John Harper blames Derek Jeter (for A-Rod’s mopey play and demeanor, at least). Keith Olbermann is on the radio today stumping for Joe Girardi to get the Yankee job (assuming Joe Torre is, y’know, high, far, gone). And while acknowledging the ALDS loss to Detroit was not Torre’s fault, the New York Sun’s Tim Marchman insists “he did make some awfully stupid moves.”
Starting Gary Sheffield at first base was incomprehensible, starting Wright over Cory Lidle was pretty ridiculous; his lineup moves from batting Bob Abreu third against a lefty to batting Rodriguez eighth were goofy as hell, and his puzzling rotations of Melky Cabrera, Bernie Williams, and Jason Giambi in and out of the lineup may as well have been based on astrology. None of that would have much mattered had the team had better starters.
Still, he has to go. He’s been with the Yankees for 11 years, and that’s a long time to manage in New York. He’s not a failure, and any movement to paint him as one in the next few days will be stupid ” the team may not have won a World Series since Bill Clinton was president, but it’s 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 weep 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.
Though Salon’s King Kaufman admits it isn’t his place to advise the principal owner (“I wouldn’t wear all those turtlenecks, and who am I to tell Steinbrenner what to do? After all, he hasn’t been convicted of anything in years,”), he’s convinced firing Torre would be a mistake.
The goal of every season is to win a championship, of course, but teams should be judged on what they did in the regular season, when the effects of luck are muted by the number of games, the opportunity for luck to even out. Over a season, you’ve got several chances to run into Justin Verlander on one of his bad days. In a five-game series, you get one, maybe two.
Firing Torre would be putting the blame in the wrong place because what let the Yankees down was a lack of pitching. The question the Yankees have to answer if they want to go places in the postseason isn’t whether Piniella or Joe Girardi would be a better hire, but who they’re going to get to start games after Chien-Ming Wang and, if they pick up his option, Mike Mussina take their turns.
And they need to figure out who they’re going to get to carry games from the starter to Mariano Rivera, and who they’re going to get to replace Rivera, who’s not getting any younger. The Yankees’ record of hiring pitchers in the past few years is not stellar.