Joe Torre Leaves

Before everyone gets their thongs tied in a knot over the departure of Joe Torre from the Yankees, we all should take a bit of a sober look at his real accomplishments. The number 1 fact to consider when assessing his skills as a manager is this: The New York Yankees have had the highest payroll in baseball every year for the 12 years Torre managed them. In that period of time, Torre won four world series.

From one point of view, that might be considered a fair accomplishment. You had the best players money could buy and you won the championship 33% of the time. From another point of view, Torre’s “success” is unremarkable. A small lump of coal, given charge of the highest paid team in baseball, might have done the same.

Given that, Torre was a decent manager for the Yankees. The role of a player is to actually do things: throw, bat, pitch, steal bases. The role of the manager is to put the right players on the field at the right time and let them do their jobs.

The most important skill of a manager is his judgment of a player’s performance and endurance at specific stages of the game and the season. Grady Little is infamous for leaving Pedro Martinez in too long in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Torre rarely makes a mistake like that, though I thought he should have given the start in game 4 this year to Mussina..

Nor, however, has Torre been able to get the Yankees out of the first round of the playoffs for the past four years. That is partly– maybe largely– due to the fact that he is stuck with a group of aging, over-rated veterans like Damon and Giambi and Clemens and Sheffield. It may be partly due to the fact that Derek Jeter is a great hitter but a merely average shortstop, and Alex Rodriguez can’t seem to rise to the occasion in the playoffs.

It also may be partly due to the fact that Torre is not quite the genius many baseball writers think he is.

It is absolutely disgraceful to check out the ESPN website the day after the critical game 6 in the Cleveland-Boston ALCS only to find more than half of the articles are about Joe Torre. Just how Yankee-centric is the baseball universe? Well, consider these facts that the average fan could be forgiven for being unaware of: Derek Jeter is not the best shortstop in the league. He is a good hitter, but, defensively, he is, at best, sixth or seventh.

Roger Clemens has been washed up for about a year now.

Johnny Damon is just about the worst centre-fielder in baseball today. Torre’s not dumb- by the end of the season, Damon was in left field.

It takes more than just a few hot months before anyone knows if any other young pitcher is going to have a great career. It takes a Yankee rookie– apparently— about one inning.

I just read that Torre is now expected to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Good luck– we may now get the opportunity to see how well managerial “genius” actually translates into success on the field.


I’ve always been an admirer of Earnest Hemingway’s prose style: lean and clear, elegant, and yet compelling. Hemingway eschewed flowery description and florid imagery for the real thing, the actions, the words that defined character. The more pitiable that he saw something grand and noble in bullfighting. Why oh why oh why?

I’ll begin with a caveat: I would find bullfighting more appealing if a few more people died doing it. I know that sounds bizarre, since I object to bullfighting on the grounds of it’s barbarism, but to me it’s like those endlessly recycled American and British tv shows that titillate by constantly suggesting something sexual might be afoot without ever giving anyone the gratification of actually seeing anything remotely sexual. This is the fig leaf of respectable bourgeois morality: I didn’t actually see a nipple so I am still a morally upright person. No you’re not, because you enjoyed the titillation. You might as well have seen the real thing so we could all be honest about ourselves here. You are actually worse than a man who goes to a strip club because the man in the strip club, at least, doesn’t deceive himself about what he is doing there.

For the same general reasons, I believe executions should be public. Let’s get it out in the open: our society kills people in cold blood. We have him locked up. He’s going no where. He has no chance. Find the idea revolting? Yes, it is revolting. Yes, capital punishment is revolting, no less so because he we hide it away in shame.

So when the brave, brave matador and the picadors enter the ring and the bull unexpectedly gives one of them a toss and then pummels and stomps him into the ground, let’s quietly acknowledge that without the occasional death, there is no genuine risk, and without genuine risk, the matadors and picadors are really no more brave or graceful than any other two-bit punk car racer or skate-boarder or gang member. They are cruel thugs absurdly in love with trivial barbarisms. They should stay in their trailers and open a six-pack and watch American football instead.


Oh We Forgot About the Shah

This past Sunday, 60 Minutes presented an interview with Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iraq.

60 Minutes is a good program– sometimes very good. But one should never forget that it is also completely controlled by a group of old white men (with the exception of the late Ed Bradley) and that, ultimately, like Time Magazine and the New York Times, it is an appendage of the corporate and governmental establishment, and thus can’t stray too far from conventional thinking on certain issues.

For 60 Minutes, it is okay to be different, but not too different. 60 Minutes devoted hours of coverage to jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and Ray Charles, and of course, they adore classical giants like George Solti and Luciano Pavarotti. But they only acknowledged the Beatles and Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen long after their significance was clearly established– but not among old white men. The counter culture was a little too counter for them, the punk movement ridiculous– couldn’t you just organize a petition? Independent films barely rate a mention– where’s the party where I get to have my picture take with Steven Spielberg? Alternative music? Alternative to what? Do you mean Stravinsky?

So Scott Pelley sat down opposite the leader of Iran and spanked him. How dare you supply weapons to Iraq, as George Bush has been telling us? How dare you try to build a nuclear bomb as those old reliables, the CIA and NSA have been telling us? How dare you display ingratitude to the nation that deposed your arch foe?

Here are some questions Scott Pelley could have asked but didn’t:

  • How does an Islamic state fit into the world’s family of nations?
  • Who are opposing you, in your quest to create a more just society that provides more benefits to the poor and disenfranchised?
  • Are there some in your country who exploit Islamic beliefs for the purpose of acquiring personal wealth?
  • What role should Iran play in the future of Iraq?
  • How close are your ties with Shiite tribal leaders in Iraq?
  • Do you believe that the U.S. will invade your country? What evidence do you have that freedom-loving America would ever consider invading an Islamic Arabic State. Oh yeah– other than that.
  • Is Iran a democracy?
  • What is the role of women in Islamic society?
  • Is there any common ground between you and George Bush– are you both religious fundamentalists?
  • Will Iranians ever forgive America for installing and supporting the Shah for all those years from 1953 up to 1979?  Why are you so upset about the torture?
  • We feel that only a subhuman monster of epic malevolence would ever consider exploding a nuclear bomb in a populated area. How would you ever learn to live with yourselves if you did that? Oh…
  • If we agree to allow international inspectors into our nuclear sites will you? Scratch that…

Scott Pelley: but the American people believe your country is a terrorist nation…

I am unaccustomed to 60 Minutes correspondents making that kind of bizarre, blanket statement.

Firstly, if a majority did believe that, it is clearly because they are told that by George Bush and the so-called “liberal” media. Most Americans couldn’t find Iran on a map, let alone know anything of it’s history, or whether it “exports terrorism” (like Saudi Arabia, from where most of the 9/11 hijackers came?)

Secondly, how illuminating is this kind of question? How about, “why does your country support the creation of a Palestinian state…” Or, if you want to be harsh, “why is it that the Islamic states won’t take in Palestinian refugees…”?

Or, even better, how about this:  Is your country still angry that the United States and Great Britain together overthrew your elected government and installed the Shah as dictator in 1953, and supported his regime right up until 1979 even though he imprisoned and tortured all political opposition and threw him incredibly expensive, lavish coronations, at the expense of the citizens of Iran?