Friday, October 19, 2007

Yo, Meathead!

So Joe Torre’s a goner in New York. The Yankees blew this one. How could they imagine that anyone else—Don Mattingly, Tony LaRussa, Joe Girardi, anyone—could have a better chance than Torre to take the Yankees back to the World Series? Although Yankee-hating is a passion of mine, I admire and respect Torre and can only hope that he goes to a team I like after this. And I have a feeling the Yankees may fall on their collective face a bit for the next year or two while they try to get over the loss of a surefire Hall of Fame manager who deserved a better shot to stay on.
I firmly believe, even though the Yankees organization denies it, that the team made Torre an offer they knew he was going to refuse. I saw an article by columnist John Harper in today’s New York Daily News that expressed my view perfectly. Whaddya think?

Yankees did not have the guts to fire Joe Torre
by John Harper

The Yankees probably think they played this just right, but they aren’t fooling anybody here. It’s obvious they didn’t want Joe Torre back, no matter what they’re saying. They just didn’t have the guts to fire him.

So now we know what the new Yankee hierarchy was doing for two days in Tampa: coming up with an exit strategy that Hank and Hal Steinbrenner apparently thought would leave no blood on their hands.

At least George Steinbrenner took the heat for his notorious firings over the years, no matter how illogical some of them might have been. The fact that he wasn’t heard from at all during this “process,” as GM Brian Cashman repeatedly called it, is surely the most telling sign of all that the old Boss is gone for good as Yankee fans knew him.

Instead, the Yankees came up with an offer they had to know that Torre would either find insulting or see as a set-up—or both. If they were going to offer him a salary that cuts his pay by one-third—players’ salaries can’t be cut more than 20%—then at the very least, they had to offer him a two-year deal.

It’s not that the $5 million Torre turned down isn’t plenty of money—that’s just not the point. A one-year deal, especially after Steinbrenner’s public threat to fire him, was, at best, the Yankees telling the world they didn’t have a better alternative.

You can’t do that to any manager, especially the highest-profile manager in baseball who is expected to lead a locker room full of superstar egos and huge salaries. Players surely would have seen it as a complete lack of confidence, and no matter how much they may respect Torre, such a perception could erode any manager’s ability to lead.

As for the contract incentives, based on winning in October, there’s a reason no team has ever done that before: it’s ridiculous. What, Torre is going to try harder to win playoff games with an extra million riding on each round?

How could the Yankees, of all organizations, make this about money, anyway? This is a franchise that overpays for or plain wastes money away every winter on players such as Kyle Farnsworth, Kei Igawa and Jaret Wright, to name a few of the most blatant examples of recent years.

Don’t mistake this as a Poor, Poor Joe slant. It’s about handling a difficult situation with the kind of class with which Torre managed the Yankees for 12 years.

On that count, the Yankees couldn’t have done worse. If they wanted him out, based on early playoff exits the last three years, that was their right, even if it’s ignoring the more difficult task of making the playoffs every year, especially this year.

Indeed, if the Rockies’ berth in the World Series isn’t proof enough that MLB is moving more and more toward NFL-style parity, consider that the Yankees are the only one of the eight playoff teams this season who made it to October last year, never mind the last 12 under Torre.

And for this, the brass offers him one year? How did this make sense? Emasculating Torre was somehow going to make him a better manager in October?

So it looks very calculated. And whatever role Hank and Hal Steinbrenner played in this, maybe they could justify it as somehow following the wishes of their father, but surely Cashman had to be embarrassed by the way this played out.

Unless he too wanted Torre out. There were indications this season that after all his years as a Torre supporter, Cashman wouldn’t have minded a change himself.

The Joba Chamberlain rules were one obvious example that he didn’t trust Torre with one of his prized young pitchers, and his public criticism of how openly Torre talked about those rules was a sign of friction.

It’s well-known around the Yankees that Cashman had become a devotee of statistics, to the sabermetrics philosophy of building a ballclub. Whether he wanted a manager in that mold, nobody knows for sure, but knowing Torre better than anyone else involved in this decision, he had to know the manager would walk away from this.

How could any of the Yankees bigwigs think that after everything Torre has endured in recent years, from last year’s near-firing, to Steinbrenner’s humiliating threat two weeks ago, to 10 days of indecision, he could accept such an offer?

And if they truly did want him back, thinking he was still the best man for the job, how were they not willing to even negotiate with him?

And how is it that, after two days of hiding from the media, they organized a conference call with New York reporters by about the time Torre was getting into a cab to go back to the airport?

No, the Yankees didn’t want Torre back, and he was smart enough to realize it. So he goes out with his dignity while the Yankees look small for letting it end this way. Better that they’d had the guts to fire him.

SEASONINGS: Well, so far in the NFL, I was wrong about one thing for sure. I guess it was wishful thinking on my part to think that the Giants would tank this year, leading to the unceremonious dumping of head coach Tom Coughlin. Not that I want the G-men to do poorly—far from it! But I’m no fan of Coughlin, and I just didn’t think the players were buying into his system. Turns out, they are! Steve Spagnuolo’s attacking defense has turned into a force to be feared. The pass rush is ferocious, and rookie corner Aaron Ross adds a dimension to the defensive backfield not seen in years around Big Blue—someone who actually can make an interception! If QB Eli Manning can just settle down behind his terrific offensive line, he has too many weapons for the Giants not to score points.

Which in a roundabout way brings me to my next point. (Wait for it, wait for it….) I said that the Cowboys were probably the best team in the NFC, but that the powers in the AFC would treat them like chaff to be blown away in the wind. Now, after New England’s 48–27 thumping of Dallas last week, does anyone believe me? So I was right about this—except…

The Giants are rounding into a solid team this year. Looking ahead to the Dallas–New York rematch on November 11, the Giants play the 49ers and Dolphins before that meeting, and the Cowboys play Minnesota and Philadelphia. There is every chance that this could be a meeting between a Cowboys team that is 7–1 or 6–2 against a surging Giants team that could be 6–2. I think that this game will determine who will win the NFC East, and the winner, along with the Packers, could be considered the best in the conference.

Of course, no matter who is the best in the NFC, I still think they would get thrashed by either the Patriots or Colts.

No comments: