest of the country and Mets Nation weeps salty tears for those trying circumstances, of course, but losing your starting outfield is never fun.) If he's a failure, so are Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa.

Not being a failure doesn't make him a success, though, and it's his handling of Rodriguez that really marks the difference between why he should stay and why he should go. Torre has never been much of a strategist or tactician — his main strength has always been his ability to manage the egos of players and put them in position to succeed. He not only hasn't done that with Rodriguez, he's brutally humiliated him, first by participating in the shameful and repulsive team hit job on the embattled third baseman that ran in Sports Illustrated last month, and then by batting him eighth in a playoff elimination game. No matter how badly Rodriguez was hitting, he wasn't hitting any worse than anyone else on the team. Singling him out that way made him the story, rather than the collective failure. It was a crass move and it didn't work.


I don't know [who the next Yankees manager should be], but it's not Lou Piniella. This irrelevant blowhard couldn't win when he had Rodriguez, Johnson, Ken Griffey and Edgar Martinez in their primes and a farm system coughing up the likes of Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, and Mike Hampton. He couldn't win in the playoffs with a team that won 116 regular season games. He not only couldn't do anything in Tampa Bay with a collection of young talent generally regarded as the best in baseball, but he spent his entire time there groaning about the unfairness of having to play a lot of prospects, as if he'd gone there under the impression he'd be managing a $120 million team. He's a total fraud. Billy Martin or Joe McCarthy would be better options.

Whoever replaces Torre, it should be someone young and someone with an idea or two in his head. The Yankees are in the process of managing a transition; Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada and even Derek Jeter are not going to be Yankees forever. Whatever the team decides to do, the last thing they need to do is bring in some fossil with grand designs of riding a dead horse to World Series victory. Bring in someone who understands that Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano, and Phillip Hughes are right now the three most important players on the team, not someone who thinks that by yelling at people he can revive the ghosts of 1996. That time is over; it has been for years.

Not sure that I agree with Marchman's take on Piniella (although I worry about Lou's handling of pitchers and youngsters). The Devil Rays didn't have the best young talent in baseball--not on the major league level, at least--while Sweet Lou was around. Also, I think that the next manager, be it today, tomorrow, whenever, should show some contrast to Torre's laid-back, player-friendly managing style. But I think that Tim's dead-on in his argument as to why Torre should be gone. Joe's handling of the A-Rod issue showed him to be part of the problem, not part of the solution, and the decision to bat Alex eighth in Game 4 was simply a stunning distraction. Then again, so was the decision to go into the playoffs with a lineup that he'd never tried in the regular season--including a guy who was converted to first base in the last three weeks of the season.

Journal News beat writer Pete Abraham writes, in his excellent LoHud Yankees Blog, that the theoretical "Torre-fired-Piniella-hired" scenario would indicate that the Yanks would go from being Derek Jeter's team to being A-Rod's team. Pete rightly notes that Piniella is an A-Rod partisan (having been Alex's first manager in Seattle), which would probably indicate that if Lou's in, A-Rod won't be on his way out.

I don't know that the Joe Torre Era should be over. There's no shame in losing to the Tigers, and it isn't Joe Torre's fault, for example, that Randy Johnson suddenly turned into a broken-down old man. Still, there is the point of view that when you fall beneath your goals, you can stand a change from the guy who's been here for the last eleven years, no matter how good he's been over that time.

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