May 19, 2007


It's time to let Joe Torre go (Jeff Pearlman, 5/18/07, ESPN)

When George Steinbrenner first hired Torre to replace Buck Showalter back in 1996, I was among the legions of people befuddled by the move. In his 14 years of guiding the Mets, Braves and Cardinals, Torre captured just one division title (with Atlanta in 1982) and never won 90 or more games. Surely there were more qualified candidates -- Gene Michael … Clyde King … Billy Martin's ghost … Alf … me.

Yet, in one of the great managerial achievements in Yankees history, Torre took a team of castaways (Mike Aldrete, Matt Howard, Charlie Hayes), youngsters (Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera) and big-name vets on the downside of their careers (Dwight Gooden, Cecil Fielder, Tim Raines) and molded the franchise's first world champion in 18 seasons.

Torre's touch was subtle, yet undeniable -- he knew when a button needed to be pressed, and when a player was best left alone. He allowed pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre to handle the arms, and hitting coach Chris Chambliss to deal with the intricacies of bat control. And he rarely overmanaged, opting for trust in his players over trust in his own brilliance.

Over the ensuing five years, Torre and the Yankees were an ideal match. The front office always managed to find the right piece -- be it Scott Brosius, Luis Sojo or Chili Davis -- to fit Torre's world. These were mostly mature, self-motivated men in their early-to-mid 30s who didn't need to be pumped up by their manager before a big game. Torre's greatest strength was not his handling of the bullpen or sticking with a steady lineup (in both areas he was only fair), but his innate ability to relate. Black players loved Torre, white players loved Torre, veterans loved Torre and rookies loved Torre. When the 32-year-old Jeter refers to his manager as "Mr. Torre," it is done not for effect, but out of respect.

Unfortunately for Torre, times have changed. With the departures of coaches like Stottlemyre, Willie Randolph and Don Zimmer, he is left with a cast of failed managers (Tony Pena, Larry Bowa) and future failed managers (Don Mattingly) as his assistants. Whereas once the Yankees built a team primarily through player development and small- and medium-scale trades, now it seems like the team (with rare exception) is built on other franchises' blocks. When you nurture and develop the Jeters and Riveras and Jorge Posadas of the world, those men will live and die for those pinstripes. On the other hand, when you shell out fat wads of cash for Alex Rodriguez and Carl Pavano and Jason Giambi, are you buying skill and passion, or just skill?

Watching the current Yankees -- 9½ games behind Boston and going nowhere fast -- answers that question. They are a flat tire, with nary a jack for miles. Here is a team in dire need of pizzazz, of intensity, of spirit, of soul.

Torre is routinely ripped for overworking his bullpen, but his biggest problem is that, quite frankly, nobody except for Jeter and Johnny Damon appears willing to surrender a left kidney for a win. And now they're going to throw Roger Clemens in the mix -- a man whose idea of teamwork is a Wednesday afternoon picnic with his wife and the ol' transistor radio. The old Joe Torre never -- never -- would have let Clemens come in and pitch under his own rules. The new Joe Torre said, "Eh, why not? Pour me some tea."

Just a few miles away at Shea Stadium, the New York Metropolitans scrap and claw and bite for every run. They play with immense heart, celebrate like puppies in a bowl of Triscuits and shave their heads in a sign of team unity. The Yankees, meanwhile, are blah. No spunk. No fire. No urgency. Torre is the best calming-influence manager in the game, perhaps in major league history. But when it comes to getting something out of nothing, he's no different than Don Baylor or Bill Plummer or any other run-of-the-mill skipper.

Buster Olney, Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, makes it painfully clear that Torre and Jeter just don't like or care about the guys who were brought in after the Tino, Brosius, etc, group and, therefore, don't even bother dealing with them, nevermind leading them. That, combined with Brian Cashman putting his fear of being fired above the good of the team, is why they've been adrift for five years. $200 million a year can cover up a lot of problems, but it can't make you a championship team.

And here's a moment that painfully encapsuklates the plight of the Yankees, Clemens, Bowden, & 30-0! (Kevin Thomas, 5/19/07, Clearing the Bases)

It is going to be a fun matchup when Roger Clemens, 44 and Michael Bowden, 20 face each other in the Portland Sea Dogs' Wednesday game in Trenton. And did you catch that California League score last night?

When Clemens was leading the Boston Red Sox to the playoffs in 1986, Bowden was born. Clemens now in another comeback, pitched for the first time last night in a Class A minor league game in Tampa. He gave up three hits (one homer), one run, and no walks over four innings. He struck out two, getting up to 91 m.p.h. on his fastball.

Bowden, a 2005 supplemental round daft pick in 2005, made his Double-A debut Friday night with the Sea Dogs. Bowden got the win, pitching five innings, allowing five hits, one run and two walks. He struck out five. Bowden retired the first 11 batters he faced (four strikeouts, five groundouts).

Bowden is every bit the pitching phenom that Philip Hughes is, but while Hughes is the only guy on the Yankees' 25 man roster who'll be with the team three years from now, Bowden will be the Sox 5th starter. Meanwhile, Roger is costing them $26 million dollars and prevents their fixing any of their other holes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 19, 2007 10:30 AM

I hope you're just trying to get a rise, b/c otherwise, this post as hopeless as your earlier claims that the Yanks have a poor defense.

The only guy on the 25 man who'll be w/ the team? Puleeze. Cano? Jeter? Really? In 3 yrs they'll be gone?

And the Bowden/Hughes claim is a joke. I'll leave aside the fact that they're virtually the same age, but Hughes is at least a year if not 2 ahead of Bowden, and just compare their minor league stats:

Hughes had a 2.13 era, 5.69 h/9, .39 hr/9, 2.05 bb/9, 10.71 k/9, and a .86 whip

Er Bowden? 3.58 era, 7.92 h/9, .69 hr/9, 2.74 bb/9, 9.97 k/9, and a 1.18 whip.

Bowden is a prospect, and given the fact that Fatso Schilling and Wake won't be on the Sawx, I doubt that Bowden will be their number 5, more like a 3 behind Mats, and Buchholz, but he looks clearly superior to the likes of Lester et al.

In any case, as the stats show, he's nowhere near in Hughes' league, and only sa Sawx fan with a typical lack of attention to reality would even dare to make the claim. Buchholz is closer, but despite being 2 years older than Hughes and w/ college experience, even he hasn't put up a Hughes' style domination.

Meanwhile, in 3 years Hughes will be anchoring a Yankee staff that includes Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, the Wanger, and probably Dellin Betances. Not only a younger staff than the Sawx will have but a much more dominant one. And should one of those slip we've got several other prospects to take up the slack.

Which is of course why BP et al rank our system so highly, especially pitching wise. The Sawx system, um, not so much.

Meantime, anyone check out the numbers on that Marlin ss this year? What's that kid's name?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 19, 2007 12:28 PM

Jeter will be what 36? Where would he play? DH?

Cano is just another in a long line of 2b who, for whatever reason, seems unlikely to develop. He had a nice stretch after his injury. It's over. He's Jorge Cantu with NYC hype.

Bowden is now dominating AA, which is where Hughes would be on a team that wasn't panicking. He'll eventually take his place behind Becket, Dice-K, Lester, & Buchholz. It's not a negative that the arms in front of him are so good.

Posted by: oj at May 19, 2007 4:32 PM

Bowden hasn't dominated the minors like Hughes, but he has all the tools to be a front-of-the-rotation starter, and he's progressing steadily through the minors. He'll likely be in Boston by 2009 at age 22. He's better than Lester, who went 7-2 last year at age 22. Jim's assessment that he could be the #3 starter at Boston, behind Matsuzaka and Buchholz, is fair. This is an excellent rotation. With Beckett and Lester, that's 5 potential 20 game winners.

How good do your pitchers need to be? If you have 5 pitchers who can get your team to 110 wins per season, it's not clear that you need any one to be as good as King Felix or Phil Hughes. To win in the playoffs, they just have to be better than the likes of Ian Kennedy & Joba Chamberlain. I like the Red Sox' chances.

And once Philip Hughes graduates to the majors and the Red Sox' stellar 2005 and 2006 draft classes move up in the system, BP will rank the Sox system ahead of the Yanks'.

Finally, a high-ranked system isn't good enough when you have to replace 8 position players, 4 starters, and 6 bullpen pitchers.

Posted by: pj at May 19, 2007 5:29 PM

Bowden has a 1.37 ERA, prior to his excellent AA debut today.

Hughes had a 3.94 when he was callked up, after a bad Spring and other than a good start against the dodgy Rangers offense was mediocre in the majors. He's been advanced past his skill level, which is why he hasn't dominated this year the way he did last year or as you'd expect both him and Bowden to down the road.

The only difference between the two is the level of hype the Yankees prospects always generate.

Posted by: oj at May 19, 2007 6:47 PM

Why is the Twinkies book link at the bottom of the main page posting? The Twinkies play in Meennisota, not Noo Yawk.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 20, 2007 10:52 AM

Are there any NL fans around here?

Posted by: Bartman at May 20, 2007 6:52 PM