October 11, 2006

Mismanagement Dooms Yankees

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Last Wednesday, the New York Yankees’ batting order inspired comparisons to the greatest lineups of all-time: the Murderers Row of 1927, the 1961 Yanks headlined by the M&M Boys and the Big Red Machine of 1976.

However, even those historic teams sported holes in the bottom third of the order. The 1927 squad, despite receiving a combined 107 home runs from Ruth and Gehrig, didn’t have nearly as much explosiveness from top to bottom. In 1961, weak-hitting Clete Boyer patrolled the hot corner, and in 1976, neither Dave Concepcion nor Cesar Geronimo could match up against the Yankees’ worst hitters, no matter who they are. The 2006 team had a combined 42 All-Star berths — at least one for all nine starters — three MVP awards, and 384 games of postseason experience, making them by far the most seasoned offense out of the eight playoff qualifiers.

By Saturday evening, the Yankees had been eliminated, losing three straight to a far less talented Detroit Tigers squad that had a losing record in both August and September, and was swept by the lowly Royals on the last weekend of the season. No disrespect to the Tigers; they played well enough to win. But there is no question about it — the Yankees played and managed their way out of a series victory.

In Games 2 and 3, New York was a combined 1-for-33 with runners in scoring position, and had been shut out for 20 consecutive innings until the seventh inning of Game 4. That kind of ineptitude is rare for any team, but its unbelievable for a team with unmatched offensive firepower.

Instead of going down as the single greatest lineup of all-time, the 2006 Yankees will be completely forgotten — or even worse, remembered as one of the most underachieving teams in Bombers history.

After Game 1, it seemed as if the Yankees mailed it in, taking victory for granted. They had by far the most talented team in baseball, but they lacked the fire and determination to win a championship. The Tigers wanted it more.

n Game 3, Kenny Rogers was pumping his fist and barking at Ivan Rodriguez after each strikeout, demanding that his catcher throw him back the ball. Jeremy Bonderman showed much of the same excitement in Game 4. In contrast, the Yankees looked like a bunch of rented players, showing absolutely no emotion.

In the aftermath of last weekend’s collapse, it seems as if most of the criticism is being thrown at the 25-million-dollar man, Alex Rodriguez. However, even though he collected only one hit and no RBI in 14 at bats, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and Robinson Cano were equally inept, all batting below .200 for the series and driving in a combined three runs.

The Yankees biggest problem, though, was their inability to adjust to the challenges of playoff baseball, where a team can ill-afford to sit around and wait for the three-run homer. The best teams in October are usually those who can play small ball and manufacture runs by laying down a bunt or stealing a base. Against the Tigers, Joe Torre seemed unwilling to even attempt such a strategy. He was too afraid of running the Yankees out of the big inning instead of managing by the book.

Case and point: the ninth inning of Game 2. With New York down a run, 4-3, Matsui started the frame with a leadoff single. With Jorge Posada at the dish, Torre decided to let his catcher hit, instead of calling for a sacrifice bunt to move the tying run into scoring position. While it would have been ill advised to let Posada try to lay one down, Miguel Cairo, one of the team’s more capable bunters, was available to pinch-hit.

It seemed as if Torre was playing for two runs instead of trying to extend the game into extra innings, at which point he had almost all of his bullpen available. The Tigers would have been at an extreme disadvantage, having already used Jamie Walker and Joel Zumaya in set-up duty.

While the outcome of the game may not have changed, most managers would have called for the sacrifice in order to give two hitters a chance to tie the game. Torre chose to avoid a bruised ego, rather than playing a more calculated brand of baseball. The Yankees of years past had contributors who understood the value of doing the grunt work needed to win championships. The 2006 squad was not comprised of enough selfless and versatile ballplayers.

If the Yankees are to return to their glory days of the late 1990s, they must change the makeup of their team. While they certainly had enough talent to win a World Series, they lacked the desire needed to win in the playoffs — and it showed in their uninspired effort on the field.

Bryan Pepper is a Sun Senior Writer. Raising the Apple will appear every other Wednesday this semester.