A-Rod U-Turn?


We may not know who exactly is running the New York Yankees right now—Hank Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman, or who-is-Randy Levine—but we at least have an idea how they’re not running the team: like George used to. If a younger George had been calling the shots, Joe Torre would have been fired after the Yankees’ fourth straight playoff humiliation. The parting of ways was handled clumsily, but no matter how Torre took it, it’s wrong to see what happened as an attempt to embarrass or humiliate him.

Torre was far and away the highest-paid manager in baseball, and the Yankees offered him, essentially, $6 million if his team just made the playoffs—five mil in salary and a one million bonus. The salary alone was nearly $700,000 more than the Dodgers will now be paying him per year for the next three seasons. The perceived insult was the idea of incentives and that he wasn’t offered a multiyear contract. Torre’s attitude seemed to be: After 12 years, you’re insulting me by implying I need incentives. From a certain perspective, this is no doubt true; from another, it says just about everything that is wrong with the New York Yankees under Torre.

As Bill James once observed about managers, it’s probably a good idea every few years to bring in new blood, if only to stir things up. Few who have watched the sloppiness and complacency of Torre’s teams in recent years could make a sound argument against that. Torre was never much of a game manager, showed no real facility for handling pitchers, and little more for developing new players. “What was it he was bringing to the franchise at this point in his career?” we are entitled to ask. Everyone pretty much concedes that Torre is a nice guy—though not, it appears, too nice to negotiate for another man’s job in Los Angeles before the ink was dry on Grady Little’s resignation letter—and that his players are devoted to him, but it’s no longer apparent that these things helped the Yankees win baseball games. In 1996, Torre provided a well-needed cushion between George Steinbrenner and the team, but the slackness and inattention to detail in recent years—is there any rational reason he didn’t stop the game until the bugs stopped tormenting Joba at Jacobs Field?—has had Yankee fans pulling their hair out for years.

If Torre didn’t need incentives after losing 13 of his last 16 playoff games, what exactly was needed? And if he was insulted by a one-year contract, did he expect to be rehired by the Yankees for 2009 if his team lost in the playoffs again?

Yes, Torre wasn’t the principal reason that the Yankees failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs this year. That can properly be charged to Brian Cashman or Randy Levine or whoever is pulling the team’s strings and has failed to realize year after year that when you go into a postseason series, where pitching really is 745 percent of the game, you can’t have Randy Johnson, Jaret Wright, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, and an inferior bullpen and expect to win.

But injustice in the baseball world didn’t start with the departure of Joe Torre. Casey Stengel, like Torre, managed the Yankees for 12 seasons, winning 10 pennants and seven World Series, and he was fired for not winning the series in his last try. By those standards, the Yankees’ offer to Joe Torre of $6 million and another chance seems more than fair.

About the worst the Yankees can be blamed for in the matter of Torre is a failure of nerve, for not firing him outright. In the much more important matter of Alex Rodriguez, they are blameless, at least so far. The Yankees, it seems,
were willing to give A-Rod $240 million to $250 million—best estimate—to play for the next eight seasons, during which, presumably, he would rescue the all-time home-run record from Barry Bonds and bring it back to New York. The Yankees made it clear as a John Sterling home-run call that they wouldn’t negotiate if A-Rod opted out of the last three seasons of his contract—a move that would cost them roughly $30 million in subsidies from A-Rod’s previous team, the Texas Rangers.

Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras, as egomaniacal as a Bond villain, apparently assumed that they were bluffing—either that or he had some sort of super deal cooking with someone who would offer his client a piece of ownership . . . or something. If such a deal is in the works, all bets as to where A-Rod will wind up are off. If Boras doesn’t have such a deal in mind, then he has overplayed his hand. Boras’s recent “Can we talk?” overtures to the Yankees seem to indicate that this is indeed the case, and that he is willing to come down on the ridiculous $350 million asking price for his client.

If so, it might be time for both sides to eat a little crow and do a sit-down. The Yankees appear to be the only team even willing to discuss the minimal money that A-Rod and Boras say they’ll accept, and from the Yankees’ perspective, Rodriguez is irreplaceable, at least if they’re serious about going to the World Series. A-Rod back in a Yankees uniform? Don’t bet that it won’t happen. After all, these assholes deserve each other.