Friday, March 2, 2007

Frustrated Incorporated

I want Joe Torre fired. I’ve wanted Joe Torre fired since Wednesday, October 22, 2003. There have been times since that date when I’ve wanted his head on a stick, to parade around Times Square. But it’s spring training, a time for hope and renewal and…uh…hope, so for now let’s just say I would like him replaced as manager of the New York Yankees.

On October 22, 2003, with the Yankees leading the Florida Marlins two games to one, and edging ever closer to what would have been their fifth World Series title in eight years, Joe Torre passed away. Or, at least the Joe Torre who calmly guided his team to postseason victory after postseason victory passed away. The Joe Torre who managed to push all the right buttons and maintain a calm, unified clubhouse went gentle into that good night.

Sometime around the 10th or 11th inning of Game 4, Good Joe dozed off, and slipped quietly into the great beyond. In his place, occupying his skin, entered some sort of mutant demon. From some other plane, Good Joe and his brother Rocco looked on with helpless dread as Demon Joe decided to put the ineffectual, impotent Jeff Weaver into the 11th inning of a tied World Series game.

The tragedy and inexplicability of this move has been argued by more knowledgeable men than me, but suffice it to say that in 2003, Weaver had an ERA of 5.99 and a WHIP of 1.62. Mariano Rivera, with his 40 saves, 1.66 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, languished in the bullpen making small talk with the bullpen catcher while Weaver gave up the game-losing home run to Alex Gonzalez (K:BB ratio — 106:33).

Hang on a second while I throw up all over the front of my shirt.

Torre was never known as the most brilliant tactician around, but his ability to handle the players and the media more than made up for his strategic blunders, especially on a team as talent-laden as the Yankees. However, over the past three seasons, his grip on the clubhouse has slipped away while his in-game decision-making has grown ever worse.

The era beginning in 2004 has been marked by growing player discontent, internal issues taken to the media and early postseason catastrophes. Granted, the Yankees’ front office has saddled Torre with more big-name, difficult personalities than ever before, but massaging egos is supposed to be Torre’s bread and butter. Or lasagna and meat sauce, as the case may be.

Torre proved to be completely out of his depth during the 2004 choke to the Red Sox, sitting on his hands while his mighty lineup turned into a bunch of free-swinging, nervous hacks against mediocre pitching. He showed no fire, no passion and no ability to reverse the flagging momentum. Torre fiddled while the Bronx burned.

Then, in the 2006 playoffs, Torre made a move that could have negative implications lasting for years. Everyone knows ARod has struggled lately in the playoffs, but by moving him to eighth in the lineup against the Tigers, Torre not only harmed the team’s chances to win, but also destroyed whatever confidence ARod had left.

I have no love for Alex Rodriguez, but the Yankees were unlikely to win without him last year, and they’re unlikely to win this year unless he comes through in the clutch. Torre handled the ARod situation in the worst way possible, publicly humiliating a player with an already shaky psyche. Who knows how much long-term damage Torre did with that move? If ARod holds a grudge, and opts out after this season, leaving the Yankees with a Mike Lowell-type at third base, the blame can be laid at Torre’s door. He inflamed the media’s intifada against Rodriguez, and offered his struggling superstar no comfort, no quarter.

Joe Torre led the Yankees to four championships after a particularly fallow period in the franchise’s history. He provided stability to a revolving-door position and earned enough respect in New York to keep Steinbrenner at bay. He deserves a place in team lore, in the Hall of Fame, and in Monument Park someday. But it’s time for him to go. That was Good Joe.


− For never bringing Rivera into a tie game on the road
− For selling ARod out to Sports Illustrated
− For losing his “magic touch” after Don Zimmer left
− For refusing to trust young players
− For undermining Cashman’s attempts to let Bernie Williams go peacefully
− For damaging the arms of Tom Gordon, Scott Proctor, Paul Quantrill and more
− And most of all, for 10/22/03…

Fire Joe Torre. Let the Girardi Era begin.