Thursday, October 25, 2007


So the debate rages on: Will the Yankees benefit from Joe Torre's departure or will King George's Court come to regret the rift they either orchestrated or otherwise invited?

Let's leave aside, for a moment, whether the King's Court intended to discharge Joe or not. Let's leave aside how little the Boss and his courtiers, evidently, understand the respect, gratitude, and kudos due a succesful 12-year employee, even if his performance of late, for whatever reason, hasn't matched his earlier triumphs: better yet, how one ensures that when his 12-year tenure ends, he departs gracefully and without carrying a trail of rancor or acrimony in his wake. [1]

Let's leave all aside all the arguments about how the Yankees handled Torre's departure. Alas, it is now a fait accomplis. So the question remaining is whether the change in leadership will benefit them.

Of course, change doesn't occur in a vaccum. The alternatives must be measured against the deposed incumbent.

Girardi is perhaps the only candidate the Yankees could hire who might excel Torre in media savvy. Neither Pena nor Mattingly, in contrast, come close to matching Torre.

Indeed, neither Girardi's intelligence nor his verbal dexterity can be gainsaid. Girardi owns an engineering degree from Northwestern Univerity. A background reflected in the meticulous statistical archive he keeps on players and utlilizes during games and outside the diamond, in the fastidious precision with which he chooses his words. Which, perhaps, explains why his delivery so often lacks the sincere, forthright, and paternal warmness Torre exuded. Girardi's skillful use of evasion, indirection, and platitude rather suggests the lawyer or politican. Coupled with his austere demeanor, Girardi, more accurately, evokes the military man. The crew-cut, the fixation with details, the immaculate grooming bespeak the repressed, controlling martinet. Think Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz: the Pentagon engineer overly awed by the numbers; the smug expert overly impressed with his technical skill; the thin-skinned autocrat utterly intolerant of criticism. One part Buck Showalter, Two parts William C. Westmoreland.

More problematic still, I can't imagine the Yankees current roster of veterans, superstars, icons, and future Hall-of-Famers wouldn't chafe at receiving criticism and instruction from a 41-year-old contemporary-- one Jeter, Posada, Rivera, and Pettitte played with as late 1999. What's more, Bergen Record columnist, Bob Klapisch, has speculated that A-Rod, in particular, may recoil from playing from Girardi because he reminds A-Rod so much of Showalter. Meanwhile, some of Posada's friends intimated to the NJ Star-Ledger (10/26/07), the Yankees catcher harbors similar misgivings about Girardi. Either, if true, in itself, should disqualify Girardi from further consideration.

On the diametric opposite end of the personality spectrum sits the man who best could match Torre's role as clubhouse paterfamilias-- Tony Pena. By all accounts, Pena is affable, modest, lighthearted, and inspires affection in all who know him. Pena has developed a close rapport with the team's two young Latino player, Melky and Cano. Further commending him, Pena has transformed Posada from a below-average catcher to an average to above-average one over the last two seasons. Indeed, both Posada and Torre have credited Pena with markedly improving the percentage with which the Yankees' catcher has thrown runners out. And like Girardi Pena not only has managerial experience, he boasts a manager of the year award, besides (2003, with The Royals)

Still, to most Yankee fans, Pena is a cipher. Part of it, I suspect, is that as first-base coach, he has avoided the spotlight; the other part, I supect, is the language barrier. Although Pena speaks English without difficulty, he seems to lack the full command and fluency Latin American players like Bernie and Posada possess. And in a city where the media feeding frenzy leads reporters to parse manager's syntax every day, Pena may not be at his most confident or at his best.

Perhaps, the only candidate capable of combining both of Torre's best qualities-- the loyalty and affection he inspired in the clubhouse and the honor he imparted to the manager' chair outside it-- is, of course, Don Mattingly. The salient difference between them, of course, is that Torre had about 15 years of managerial experience before he became the Yankee manager. Mattingly hasn't been a coach for half as long.

Now, like many a Yankee fan, Don Mattingly was about the only reason I watched the team through the late 80's and early 90's. And during Mattingly's prime, few compared in talent, work ethic, consistency, gravitas or stature. Which is precisely what gives me great pause about him managing the Yankees now, at this juncture. The impetus seems driven by sentimentality. The sentimentality of the Yankees' most influential fan-- the Boss. About the aging monarch's recent penchant for the lachrymose, I quote James Baldwin, "Sentimentality is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to expereience, his fear of life, his arid heart."

King George, evidently, wants to see Mattingly manager, he says, before he dies. A reason I can understand but with which I don't necessarily sympathize.

I'd hoped, rather, that the Yankees would renew Torre's contract for two years with the stipulation that he groom his heir-apparent. Because if the organization envisioned Mattingly as their manager one-day, it seemed to me, that the Boss' favorite son needed a little more seasoning. Not only has Mattingly not overseen a pitching staff in a managerial role, but unlike many former catchers like Torre, Girardi, and Pena, who often transition seamlessly into managers, Mattingly hasn't handled a pitching staff as player either.

One can only hope Mattingly is a quick study.

In short, all of the above managerial alternatives suffer from one or more glaring shortcomings. Which, to my mind, had commended Torre as manager-caretaker for another two years, until Mattingly had ripened fully enough to assume the mantle.

Nonetheless, I wish to do justice to the case that the Yankees needed a managerial change. And in doing so, I will cite no less than the universally respected authority, Newsday's national baseball columnist, Ken Davidoff. Ken, recently, was generous enough to mention this obscure, little blog on his ("There are still games going on?", October 23, 2007) and I wish to repay the compliment.

Those of who you who already read him know that Ken's commentary is always intelligent, trenchant, and cogent. More rare in a sports columnist, his tone is gracious, his conclusions are judicious, and rarer still, he is often witty and endearing. (See his Blog Post, Trading Places, 10/25/07) However, with Randy Levine's conflict of interest police on full watch, I should disclose that Ken and I went to JP Stevens High School together, which may explain why I not only admire his work but also like him personally. But I doubt it. In fact, considering my, shall I say, ambivalence, about Edison, New Jersey, it's probably an even greater credit to him.

Ken's case appears in "Time Has Come for Classy Joe To Go",0,5326998.column

As I read it, Ken arguments are as follows,
(1) Torre is a bit of an anachronism, a throw-back to the old-school baseball traditionalists who rely on gut and instinct for their decisions.
(2) Wheras baseball's future belongs to managers who are extensions of front-offices steeped in sabermetrics and who as a consequence, don't command salaries as high as Torre's was.
(3) To this end, Cashman and the rest of the Yankees brass prefer "cheap, young, durable youngsters" whereas Torre demonstrates a marked prejudice toward aging veterans.

Ken cites two vivid examples of this last shortcoming of Torre's in his overuse of Proctor and Vizcaino-- to which we could add, from past years, Karsay, Quantril, Sturtze, and Gordon-- and his neglect of Edward Ramirez. And Torre's similar consignment of Shelly Duncan to a bench player, at most.

All weaknesses of Torre that I can't dispute. (Although the GM's office bears its share of responsibility for neglecting Duncan as well. They didn't even invite him to training camp and instead, used their Rule 5 pick on Josh Phelphs.) Indeed, I'd love to see the new Yankees' manager award Duncan a chance to perfect his skills at 1B and to win a full-time job.

And Lord knows, Torre's management of his middle-reliever leaves something to be desired. However, once again, it's important neither to overlook his personnel nor to forget who Torre, in overusing certain relievers, had as his alternatives. Until Cashman's youthful movement bore fruit this year, it wasn't as though Torre has this reservoir of young hard-throwing relievers he had, but refused to tap. Since the middle relief heyday of Mendoza, Nelson, and Stanton, Torre has been hard-pressed to find a jewel amid the dross of Felix Heredia, Felix Rodriguez, Gabe White, Buddy Groom, Chris Hammond, Juan Acevedo, Antonio Osuna, etc.

There has been considerable speculation that Cashman's support for Torre was tepid, at best, not only because of the shortcomings Ken enumerates above. But also, Cashman, apparently, as designs on placing his own stamp on the organization. SI's Tom Verducci suggests that Cashman imagines himself a baseball intellectual in the mold of Theo Epstein and Billy Beane and has aspired, for some time, to transform the Yankees into some Moneyball epigone. But Torre's traditionalist management-style blocked Cashman's way.

Is this true? God, I hope not. To be sure, Cashman deserves kudos for replenishing the Yankees' farm-system and re-asserting its overall strategic importance to the Yankees future. However, many of Cashman's personnel decisions, in particular, about major league pitchers are responsible for the playoff defeats that cost Torre his job. Here's just a few of Cashman's noteworthy follies.

  • Trading Ted Lilly for Jeff Weaver
  • Trading Jeff Weaver for Kevin Brown
  • Trading Juan Rivera and Nick Johnson for Javier Vasquez
  • Trading Javier Vasquez for a 41-yr old Randy Johnson
  • Jose Contreras
  • Carl Pavano
  • Jared Wright (forsaking Derek Lowe, for $1 million more per year)
  • Kyle Farnsworth
  • Kei Igawa
  • Andy Pettitte? (George was more responsible ignoring Pettite in '03 however)

And since Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, Yankee starters, in their last 17 post-season games, have gone 2-8 with a 6.36 ERA. In elimination games, they're 0-4 with 12.22 ERA, averaging 2.8 innings per start.

I quote an astute observation of a loyal contributor to Ken's blog, Peter Ciccone,

"In the Yankees last 15 postseason games--going back to Game 6 of the '04 ALCS--Yankees hitters have reached their first at bat in the 4th inning down 3 runs or more 9 times. 9 TIMES!!! Including three times this month against Cleveland. In those same 15 games, the Yankees took their first at bat in the 7th inning trailing 10 times, with starters providing a quality start in only 2 of those 10 games (Chacon Game 4 '05 ALDS, Mussina Game 2 '06 ALDS)."

Is this because Cashman relied too heavily on sabermetrics in acquiring these starters? Or does this reliance, in turn, discredit Cashman's sabermetrical model? No, not necessarily

However, it does suggest that there's no substitute for that quality that Torre had in abundance-- baseball instinct. We often forget how often Torre would make a decision, contrary to what the numbers would imply, and turn out right in the end. I can recall countless occasions over the last 12 years, where I would wring my hands and shout at the heavens over Torre's decision to play Minky or Cairo or Enrique Wilson or Charlie Hayes, or to pitch Graeme Lloyd or Jim Mecir or Holmes or Grimsley or Vizcaino in some situation, during a period in which his players were strugging, and the player nonetheless responded. And Torre's faith in him would reward him and the team.

It's because Torre often relied on that primal level of human knowledge-- intuiton-- part innate, part experiential-- that no sabermetrician can duplicate and for which rational intelligence cannot substitute.

I only hope that the Yankees don't soon regret their decision to minimize the simple importance of "JOE KNOWS". He marshalled, an often inconsistent level of talent, to 12 straight post-seasons for a reason. His critics ignore that accomplishment at their peril.

[1] According to YES Network's Michael Kay, Torre professes insult because he just loves acting the martyr. I wonder whether Kay ever paused to ask why almost every Yankees manager to leave King George's employ in the last 30 years, then, harbors lingering bitterness and shuns the organization for years afterward.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


"The more things change, the more they stay the same" --- French proverb

The nausea has returned. Oh yes, after twelve years, it has reasserted itself, and with a vengeance.

The pettiness and the effrontery. The insolence and the vindictiveness. The cowardice and the malice. The insanity and the embarassment. Yankeeland has resurrected the age-old revulsion.

The organization that repelled you by hiring and firing Billy Martin 5 times in 13 years. The brass that outraged you by dismissing Dick Hower after he won the AL East. The Boss that disgusted you when he canned Yogi Berra 16 games into a season, and with his son, no less, in the locker room. The leadership that appalled you by dispatching Buck Showalter and Gene Michael after they'd led the Yankees through a fourteen year wildnerness into the post-season. The front-office that disgusted you when it wasted its time courting Gary Sheffield and in the meantime, drove Andy Pettitte away.

Well, yesterday revived the legacy of nausea to connect the Yankees' shameful present with their ignominous past.

Sure, the years may pass. The names and faces may change. The Steinbrenner serfs may supplant the Steinbrenner Lord; and The Boss' courtiers may inherit his Kingdom. But the self-destructive arrogance, the irrational scapegoating, the contempt for their fans' intelligence and the defiance of common sense-- that never ceases. It only goes into remission.

The Yankees never deserved Joe Torre. The last two weeks only proved it.

First came the ingratitude of the Boss' ALDS Ulitmatum after a season in which their manager had resurrected his team from the brink of extinction, despite a pitching staff featuring the likes of Kei Igawa, Chase Wright, Matt DeSalvo, Tyler Clippard, Darryl Rasner, Carl Pavano and a 10-week DL stint for Jason Giambi, the hitter who led them last year in Home Runs.

Then followed the high-handed callousness in which the organization who let a man, who had toiled for them for 12-years and won throughout, a man of of consummate tact, grace and integrity; a man who following his team's elimination shed tears of anguish and devastation; a man they let wallow in misery and dangle in anticipation for ten full days before deciding his fate.

In the meantime, they staged a cyncial and contemptible charade, with all the pomp and circumstance Little Men crave to make themselves feel important. For two days, they convened behind closed doors and locked gates in their Tampa Manse. For two days, they pretended to deliberate, to weigh and to consider. When actually, for two days, they schemed and contrived; they plotted and maneuvered. How do we rid ourselves of this beloved man, these Little Men pondered? How do we dispose of this Mensch who has robbed us of the credit and the praise, the affection and the respect, to which our money entitles us. How do we dispatch him and yet preempt the outrage from our fans and our players that we know ourselves too cowardly to face by simply firing him? So the Little Men combined their collective smallness and this is what they wrought: an offer so insulting they calculated he would refuse. An offer that in ostensibly saving their faces, slapped his harder than if they'd had the decency just to fire him in the first place.

So on the third day, they invited the manager who had led them for twelve years who had won them four championships and reflected upon them only glory and grandeur in the process -- they invited this man to Tampa to dictate to him irrevocable terms for surrender. And with all the duplicity and unctuous innocence that Little Men can contrive this is what they had the gall and the indecency to offer--

  • "For reaching the post-season for an unprecedented twelve consecutive years, for attaining 10 AL East division titles, for earning 6 AL pennants, for winning in 6 years as many World Championships as we had in the previous 35, we offer you one lame duck year at a 30% decrease in salary.

  • "And because the mission statement of this franchise is to win a World Series every year and while we all share responsibility for our failure to do so the past seven years, we wish to hold you, Joe Torre, to a standard we would never impose on ourselves. No, because you, Joe Torre, alone haven't made it past the ALDS in 3 years; because you lost 4 straight games to the Red Sox in the '04 ALCS; because you haven't won a World Championship with the legions of great starting pitchers we've furished you-- from Jeff Weaver, Javier Vasquez, Kevin Brown, Jose Contreras, Carl Pavano, Jared Wright, Hideki Irabu to Kei Igawa: because of all this failure you, alone, Joe Torre have caused the Yankees franchise the past seven years, you, alone, must accept what we like to call a 'performance-based model.' Never mind the effect it may have on your players. No, to reinforce that you, alone, Joe Torre, cost us the Division Series the past three years and to motivate you for the future, you must accept a $1 million incentive for each playoff round you win-- performance-based stipulations, to which we, of course, don't consider ourselves beholden.

  • And finally to reaffirm, that we only welcome managers who win World Series here-- albeit from our President and our GM we, evidently, accept far less- we will only guarantee you, Joe Torre, a second-year only if you reach the World Series. (Note how generous we are because we don't even demand that you win it.)"

And of course, what ensued was the ending the Little Men had spent ten days scripting.

The Manager who loved his job and in turn, inspired the love and loyalty of his players and his fans, demonstrated in vivid fashion why the ungrateful and devious Little Men and the organization they lead never really deserved him.

And in doing so, he exposed the Little Men for who they are.

Joe Torre forsook the job he coveted because he has too much pride and self-respect to accept the humiliating and degrading terms in which the Little Men couched it. Joe Torre declined the offer because he would not play their scapegoat. Joe Torre spurned the opportunity because he would not accept sole responsibility for the success the Little Men portray as failure. Joe Torre rejected them because he could not abide the abject insult their incentive clauses implied.

No, predictably, Joe Torre would not debase himself for $5 million; not for the prestige of his title; not for the roar of the crowd; not for proximity to dignitaries and celebrities; not to prolong his moment in the limelight. Joe Torre would not grovel and scrape and dive for the Blood Money the Little Men threw on the floor.

No, Joe Torre thanked them and he walked away without protest or rancor. And never more did his class, his dignity, his magnanimity throw the pettiness, the baseness, the cowardice of the Yankees' Little Men into lower relief.

One marvels at the smugness and the self-delusion of these Little Men. So worried were they of enraging and alienating their customer, they compounded their insolence and their dishonesty by professing surprise-- Renaultian shock, even-- that Joe Torre would decline their degrading offer-- and in staging their charade did nothing but insult our intelligence. Do they really think so little of their fans that they think we would buy the transparent chicanery they purveyed?

More worrisome, do these Little Men so devoid of courage and honesty really believe that the free agents players they were loath to antagonize by firing their manager outright will not see right through their duplicity?

Four years after the tepid, disingenuous, eleventh-hour offer to Andy Pettitte that drove him to Houston; one year after refusing to extend the contract of their indispensable catcher, after declining to renew the contract of their immortal closer, after waiting until Spring Training to vouchsafe their still productive 16-year center-fielder a demeaning, non-guaranteed minor-league contract: Do these Little Men, after their affront to the manager Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte consider a father figure, really believe their free agents will re-sign after the way they treated him-- will re-sign simply because the Little Men are prepared to offer them prodigious sums of money. No, even after Andy Pettitte himself fled to Houston in 2003 for much less because the Yankees' disrespected him, the Little Men upstairs, evidently, still haven't learned their lesson.

They don't understand why the $300 million they spend annually has bought neither the players' loyalty nor the fans' love only their manager could inspire. How stubbornly obtuse, how self-satsified these Little Men reveal themselves to be. Such is the entitlement of sons who inherit money and think they earned it. Such is the vice of opportunists who usurp power and think they merited it.

So, for now, the Little Men have gotten what they for long contrived. They can have their ordinary and pliable manager whose celebrity and stature will not overshadow them. They can obtain all the credit and plaudits Joe Torre's prestige denied them. They can have their opportunity to demonstrate that anyone can manage a team with a $230 million payroll and deliver it to the post-season. They can prove their cyncial belief in the power of the all-mighty dollar. And they can show their fans that their free agents who threatened to follow their beloved father-confessor out the door, unlike their manager, possess a loyalty that extends no farther than money.

So concludes the Golden Torre interregnum in the sordid, everlasting reign of the Bronx's Little Men.

Let them know however, if they prove wrong and all their money can't save them from their pettiness and insolence, their self-destructive malice and unreason, and Posada and Rivera and Pettite, for the second time, leave and A-Rod, seeing only adversity ahead, follows, and the Yankees return to a third-rate, mediocrity behind Toronto and Boston: let them know their prodigious attendance records, their prolific network revenues, the reservoir of affection and respect and loyalty Joe Torre's class brought and the well of rancor, and duplicity and effrontery his nobility shielded -- all will desert them.

And then, may the Little Men see themselves for who they are.

And may they suffer the Peoples' Wrath.


"Oh, how wretched is the poor man that hangs on prince's favor"-- Henry VIII

If their squalid purge of Joe Torre hadn't already revealed King George's Court for all its imperial condescension, its abject pettiness, and consummate obtuseness (See above), then Prince Hank's comments on Sunday flaunted it for us all to see.

The vindictive little Prince poked his head out of the royal bunker to kick his fallen manager once more.
Joe Torre is an ingrate, Prince Henry declared, "Where was Joe's career in '95 when my dad... [gave] him that opportunity-- and the great team he was handed."

"Handed?" What a mordant irony! The entitled Prince rebukes the man who rose from a violent, working-class home through talent, intelligence, and self-deprecating charm for not genuflecting in appreciation for the status and success allegedly "handed" him on a silver platter.

"Handed"! Handed, as though the Yankees managerial job were some sinecure, an act of patronage King George, in his infinite generosity, vouchsafes on some select, undeserving peon. Is their any more piquant illustration of how little regard the Steinbrenner clan has for their managers' work, in general, and Joe Torre's contribution, in particular?

Yes, in 1996, they “handed” Joe Torre a closer John Wetteland whose confidence his predecessor had decimated. They “handed” Joe Torre a middle-reliever, Mariano Rivera, whose talent and promise no one else in the organization seemed to have noticed. They “handed” Joe Torre a pitching staff devoid of an ace because a 146-pitch game in the '05 ALDS sidelined David Cone all-season with an aneurysm. They “handed” Joe Torre a first-baseman whose slow start incited a jeering crowd. They “handed” Joe Torre a hole at second-base that he plugged with a utility man who responded with a career best season. They “handed” Joe Torre a Texan pitcher the pressure of New York so unnerved he would vomit before his starts. They “handed” Joe Torre the first World Series the franchise had won in 18 years. Yes, they handed it all to him, says the King's entitled heir. Joe Torre, in his own right, evidently, made no contribution worth mentioning.

What's remarkable, however, is that in the same breath Prince Hal cannot fathom why Torre would construe the Prince's patronage-- a one-year irrevocable offer at 30% pay-cut, with "motivation"-based performance incentives besides-- as a reproach, an insult, a symbolic expression of just how expendable they viewed their manager. A perceived dispensability that Prince Hank's own comments, now, explicitly affirm.

Perhaps, then, we should take Prince Hank at his word, then, when expresses shock at the universal opprobrium the King's Court has since received. Perhaps, we should believe him too when he says, "[he] sincerely wanted Joe to accept that offer." Perhaps, the offer he and the rest of King George's Court devised was not the ruthless, Machiavellian ploy with which their critics have credited them. No, the King's Court, evidently, is too arrogant to resort to low cunning. And what's more, their too obtuse to comprehend why a 12-year employee tendered an irrevocable, non-negotiable pay cut and “bonuses” that would task him alone with recent failures would signal to him disapproval of his work and contempt for his record.

No, the King's Court subjected Joe Torre to far worse than a ploy. They proffered him a mea culpa to sign, an offer tantamount to terms of surrender. For to accept them, Joe Torre would have had to admit to their implication that he alone is to blame for the Yankees’ last three ALDS defeats; that he alone bear responsibility for an entire organization’s failures and to forces beyond his control. And more odious still, the King’s Court is so smug and arrogant they profess incomprehension that Joe Torre was neither so contrite nor so desperate as to submit to their terms.

Alas, here in all its unabashed sordidness stands the smallness of All King George's Men.

Pity them their blind insolence. And pity us Yankee fans for loving the Kingdom they rule.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


"The past is never dead. It's not even past." --William Faulkner

Twelve years of stability, prosperity, and concord. Twelve years of optimism, pride and grandeur. Twelve years of regular season excellence and post-season drama. Twelve years in which excitement reigned on the field and normalcy prevailed in the clubhouse. Twelve years in which Yankee fans could delude themselves that the insanity, the meddling, the bluster and the farce that characterized the Dark Ages had faded forever into oblivion.

How easily we deceive ourselves! A few inopportune and gratuitous threats in the newspaper. Unrealistic expectations. Misdirected blame. Ingratitude, pettiness, and churlishness abounding. A dangling, scapegoated manager. Lust for, and flirtation with, the latest glamorous name......

And in a blink of the eye, memories of the dark, ignoble past come flooding back: the 13 years without a playoff birth; the six consecutive seasons of 4th place or worse finishes; the annual clubhouse turmoil and the revolving managerial door.

In case you didn't live through, or conveniently have forgotten, the decade B.T.E (Before the Torre Era), let me refresh your recollection. The Before Torre Era was the worst of times.

It was the epoch of dugout altercations and barroom brawls and front-office vendettas. It was the age of the three-ring media circus. Managers criticized players in the press, players publicly villified the front-office, the front-office decried ownership, and ownership reviled just about everyone. (One time, even going so far as to hire felons to besmirch a player's reputation and to sully his name.)

It was the period when ownership drove away Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles, Goose Gossage, Mickey Rivers and countless other players responsible for World Series championships. It was the span when baseball GM's could exploit the Madness of King George to bilk the Yankees of Al Leiter for Jesse Barfield, Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps, Doug Drabek for Rick Rhoden, and an entire farm-system for Rickie Henderson. It was the years when The Boss would banish a callow shortstop to AAA for an untimely error. It was the Springs of Andy Hawkins, Dennis Rasmussen, and Ed Whiston. It was the Summers of Dallas Green, Bucky Dent, and Stump Merrill. It was the Winters, cold, bleak, and stove-less when incumbent players fled, Yankee Greats were estranged, and free-agents shunned New York.

The dark tyrannous pall over Yankeeland only began to lift when in 6 B.T.E., Commisioner Fay Vincent exiled King George.

For in the ensuing three years Gene Michael managed to re-build the Yankees foundation by drafting Derek Jeter, signing Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, acquiring Paul O'Neil, and refusing to trade Bernie Williams.

Alas, the reprieve wasn't to last. Vincent allowed King George to resume the throne. And soon enough tyrrany, madness, and fiat reigned yet again as King George, in spite of the Yankees' first playoff birth in fourteen years, dismissed the two architects responsible.

Only this time just when King George appeared poised to cast the Yankees yet again into perdition, the Baseball Gods, working in their ever mysterious and unfathomable ways, decided to favor the Bronx with an unexpected and unearned gift. Out of Hannibal Mo (or St. Louis, anyway), they brought the Damned Yankees "Clueless Joe"-- the ominous New York Post headline that fate would charge with a rich, mordant irony which only years later would Yankees fans fully appreciate.

Because just as the mythic "Shoeless Joe" would damn the Yankees, the real-life "Clueless Joe" would redeem them and usher in The Yankees Renaissance. A Golden Era dawned, reminiscent of the 1950's when Pinstripes ruled. And over the succeding twelve years, the Dark Ages indeed receded into oblivion. Or so we thought.

No, of course, Joe wasn't alone, or perhaps even preponderantly, responsible for it. After all, he inherited the foundation Gene Michael built, Bob Watson refurbished, and Brian Cashman solidified.

However, it was through Joe's stewardship, the Yankees won with those players, and won and won and won: four World Series rings in six years, six AL pennants in nine years, and ten AL East division titles in twelve, and finally, an unprecedented twelve consecutive post-season births.

But more importantly, Joe stamped the franchise with his personality. He imparted his patience, his maganimity, his sang-froid. He restored to the Yankees the class, the nobility, the dignity Joe DiMaggio once symbolized and King George, long ago, had squandered. Even its fiercest rivals begrudgingly respected and admired the team in the Bronx.

How could they not? Their stars no longer publicly feuded, brawled in bars, or taunted each other in the press. Manager and GM no longer blamed each other for losses. Tampa and New York's antagonistic factions maintained an uneasy but workable detente. In the clubhouse, an esprit de corps reigned that enabled the team to absorb malcontents, misfits, and libertines and still manage to harness their talent. Indeed, Torre inspired such loyalty and affection in his players that free-agents not only wanted to play in New York again but specifically for its manager himself, with Joe often sealing the deal with a well-placed recruiting call.

And then of course the team won and won and won. Which really is the only reason why Torre remained long enough to carve out the first and only autonomous fiefdom in the history of King George's reign. Winning had granted the vassal power, prestige, influence-- the unbridled love and adulation of the people-- that the King couldn't deny. Albeit, througout, he resented it.

You see, a tyrrant can compel the people's respect. He can purchase their allegiance. He can even, through success occasionally, earn their admiration. But he never can win their love. And he fears and loathes anyone who can.

Thus the reason why Steinbrenner, for years, has yearned for the occasion to sack Torre. Torre's popularity threatens King George's unbridled hold on power. Were it not for the people's outcry and for the public backlash every tyrrant most fears, King George would have dispatched his imagined rival long ago.

Alas, now with Torre's contract expiring and the Yankees having lost three straight divisional series, it appears King George has seen his best opportunity. And so, the King has retired to his Tampa castle to convene with his advisors and evidently, to name a new vassal to manage the Empire.

Meanwhile, the King basks in the reclaimed limelight. He feeds the speculation; he prolongs the agonizing Limbo. The Sword of Damocles hangs over Joe's head and King George cherishes the moment. The vassal's anguishing wait to learn of his fate and the people's clamor to hear it confirms for the King that he still wears the Crown.

True, only time will tell if the King casts Yankeeland back into the Dark Ages. But the omens of the past-- the public ultimatums, the leaked reports, the tacit and unwarranted blame of his manager, the seeming indifference to public opinion or player sentiment, the intimations of wholesale dismissals -- thus far bode ill.

Torre's presence might not have been able to advance the Yankees past the last three divisional series because his management couldn't overcome wretched starting pitching that over the last seventeen post-season games has plagued the team. A period during which Yankee starters have gone 2-8 with a 6.36 ERA, and in elimination games since Game 7 of the '04 ALCS, are 0-4 with 12.22 ERA, averaging 2.8 innings per start. (See also "How to Fix the Yankees", Pitching, Pitching, Pitching: Why the Yankees Lost, August Archive)

No, Torre's presence might not secure for the Yankees a championship over the next few years. His absence, however, could very well prevent them from contending for one anytime soon.

And lest you think progress is inevitable and a return to the Dark Ages impossible, consider that how King George treats Joe and who he selects to manage will weigh heavily in whether four cornerstone players, Posada, Rivera, Pettitte, and A-Rod, return. Cornerstones the Empire cannot and will not rise again without. For however much promise a rotation of Joba, Hughes, Wang and IPK holds for advancing in October, lose any one of the Four Pillars and the Yankees risk not even qualifying for the tournament. Lose two or more and the Empire's foundation might not simply teeter, it might very well crumble. And in the ensuing chaos, another Dark Age could loom.

So you Yankee fans clamoring for a new manager, heed the past or one day you may awaken to a new Dark Age that you yourself have invited and discover yourself lamenting your ingratitude and yearning for the Golden Age of Joe.

Monday, October 1, 2007


"The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us."-- King Lear

Oh how 162 games focuses the mind, sharpens the view, and alters the landscape. Oh how a season separates the men from the boys, the charltans and poseurs from the real McCoys, and the true redeemers from the false prophets. Oh how the Baseball Gods punish tragic pride and deliver a poetic, almost Divine, justice.

From April to September, we Yankees fans endured it. The preening and the gloating, the malice and the Schadenfreude, the pettiness and the braggadocio. We read it in Mike Lupica's columns. We heard it resound from WFAN and their roster of Yankee-hating hosts. We witnessed it in the "Yankees suck" jeer that each night captivated the Shea rabble. We smelled it in the fetid stench of ressentiment that wafted from the Flushing sewers.

A seismic shift in New York's baseball geography had occurred, we were told. New York's baseball capital had migrated from the Ruth's House to Jackie's Rotunda where a new king was crowned. The King is dead. Long live Queens.

The Mets were young, vital, and ebullient, they said; the Yankees, tired, decadent, and old. The Mets had cultivated success; the Yankees had bought failure. The Mets boasted budding superstars; the Yankees were saddled with declining has-beens. Reyes, Wright, and Beltran heralded a radiant Spring future. Jeter, Posada, and Rivera personfied a dying October past.

Never mind that this Mets team hadn't won a single World Series. Never mind that this Mets team was comprised of players who hadn't proved themselves beyond a single season. Never mind that a baseball seasons ends not in May but September. Never mind that the once moribund Yankees have risen and the once mighty Mets have undergone a ignominious fall.

That is, the Baseball Gods tend to mete out an equitable, if deliberate, justice. Over a 162 games season the great distinguish themselves from the merely lucky while talent, heart, and the simple law of averages overcome the anomalous bounce and errant call. The .300 lifetime hitter follows his wretched slump with a hot streak. Today's adverse decision at 3rd base is balanced by tomorrow's undeserved boon at home. The pitching staff composed of middling starters and an overtaxed bullpen unravels. And the insolent, gloating fan swollen with hubris over his team's May fortunes receives an abrupt, traumatic and much-deserved comeuppance.

Take Heed Mets Fans and Behold the Wrath of the Baseball's Gods.

Let this be a lesson to you, oh arriviste-- the lesson that the New York Yankees (if not always their fans) teach: "Magnanimity in Victory" and "Dignity in Defeat."

Oh Mets fan, that petty animosity and resentment you harbor for the Yankees is best directed at the ownership and management of your own franchise. After all, the Yankees didn't compel the Mets to trade Scott Kazmir, Heath Bell, or Brian Banister or deter the Mets from re-signing Chad Bradford or Darren Oliver. No these are follies Mets' ownership and management committed all on its own.

Perhaps, then, for the future, it would best serve the Mets fan and the team he professes to adore to concern himself less with the fate of the AL East and the team in the Bronx; and to worry more about the decisions rendered and the competition faced in Queens.

For as long as the Mets fan preoccupies himself with the Yankees' fate, he consigns himself and his team to the plight of the inveterate second-class citizen.