The New York Sun’s Steve Goldman, recalling Billy Martin saying of Reggie Jackson and George Steinbrenner, “one’s a born liar, the other’s convicted,” suggests that Joe Torre’s handling of Alex Rodriguez might be a passive-agressive “petty act of insubordination”, designed to end the manager’s tenure in the Bronx.
Apparently bored with answering constant A-Rod questions in his preand post-game press briefings and frustrated with a severe late-August slump, Torre decided to sanction the swift-boating of his own third baseman in the pages of Sports Illustrated. The SI story waited like a time bomb for Rodriguez to emerge from his slump and regain his confidence, which he rapidly did, waited until just before the post-season when the Yankees needed Rodriguez, the most versatile, reliable slugger on their roster, to hit.
With this helpful stab in the back, Rodriguez was “motivated” right back into his slump.
Not satisfied, Torre then jerked the future Hall of Famer up and down the lineup throughout the short series. Where a player hits over the course of four games isn’t all that important, but the psychological impact of those moves is. Rather than leave Rodriguez alone, and minimize the stress on his player, Torre did everything he could to make him the story.
This was poor judgment, and not necessarily because it hurt the Yankees in the series. There is no way of knowing if it did. Rodriguez was the team’s primary cleanup hitter this year, batting in that slot 117 times. Had Torre left him there he still might not have turned into Mr. October. That’s something we can never know. However, Torre’s lineup changes not only minimized that possibility, but will have reverberations for 2007. He likely made it impossible for both he and Rodriguez to return to the Yankees next year.
In tacitly endorsing the Jason Giambi-Derek Jeter A-Rod clubhouse freeze-out, in embarrassing the twotime MVP, Torre likely burned his bridges with Rodriguez. In doing so, he compromised the one thing that made him useful to the Yankees. Torre is a poor strategist, particularly when it comes to handling his pitching staff. That’s not why he’s been with the Yankees for 11 years. It was his ability to take a random collection of millionaires and show them how to block out the owner, block out the press, and become a cohesive, professional unit. That day is done.