October 17, 2007

Perez Decides Who Should Be Next Yankees Skipper

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Last week was the third time in as many years that the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs. I remember the last time the Indians killed New York’s shot at the World Series; you could hear my dad’s scream all the way down the block.
The Yankees are out, and I’d say it’s like Hell, but this has been coming for so long that most Yankee fans were prepared for it. After twelve seasons filled with the highest highs and lowest lows, fearless leader Joe Torre has one thing to fear — being fired.
The first day of Yankee organizational meetings adjourned at 4 p.m. yesterday in Tampa with no decision reached about who will manage the team next season, and there is a second session today with meetings scheduled to continue through the rest of the week. It’s more like limbo now, because no one knows what will happen next.
Don Mattingly has been touted as Torre’s natural successor. A nine-time Gold Glove winner, the popular former Yankee first baseman and captain was Torre’s bench coach this year after serving three years as the Yankees’ hitting coach. Donnie Baseball has experience and charisma, like his mentor Torre, but he also has the support of the Steinbrenner clan.
The other name in the running, Joe Girardi, was a Yankee broadcaster before his first year managing in 2006. The former Yankee catcher (like Torre) won the NL Manager of the Year Award for making the Florida Marlins into a wild card contender in spite of the lowest payroll in the league. A collection of rookies, the Marlins were the first club in major league history to climb past .500 after being 20 games under. The Yankees accomplished a similar feat this year, but they did it by stockpiling expensive offensive talent.
Success on the field wasn’t enough to save Girardi from disasters in the office. He had a running feud with owner Jeffrey Loria, and the manager was quickly fired after one year in charge. Sitting back at Legends Field today, George is probably not eager to take on someone with a track record of defiance. Girardi’s focus on the game itself, however, instead of sucking up to management is just one of the reasons that the Yankees should seriously consider him.
The Yankee overlords need to think about the future. As a broadcaster for the Yankees, Girardi has knowledge of the team without the personal relationships and biases which may cloud Torre’s or Mattingly’s judgment. It is a fact that the Yankees need to rebuild, and Girardi is the man for the job.
If Torre were willing to start that process, he would be the obvious choice, but the record speaks for itself. Bernie Williams is one of the greatest Yankees in history, and no one wanted to see him go less than I did, but Torre clearly kept him on the field too long because of their close relationship. The 1950s Bronx Bombers were so great because the necessary personnel decisions were made to rejuvenate the roster.
Though the Yankees have more than enough seasoned veterans, players like Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera and Shelley Duncan need to be mentored. Joe Girardi proved in Florida that he can guide young players effectively, and that’s what the Yankees need in order to save the franchise.
On Friday, Tony Kornheiser called in to the Mike Tirico Show on ESPN Radio and shared an interesting story. Actor and Yankee fan Billy Crystal received the 10th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor last Thursday in a ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and various celebrities honored Crystal onstage.
Torre was one of those famous people to praise his longtime friend that night, even though his team had just been eliminated from the playoffs and his job was on the line. Of all the actors, directors and comedians to appear on the stage, Torre was the only one to get a standing ovation. Kornheiser was amazed at the love and support for Torre even outside New York.
Growing up in a D.C. suburb, the baseball situation seemed to me to be a lot like Cornell. Everyone was either a Yankee fan or a Yankee-hater, mainly fans of the enemy second only to Boston, the Orioles. But not even those mean Yankee-haters on the playground hated Joe Torre. He is the “Pride of the Yankees.”
That’s the title of a column yesterday by Harvey Araton of The New York Times in which the idea was said best.
“What drives the Yankees phenomenon in New York is the bond even casual fans can feel with Torre and the core loyalists, from Jeter to Posada to Rivera, so quick to support him. Beginning with Torre, they have over the last dozen years achieved the wildly improbable, somehow drawing a genial face on a bully franchise that for years was best known for belligerence, bombast and buying.”
Mattingly is the obvious preference of Steinbrenner (and thus repulsive to me), but Steinbrenner’s reason for liking him isn’t so bad — he represents the proud Yankee tradition of old. The bottom line is a conflicted one for me: my head says Girardi, but my heart says Torre.
In an ideal world, old Yankee Stadium would end its days next season with Joe Torre at the helm. But this is not an ideal world.