End of an era

I’m not saying that Joe Torre is the greatest manager that the New York Yankees have ever had. I’m not even saying that I think he’s a great manager. But sometimes, being the manager of a team with such a high public profile goes beyond what happens on a baseball field. And without saying those other things, I am saying that I am not sure that the Yankees are a better team today or that they’re any better off, and that I am embarrassed by the way this was handled.
It is true that the Yankees have not won the World Series since 2000. It is also true that the Yankees have been to the playoffs for the past 12 years in a row. There aren’t many teams in the history of baseball that can boast that type of success. Why, then, would the “New Yankees”, now run by the Steinbrenner Boys (of which George has now become only a figurehead and spokesman, and likely has little influence in the true operational sense), find it plausible to “tempt” Joe Torre with a contract laden with performance incentives, and with a $2.5 million pay cut? Why is it a good idea to tell your manager, who had led your team to the post-season for 12 straight years, that his performance leaves something to be desired and deserves to be evaluated with relation to pay?

Well, it’s not a good idea at all. It’s not, that is, unless you mean to insult him and hope that he will refuse your offer. Of course, doing so would directly undermine the sense of class, professionalism, and dignity that has been Joe Torre’s hallmark on this team for the past 12 years.

As I said, I am not a great fan of Torre’s managing style. I take issue with burning out talented bullpen arms year after year, with hundreds of play-calling choices, with pulling a pitcher in the middle of a count (unless he’s hurt), and countless other decisions that I disagreed with, and that some others might even call “mistakes.”

But I’ve never said that Joe Torre wasn’t good for the Yankees. That they were better off with one of their past managers, who did not instill the sense of dignity that Torre did; who were more interested in trying to win than in commanding respect; who somehow allowed the sons of past Yankees heroes to disgrace the legacy of the franchise by being caught urinating in a public place and resisting arrest (see 1985: Dale Berra).

There is something to be said for a person who deals with huge egos, people who are making tens of millions of dollars more than anyone aught to be making, just to play a game, year in and year out, and making sure these people keep their egos in check and play as a team. As a winning team.

I wonder whether the Yankees will ever have another run like this one again.

But even if they do, it will have to be without the class of a guy like Joe Torre. I wonder what Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada are thinking right now. I wonder whether any of those players want to come back to work next season. I wonder if Bernie Williams feels like another great Yankee persona has been betrayed.

Thank you, Steinbrenner Boys. Then again, you haven’t exactly had an exemplary precedent to follow: in case anyone’s forgotten some of George’s own antics, here’s a throwback reminder to his ridiculous negotiations with Don Mattingly, the perennial All-Star Yankee player (not the imminent manager), and many other star players, in early 1987, after an incredible offensive year. Ironically, Mattingly would go on to have a record-breaking year in 1987 (consecutive games with homers: 8; consecutive games with extra-base hits: 10; most grand slams: 6). Just as much irony could be garnished from the fact that Mattingly’s shoe-in Hall of Fame career would be hampered and shortened by a back injury that occurred in that same year.  Go figure.

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