The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, August 10, 2001


Burst This Thought Balloon

Here's a scary thought for Yankees fans: what if George Steinbrenner drives Joe Torre away from the Yankees? Chew on that one for a moment.

Torre came to the Yankees in the winter of 1995. At that point, the team was 14 years removed from its last World Series appearance, and 17 from its last World Championship. Torre had never distinguished himself in 14 years as a manager; he had one division title and was 109 games below .500 for his career. The New York Daily News headline on the day of Torre's hiring read "Clueless Joe".

But Torre's Yankees have won four World Championships out of the past five, including three in a row, and Torre has handled Steinbrenner better than any man or manager ever has. By dint of his success, Torre's salary has risen from $500,000 a year to $3 million. But his contract is up at the end of this season, and thus far Boss Steinbrenner has been dragging his feet about giving him a new one. Torre is reportedly seeking a three-year deal worth as high as $4 million per year, a pittance when compared to the cost of a star player, especially when your franchise is working on securing a license to print money.

The excuse for not having a deal in place is that Steinbrenner has been too busy. He's working on a deal for a new stadium. He's formed a partnership with the New Jersey Nets basketball team and the New Jersey Devils hockey team, and somehow the Manchester United soccer team fits in there, too. He's building a cable network which will increase the value of King George's property into the stratosphere. He's probably annexed a couple of countries while he was at it, and if he hasn't, I'd recommend Cuba and the Dominican Republic as places to start--there's an endless supply of baseball talent there.

Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News has a good piece on the situation. According to Lupica, this is purely a Steinbrenner power play:

"[T]his story, for as long as it lasts, isn't about logic. It is George M. Steinbrenner. He wants the Yankees to be about him, not Torre, even at a time when Torre is the most popular manager in Yankee history and the most popular sports figure in New York. This is about power, and it is about control, not about Steinbrenner's schedule..."

While it's probable that a deal will get done, there have been rumblings that Steinbrenner is setting up Torre to take the fall should the Yanks falter. This, of course, would be a huge mistake. Torre shouldn't be kept on such a short leash (neither should GM Brian Cashman, who's a free agent at the end of the season, but that's another story); his success has earned him much more than that. Even given the Yanks' extreme payroll (they're now the highest in the game after their midseason additions), this has been viewed as a transitional year; Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill, Chuck Knoblauch, and Scott Brosius are all in the final year of their contracts, and Martinez and Brosius have highly touted prospects waiting in the wings (whether they're ready for next season is, again, another matter). But neither Torre nor Cashman deserves to twist in the wind given their level of accomplishment.

So, back to that scary thought, here's an even scarier thought balloon floated by the Providence Journal's Art Martone: given that Red Sox manager Jimy Williams is a goner at the end of the year, is it too much to fathom that Joe Torre could be the next Red Sox manager? Writes Martone:

"If the Yanks should get rid of Torre -- a move that would be incomprehensible to me, but Steinbrenner is Steinbrenner -- don't you think Torre might take it personally? Don't you think he'd be driven for revenge? What better revenge could there be than leading the Red Sox to the World Series championship?"

Martone goes on to point out that all of the key Red Sox players are already under contract next year, and that the expensive dead weight they'll be shedding (Mike Lansing, Troy O'Leary, John Valentin, Dante Bichette) will enable them to spend even more on improvements. The situation might be enticing to a manager with a thirst for revenge.

Torre has said countless times that his tenure as Yankees manager will be his last job, but that he wants to continue as long as he enjoys it. It would be a shame if Torre were pushed out by an egomaniacal owner whose stripes really haven't changed as much as we've been led to believe. It would be an even bigger shame if Torre were driven into the arms of the enemy. That alone should be enough for Steinbrenner to get his Yankee Doodle Dandy ass in gear and extend Torre's contract. It would be the wrong reason, but the right result.

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