New Yankee Manager Must Inspire, Not Yell
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
It’s easy for anyone who isn’t in a position of responsibility to say a manager should be fired. I’ll do it right now —Joe Torre should be fired! Now the matter is more or less over for me, and I’m now free to read the New Yorker, play darts, and think about tonight’s big fight between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock.
For an actual baseball executive, it’s hard to decide a manager should be fired. It’s no harder for him to come to that conclusion, but then actual difficulties are faced.The decision has consequences, and raises hard questions. Why should this manager be fired? What problems does this solve? Who’s available to replace him? In the case of the Yankees, they’re hard questions.
Joe Torre will almost certainly be fired because the Yankees haven’t won a World Series since 2000.That’s really it; there’s no other reason. Given the talent the team has had, it’s a perfectly good reason, but it raises a problem.The Yankees have averaged 99 wins over the last six years. No manager can possibly improve on that record, so getting rid of Torre because he’s failed in the playoffs and bringing on a new man really only makes sense if you have reason to believe the new man will do better in the playoffs. As everyone knows, though, the Yankees’ relative failures in October in recent years have been the result not of bad managing, but of not having enough good pitching.
It follows, then, that the Yankees are going to be disappointed by their new manager. He will, no matter who he is, be subject to the same forces with which Torre has had to contend in the playoffs, and will be able, at best, simply to do as well as Torre has done in the regular season.
This doesn’t mean that Torre shouldn’t be fired. It does mean that the Yankees shouldn’t fire him for the wrong reasons.Why you do something is every bit as important as the mere fact of doing it, and if he’s fired in the expectation that someone else will be able to recreate the magic of the 1996–2000 Yankees, disappointment will be the only result.That magic was the result of having a team built around pitching, defense, disciplined hitting, circumstances, and luck.
A corollary to this is that if Torre is fired, the Yankees shouldn’t necessarily look for his opposite number.There are concrete reasons why there have been no parades in recent years, but they don’t really have to do with the manager’s personal style. Hiring someone who will yell at the players in the locker room or berate them publicly because fans and writers think that a disciplinarian is needed to whip a lot of overpaid sissies into shape would be dumb. Such managers really have no place in today’s game, certainly not in New York; their only purpose is to allow those who are jealous of athletes to vicariously experience the pleasure of degrading rich and successful people. (Note that I’m not talking here about strict managers like Willie Randolph and Tony LaRussa, but about the likes of Larry Bowa.)
If the Yankees fire Torre for the right reasons, though, and think realistically about the benefits they can expect from a new man, they’ll do well for themselves. What are those right reasons? First, Torre has lost the knack of putting his players in the best position to succeed. I won’t dwell on his bizarre treatment of Alex Rodriguez, but it’s the best example; there are many others. Second, Torre is an outright poor in-game manager; replacing him represents a chance to improve here, something that would probably pay off to some extent next October. Third, firing Torre would serve a symbolic severance of ties to the championship Yankees teams that have at times poisoned the teams’ decision making over the last several years. Fourth, while Torre is not an old man, he’s not a young one, either, and can’t be expected to manage forever; replacing him with someone younger is a good opportunity to ensure stable leadership for another decade.
Finally, while a full-on youth movement is not in the offing, the Yankees are in a process of transition. Players like Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, and Phillip Hughes will assume ever-greater importance over the next few years. As the previous generation has profited from playing under a manager who had overseen their development from callow prospects to grizzled veterans, so would these players.
If these reasons guide the expectations Yankees executives bring to the search for a new manager, it will change their ideas about what kind of manager they need to hire. Looking for someone who can restore the mystical spark of the Paul O’Neill Yankees is a project doomed to failure. Looking for someone who can whip the current crew into shape by being mean is just preposterous. Looking for a young, positive manager with strong tactical skills, a knack for working with young talent, and a feel for New York is something else entirely. It might not even be that difficult, relatively—there are a lot of men in baseball whose ideas would be worth listening to, Don Mattingly and Mets third base coach Manny Acta not least among them. At the least, taking an approach based not around blind frustration but around recognition of what’s gone wrong with the Yankees (and, as important, what hasn’t) has the chance of actually improving a team that really doesn’t need as much improving as it might sometimes seem.