Monday, October 09, 2006

Still Clueless After All These Years

Joe Snorre’s finest moment as Yankee manager came a long, long time ago. A decade ago, in fact. It was in the World Series, after Torre’s team got killed in the first two games, and looked all too much like those other teams the Yanks would later face, looking like the '98 Padres, the ’03 Marlins, and the ’06 Tigers. Teams that were happy just to be playing in October, and not minding how things would turn out. Teams that were heavy, heavy underdogs. Joe Snorre’s Yankees needed to be tinkered with, they needed a change. So it was Tino out, Fielder in. Boggs out, Hayes in. And the two did pretty well the next few games, as the Yanks won four in a row against a team featuring Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz in their prime. We all sat and laughed at the Daily News headline from November ’95, “Clueless Joe.” Wow, they were way off with that one!

After a small bump in ’97, it was smooth sailing for Snorre in ’98. He didn’t need to make a move; just fill out the lineup card and everything turned to gold. In ’99, he heroically battled cancer, and his team coasted to another Series. Same for 2000. For those few years, anyone could’ve managed the team. Bobby Valentine, Dallas Green, even Buck Showalter. The team was coasting.

You look at some of the great teams of the past few years, and you can see how a manager can change the way a club plays. Jack McKeon in ’03 turned a listless Marlins team into World Champions. There were no major trades that year. Just a new manager who got much more from his players than Jeff Torborg. You look at what Ozzie Guillen did last year. And look at what Jim Leyland has done with a franchise that had turned into perennial losers. After 1996, what did Snorre do? Did his presence really make a difference? The guy had competitors in the clubhouse, guys like O'Neill, Pettitte, and Brosius, who wanted to win.

And after the third championship in 2000, the wheels came off. Once Nelson left, Torre couldn’t run a bullpen. He would have his one trusted arm work tons of innings, and then be shot come October. Whether it was Karsay, Gordon, Quantrill, Sturtze, or Ron Villone (and perhaps Rivera in 2001), Torre was about as good as Art Howe (who had a big Dave Weathers fetish) when it came to running a pen. And Snorre became an arrogant crybaby, complaining about every umpire that had a small strike zone or any opposing player that slid hard into one of his infielders.

And Snorre’s ineptitude, later highlighted by Rob Neyer, came to a head in the 2003 World Series, when he used Jeff Weaver in an extra-inning game. While Rivera sat on the bench, Weaver gave up a homer to the mighty Alex Gonzalez. (By the way, how cool was it to see Yankee castoffs Weaver and Kenny Rogers pitch great games in the Division Series this year?)

And all the intangibles of praise heaped upon Snorre, all that “calming influence,” didn’t help a whole lot in the 2004 ALCS. Even the presence of Joe Snorre couldn’t prevent the biggest collapse in sports history.

Maybe Snorre deserves credit for turning the nosediving 2005 team back into contenders. Perhaps it was more Brian Cashman, who got lucky with Chacon and Small, who had career years in ’05. Whatever it was, Joe Snorre could not wake up his sleeping bats against an Angels team whose ace went down in Game 5 of the ALDS.

And this year, Snorre again has outdone himself. Sheff was right on about this one. What the hell was Snorre thinking putting A-Schmuck in the 8th spot? A-Schmuck is no Reggie Jackson. He doesn’t need a swift kick in the butt. For a guy like Snorre, a guy whose modus operandi has been grace under pressure, putting A-Rod in the 8th spot screamed out “Panic!” And using Jaret Wright screamed out “we’re done!”

And so the team with the highest payroll in the game by $80 million, a team with about as big a payroll as the other AL playoff teams combined, has not been the #1 team on the field since 2000.

So I hope the Yanks keep Snorre. He’s great for PR, great for an interview, great for the “Mike and the Mad Dog” spot. But he doesn’t help his team win championships. At least not for the past decade.

No comments: