Thursday, October 18, 2007

The End of the Joe Torre Era

So in the end, the Yankees don't fire Joe Torre--instead, Torre leaves the Yankees. The rumor that the Yankees were looking at offering him a deal with a lower salary and big bonuses for playoff performance turned out to be true--the offer was apparently $5 Million, with $1 million bonuses for each postseason series win (i.e., a total of $6 MM for reaching the ALCS, $7 MM for reaching the World Series, and $8 MM for giving the Big Apple a victory parade downtown).

The offer meant he would remain the highest-paid manager in the game, with a chance at making even more than the $7.5 MM he made in 2007. Still, a pay cut is a pay cut, and Torre can't have looked forward to answering questions every day of the 2008 season about being a "lame duck" manager. He'd be stalked all season by reports of getting fired, and the best he could look forward to is a repeat of this "Tampa Conclave" business next fall/winter. So it's all over, now.

The thing that I'm saddest about is that Torre isn't signed to some sort of services contract that will keep him with the Yankees for the rest of his life. I really was hoping that Torre wouldn't wear anyone else's uniform in his career, but it seems like Joe still wants to manage. If Tony La Russa leaves, Torre's a very natural fit in St. Louis, where he managed "before he was a genius" (as someone once said of Casey Stengel) and where he was a broadcaster when the Yankees made the call for him to replace Buck Showalter. The Cards are known by some as the "Yankees of the NL," they have perhaps the best player in baseball (Albert Pujols), and are likely to continue to be contenders. Other natural landing places with good, established teams--Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles--all feature skippers with long-term contracts, whose jobs aren't in peril. Of course, if there isn't a managerial slot for Joe right now, he could return to the broadcast booth until something opens up. As we saw this post-season, TBS could probably use his help on the national broadcast.

At any rate, it's unlikely that he'll make more (per year) on his next contract than he would have on the one the Yanks just offered him. Reportedly, the next-highest paid baseball manager is Lou Piniella at $3.5 MM per season. You have to think that cash was a relatively small part of the decision.

Now that Joe's out of the picture, who's our next Yankee manager? Let's look at the candidates:
Don Mattingly -- Pros: One of the best-loved Yankees ever, has experience with the New York media, spent the last year learning at the Master's knee as bench coach. Cons: Has never managed a team before, on any level; low-key leadership style may be too low-key.

Joe Girardi -- Pros: Was NL manager of the year every year he's managed; led the Marlins to unlikely level of competitiveness last year with a very young team after a huge fire sale; likely more of a combative type than Torre or Mattingly. Cons: Was fired after his one year managing the Marlins; fought with ownership, to the point of showing up the owner in public; said to be uptight and controlling; questions about his handling of young pitchers.

Tony La Russa -- Pros: Experienced winner; probably brings pitching coach Dave Duncan with him; had media eating out of his hand in St. Louis, Oakland; four-time Manager of the Year (AL '88, '83, '92; NL 2002). Cons: Seems to believe own press clippings; tends to be center of attention wherever he manages, eclipsing front office and ownership; DUI last off-season; outsider to the Yankee org.

Larry Bowa -- Pros: The ultimate red-ass; would bring a very different management style from Torre's to the table; 2001 NL Manager of the Year. Cons: Has never managed a team to a first-place finish in the majors; seemed to do poorly under pressure in Philly; contentious relationship with players.

Tony Peña -- Pros: AL Manager of the Year in 2003; outspoken leadership style and optimistic outlook. Cons: Like Bowa, has never managed a team to first; managed in a very small media market; left KC amid personal scandal.

Bobby Valentine -- Pros: Manager with playoff experience; has worked in New York before; knows Japan; tactics guy. Cons: Never finished first; erratic behavior; contentious media experience.
There are probably other contenders out there--Larry Dierker is someone I always think should have gotten a second chance, Davey Johnson's a saber-favorite, Chris Chamblis and Don Baylor have experience with the franchise--but I think the guys above are the ones most likely to get the call. Mattingly's the odds-on favorite--as someone (Brother J, I think) said "Donnie Baseball didn't leave Indiana to be a coach." But am I the only one that's leery of having a first-timer take the biggest management job in baseball? Sure, he'll be equipped with likely the best coaching crew money can buy (likely including Bowa and Peña), and he'll have the game's most costly payroll, but this is a hard, unforgiving job. The reports (since denied by Mattingly's agent) that Donnie himself believes he might not be ready are...disturbing.

Of the rest, they're all qualified applicants. I'd hate to see La Russa come here, something about him just rubs me the wrong way, but I'm sure he could do the job. Valentine would be...interesting. Definitely a big change from Torre, maybe the most tactics-oriented Yankee manager since Billy Martin. I'd love to see Peña get another managing job. Bowa would probably give us one of the more interesting seasons in recent history, but might not be a long-term solution. Girardi seems like the a good compromise between Mattingly's inexperience and the expertise of the various greybeards on the coaching staff and elsewhere, but he suffered some character assassination in Florida, and that would likely follow him to the Yankees job.

The one thing that Joe Torre reminds us, even as he leaves, is that you can never be sure who the next great Yankee manager will be. No one was tagging Torre as a can't-miss managerial prospect when he was hired in 1995. He went from "Clueless Joe" to a near-certain Hall of Famer in just a few short years. You never can tell. Could be that Mattingly will be a genius at this job. Could be that La Russa would fall apart doing it...or he could somehow turn into a hometown favorite. The only thing's certain is that the next Yankee manager has some huge shoes to fill. I wish him luck.

Getting back to the now-former Yankee manager, how do you thank someone who's given so much to your team? The biggest thing that Torre brought to the Yankees was blissful silence from the owner, and great mastery of the press. Having been on the other side of the mike, Torre understood the importance of candor with the press, but also he got how important it was to keep some things behind closed doors. You didn't hear much at all about any feuds with players or Steinbrenner. That's part of the reason that Torre being quoted in Verducci's A-Rod attack article last season was so shocking, as was his batting Rodriguez eighth in the Division Series against Detroit. I'm glad that they didn't fire him last year, because this season--the comeback from 21-29 to the playoffs--was largely redemption from how the 2006 season ended.

So let's try this: thank you, Joe. You did things with this team that I never imagined possible, and brought joy into the lives of millions of fans. You showed tremendous class and grace under pressure every day. I wish you and your family great happiness, and I hope that some day, you'll come back to the Yankee organization in some capacity. Until that day, I'll cheer for whatever team you helm, against everyone but the Yankees. Vaya con dios.


Brandon said...

love the blog! fyi, torre would get a bonus of $1M of reaching the playoffs, $1M for reaching the ALCS, and $1M for reaching the world series. He could lose the series, and he'd still make the $8M. Just wanted to clear it up.

Anonymous said...

I hate the Yankees and am nearly giddy at the idea that their 12 year reign of terror is now officially over.

That having been said, Joe Torre is among the classiest of managers in baseball history.

Whether the Yanks opt for experience (Bowa, Davey Johnson) or "pinstripedom" (Donnie Baseball or Girardi), I suspect the fanbase will sorely miss Joe Torre in the immediate through the foreseeable future.

Congratulations Joe on a job exceedingly well done!

Anonymous said...

Joe like many managers was cooked a long time ago Mgrs don't have longevity in baseball. He turned into clueless Joe along time ago. He was just so appealing to keep because of all he did for New York. Yes he has been long dead the Yanks just refused to lay him down same with this team. wayne only decided to get on the stick when he saw what Theo was doing with young talent in Bosten. Late to the party I think.