Say it ain't Joe…the end of an era

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 A little bit of a shocker out of Gotham today.  After weeks of speculation the New York Yankees offered an incentive based contract to their beleaguered manager Joe Torre.  And somewhat surprisingly, he turned them down.

This was the first action on Torre’s future since Yankee owner George Steinbrenner told The Record of Hackensack, N.J., on Oct. 6 that he didn’t think he’d bring back Torre if the Yankees failed to advance to the AL Championship Series. Cleveland then eliminated New York in four games, the Yankees’ third straight first-round exit.

Now I am not altogether amazed that they offered him a new deal.  But it is somewhat of a shocker that Torre turned them down.  Yes, “The Boss” is notoriously difficult to get along with.  But Yankee stalwarts like Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, both of whom enter free agency at season’s end, openly campaigned for his return, even intimating that they may not return to wear the pinstripes if Torre was canned.

And the outpouring from fans has been even more impressive.  Online petitions sprung up over night, callers bombarded New York sports talk shows pleading for the Yankees to bring the man back and a rally supporting him was held in time square.

So it appears that enough was enough for the 67 year old veteran manager.   Whether he was insulted by the “play for pay” aspect of the contract or he had just had enough of Steinbrenner we may never know.  What we do know is that we are now at the end of an era.

But I’m not sad.  Simply put, Joe Torre was somewhat overrated as a manager.  He was without a doubt the best I ever saw at dealing with the pressure cooker that is Zoo York.  He seemed to have an uncanny ability to handle an incredible menagerie of personalities.  But he didn’t do all that good a job of managing within the game itself.  That’s not to say that he didn’t know what he was doing, he just came up a little bit short.

To this guy, who is A. a diehard Yankee fan (I still have vivid memories of crying my 9 year old eyes out as I watched Willie Randolph take a called strike three at the knees from the Royals Dan Quisenberry to end the ALCS in 1980) and B. a baseball junkie (it is not a game…it’s my religion mind you), the Yankee era took a turn for the worse when Don Zimmer left the franchise a few years back.

With both Torre and Zimmer (who then served as Torre’s bench coach/consigliere), the Yankees had the perfect marriage of both personnel management and baseball acumen.  Torre served as the affable paternal figure of the team, keeping a steady hand on the rudder while Zim was Torre’s baseball encyclopedia come game time.  Combined with the most storied franchise in sports, loaded with young talent and based in the nation’s largest market, their presence created a “perfect storm” of sorts.  A storm that produced 5 world series appearances between 1996 and 2001, yielding 4 wins in the process.

But after watching Torre be outmanaged, and make no mistake the man made an inumerable amount questionable calls the last few years, by the likes of Terry Francona, Mike Sciosia, Jim Leyland and Eric Wedge the last four seasons it doesn’t sadden me to see the man go. 

The entire modus operandi of the organization at this point is to get young and prepare for the future.  Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy are just a few of the rising superstars the Yankees field.  And with Humberto Sanchez, Eric Duncan, Jose Tabata (who has been described as a “Manny-esque” hitter by ESPN’s Peter Gammons) ready for the call-up when the Bombers open up their new stadium in 2009, it is only going to get better for the team.

Now is the right time to find a manager who is more of technician of sorts, to share their “baseball IQ” the youngsters.  Whether the team chooses to go with someone like Tony LaRussa, a veritable Bobby Fischer in the dugout, as a bridge to fan favorite/Yankee legend Don Mattingly or goes with reigning National League Manager of the Year Joe Girardi, who played on those Yankee dynasty teams of the late 90’s (and squeezed 78 wins out of the 2006 Florida Marlins, in spite of a total payroll that was less than $15 million), remains to be seen.

All I know is it is going to be one hell of a winter in the Big Apple.

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