Jeff Pearlman is well-known among baseball fans. He has written for Sports Illustrated and ESPN.com, as well as putting together the book Love Me, Hate Me: The Making of an Anti-Hero. That kind of portfolio is not too shabby.
For the worldwide leader in sports (ESPN, for those who don’t know), Pearlman wrote an article in mid May calling for Joe Torre’s firing. (You can find it here.) The gist of his reasoning was that Torre had become too listless and Pearlman believed the New York Yankees needed “a sixth taste of Billy Martin -- throwing bases and kicking dirt and challenging his dogs…to step up and show some cajones.”
Naturally, I agreed. Torre has been given way too much credit for his team’s wins. How many home runs does he hit? How many innings does he pitch? It doesn’t take a baseball genius to write out that lineup every night or signal to Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning.
Sure, Torre’s supporters say he has the ability to “take pressure off players” and “massage their egos.” I guess they’re right. But do other guys not have that ability? There are many managers who could step in and do the same job. Torre isn’t even the best manager in Yankee Stadium. Joe Girardi does plenty of work for YES, the Yankees’ television station. Either he or Don Mattingly would be fine replacements. And then there are plenty of Manny Actas and Ned Yosts, former coaches with other teams that should be managing, floating around
So, imagine my dismay when I stumbled upon a recent article written by Pearlman that recanted his earlier one. His gist was that he had not given Torre the benefit of the doubt, had not given Torre enough time to salvage the Yankees’ 2007 season with his managerial brilliance.
He was right the first time. Joe Torre should have been gone. Maybe even before this season even began.
Before you Yankee fans -- not the ones with the backward caps who say things like, “I gave up on them after 2003 because they hadn’t won in a while,” mind you, but the true Yankee fans -- start sending me hate mail, hear me out.
I know that Torre has won four World Series over one five year stretch. But why should that preclude him from getting axed? It’s really a team that wins a World Series, not one star player or a wise manager or an ace closer. To give Torre a large percentage of the credit for 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000 would be silly.
As managers continue to rely heavily on bullpens, it does not make sense to employ a skipper who cannot effectively control a corps of relief pitchers. He pitches guys like Paul Quantrill, Steve Karsay, and Scott Proctor until their arms fall off. Guys like Luis Vizcaino are going to start feeling the effects of overuse in the near future. Even Rivera has shown signs of being slightly less immortal in postseason play in recent years, as his innings continued to sit in the high 70s.
The recent turnaround of the Yankees cannot and should not be credited to Torre. The Yankees stand only four games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East and are only half a game behind the Mariners in the Wild Card (through Sunday). A super-strong stretch after the All Star Break has propelled them into contention after having been, at one time, last in their division.
The reason for their miraculous turnaround can be placed squarely upon their luck beginning to even out. (In fact, fellow AtHomePlater Justin Zeth astutely pointed that the Yankees were down on their luck earlier in the year here.)
The Yankees started the year 1-10 in one-run games, but have gone 10-5 since them. (Their record of 11-15 is still unlucky, as teams “should” be around .500 in one-run games.) Their expected win-loss record (calculated using a formula involving runs scored and runs allowed) is 76-48, six games better than their actual record. This is an improvement over where they previously have stood. Their luck has evened out in both of these cases.
But we’re missing one huge thing, if we stopped there. Earlier in the season, the Yankees had serious injury issues. Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, and Phil Hughes all missed extended periods of time due to hamstring injuries. Guys like Tyler Clippard and Jeff Karstens took line drives off the hand and leg, respectively. Both broke bones and have been out lengthy periods of time. Carl Pavano -- though he doesn’t really count for anything -- the opening day starter, had Tommy John surgery. All of these injuries to the most important position in baseball -- starting pitcher -- put the Yankees in a huge hole.
It was also very unlucky. Injuries of this magnitude this close together are extremely rare. But once the starting five -- Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, and Mike Mussina -- got healthy and pitching consistently, things got better in a hurry.
So, Pearlman had it right the first time. The Yankees do need to axe Torre, but that is something that can wait until this offseason. (I’m not flip-flopping, but I believe there is no need to create a huge distraction during this hot streak.) Pearlman was wrong to recant. The Yankees have not been winning as of late because of Torre, but only because this $200 million juggernaut is playing as it should have been all season long.
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