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.