Sunday, June 05, 2005

Great Lupica Piece on Snorre

Torre should be accountable whether Yankees win or not
The Yankees have a record of 28-27 after last night's extra-inning victory against the Twins, one that will be treated like their latest most important victory of the whole season. They have this record with one real injury of note, to Jaret Wright. The Mets have a record of 29-26 after starting out 0-5. They won't have Steve Trachsel until July, they have seen injuries to Kris Benson and Kaz Ishii, they didn't have Mike Cameron, their right fielder, until May. They are a better team than the Yankees so far, and a more interesting one, at about half the price, and not nearly the same expectations. You tell me who's having a better year so far managing his team, Joe Torre or Willie Randolph?
You tell me who's done more with what he has.
We always talk about the underachieving players on this Yankee team. With the exception of Bobby Cox of the Braves, who seems to have a job for life, and maybe Tony La Russa, there isn't another manager in baseball who wouldn't be hearing plenty from his owner for a season like the one the Yankees are having.
The Yankees were supposed to win 100 games with this group easy. To get to 100 wins now, they have to play 72-35 the rest of the way. They get swept by the Royals at full power. They lose three of four to the Devil Rays earlier. Now we're supposed to believe the only relevant data is when they won 16 of 18, mostly against the Mariners and A's. This is the kind of thinking that says that the Yankees are still the team to beat, even if they haven't won the World Series since 2000. John Sterling was still telling us on the radio last night about the burden the Yankees carry, having all these teams get up for them the way they do on the road.
We found out last October what happens with the genius and grace of Torre, his abilities as a manager of people as well as players, when his team doesn't hit in the clutch or pitch well enough. Now we are finding out again. We talk about the owner, the general manager, the players. The manager? Never. We know they are Torre's Yankees when they win. How can they not be when they lose?
Shouldn't this be the kind of season when Torre really earns all that money?
He said after his conference call with George Steinbrenner the other day that everybody on the team had to do better. He didn't exclude himself. Nor should he. He can't get as much credit as he does, from me and everybody else, when the Yankees win and none of the blame when they lose. It is worth repeating that there is no other coach or manager in professional sports who could have walked away from last year's American League Championship Series without a scratch on him, but that's what Torre did.
It is a good thing that Terry Francona, who outmanaged Torre last October the way he outmanaged Mike Scioscia and Tony La Russa, doesn't have a $208 million team playing the way the Yankees are playing lately. Francona basically hasn't had his ace, Curt Schilling, all season. His team hasn't been a lot better than the Yankees. But it has been better.
This is not to blame Joe Torre for what is happening. It would be nuts. There is way too much going wrong for the 2005 Yankees. But it is clear that on reputation and record and popularity, he has reached the exalted place that only the truly untouchables reach in his profession:
We always look everywhere except at him when things go wrong the way they have gone wrong recently.
The idea that the Yankees have to go out now and not just get another pitcher but the best pitcher in baseball - Roger Clemens - with a payroll like this is more than somewhat amazing. Even all those who waited for the rest of the American League to fall over dead because the Yankees were beating the A's and Mariners have to admit that.
At some point, because this is a Parcellian world of sports, where you are what your record says you are, you would expect Steinbrenner or somebody to ask, hey, who's managing these underachievers? Except it never seems to happen. Just more evidence that Torre is the most popular sports figure in town, at least this side of the great Wellington Mara.
You see how this all goes. When Joe calls a team meeting and the Yankees win, we talk about how they got the message. He called one in Baltimore earlier in the season and the Yankees proceeded to go 7-11 in their next 18 games, and nobody really remembered the team meeting in Baltimore, and how it did nothing. When he changes the batting order and the Yankees win, we talk about his hunches. When he puts Russ Johnson in there and the Yankees lose, there are much loftier themes to discuss after the game.
Nobody is jumping on Torre for Randy Johnson or Carl Pavano or the shell of Jason Giambi. You know the deal: He can't swing the bat or throw the ball. He is also the highest-paid manager in baseball history on the highest-paid team, and one third of the way into the season, he doesn't have a set team or a set batting order and how does none of this come back to him?
I have known Torre since he was a player with the Mets. I thought he got a bad deal, way back in the day, when Frank Cashen got rid of him and I have said before that when Torre finally does leave the room at Yankee Stadium, it will be like 100 guys left the room. A long time ago, when an old friend named Robert Wussler was Ted Turner's No. 1 guy in Atlanta, I told him that they were nuts to hire Eddie Haas to manage the Braves if an old Brave like Torre was available. I like him a lot and respect him. He will probably get the Yankees out of this the way he has in the past.
Still: They can't be Torre's Yankees only when they win.

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