Friday, August 19, 2005

Hard Hits: Time For Torre To Show Who's Boss

With his team continuing to underperform after losing two of three to AL East cellar dweller Tampa Bay in tough fashion, Yankee manager Joe Torre has once again come under fire from owner George Steinbrenner. Torre's club has lost a lot of nailbiters this season and has not been without fault. However, reading an irate Boss continue to take shots at the classy manager through PR spokesman Howard Rubinstein has gotten old.

Is this the same owner who gave his manager of nine seasons a three-year $19.3 million extension that runs thru 2007 back in March? Now because the $200 million dream team that Steinbrenner's Tampa cronies helped put together might not be good enough for an 11th straight postseason appearance, Torre could be on the firing line. Is that how it works?

Blame the manager for why the geriatric Big Unit is average. Blame him for handing the overly sensitive big baby a two year extension through 2007 worth $30 million before he even threw a pitch. Who cares if he was 41? He was going to be great forever and never break down.

As soon as Jaret Wright returned from the disabled list and pitched the Yanks to a win Monday at Tampa, it took just a couple of days for Steinbrenner to praise the work of pitching guru Billy Connors. The same Connors who has produced hardly any worthy pitchers in the minors the past few years. Does he get credit for how awful Jose Contreras was in two years or how inconsistent Felix Rodriguez and Scott Proctor have been? What about Wright's brutal four starts during April and missing nearly four months? I almost forgot. That was the Boss' geniuses in Tampa.

It's amazing how Connors gets all the credit when someone does well but pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre never does. Not even for how well Chien-Ming Wang pitched before he went down. Instead, Stottlemyre gets lambasted in the papers by King George every chance he gets. But never directly because he no longer has the audacity or maybe not the energy anymore.
Stottlemyre has been here as long as Torre and was a big part of those championship pitching staffs. But now, when he can't save a washed up Kevin Brown from back aches, somehow it's his fault that Brown can't pitch anymore.

Should Torre take the blame for how poorly free agent flop Carl Pavano pitched before he wound up on the DL with elbow tendinitis? In George's mad world, of course! The manager is to blame for everything.

Torre has not had a great season. He has made some questionable decisions along the way. Against the White Sox over a week ago trailing by a run in the ninth, he let Alan Embree pitch to Paul Konerko, whose mammoth home run wound up the difference. This past Tuesday, with a five-game win streak on the line after Mariano Rivera blew his second save in three chances, he elected to load the bases in the 11th with a wild Proctor on the mound. Proctor, who already balked Carl Crawford to third and pitched around Yankee killer Eduardo Perez, promptly missed the plate badly on four straight pitches to Jonny Gomes forcing in the winning run.

Even I was scratching my head on those two. However, during a 162 game season, nobody is perfect. Torre explained his reasons for why. As the expression goes, damned if you do and damned if you don't. It must be tough being manager of the most successful sports franchise.
That's until you look at what Torre has accomplished during his tenure.

Four World Series championships. Six pennants. Nine consecutive postseason appearances. Eight division titles. Two AL Manager of the Year Awards in 1996 and 1998. He entered this season with a .610 winning percentage in 1456 regular season games in the Bronx. Only legendary skippers Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel had over a .600 winning mark in over 1000 games in the Yankee dugout. With a 6-0 shutout at Oakland on May 8th, Torre won his 900th game as Yankee manager. He entered Friday night with a record of 952-621. Recently, he passed Ralph Houk on the all-time franchise list for fourth winning-est manager trailing just McCarthy, Stengel and Miller Huggins. Pretty impressive company.

His team trails Oakland by 1.5 games for the wild card and are four behind division-leading Boston. Beginning with a three-game set at the White Sox, there are 43 games left. Still enough time for Torre's club to save the season.

With the heat on, you can tell that Torre does not like off field distractions. He has maintained that he will answer Steinbrenner after the season. Instead, he has emphasized winning on the field, which is how he's gone about it since the beginning.

If his ball club doesn't make the playoffs for the first time since 1993 (excluding '94 strike season), Torre could be out. But if it happens, I hope he sticks it to Steinbrenner and gets in the final word by resigning. He's put up with a lot of shenanigans. Wouldn't it be fitting if Joe told George who was boss?


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