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June 11, 2005

Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Does Joe Have To Go?

Maybe it’s blasphemy to suggest that considering all the Yankees have accomplished in his tenure and how much the team loves playing for him. After last night’s melt-down, the team was completely behind him. “He is the most supportive manager I have ever played for,” said A-Rod, “That's the last person I want to let down.”

Yet with the team continuing to spin its wheels, looking ever flatter and lifeless, it is clear that there is something fundamentally wrong. The team is coming up short offensively, swinging too early in the count, failing to come through in clutch situation after clutch situation. It has shown no ability or heart to come back from deficits, having lost all its games in which it has scored three or fewer runs. The pitching is up, it is down, mostly down.

Worse, the team is playing a mindless, shoddy game of baseball. Last night might have been the nadir. Three errors plus numerous other misplays – a bad throw from Sheffield, a passed ball from Posada, poor glove work from Giambi – that opened the floodgates for the St. Louis, that undermined any chance Wang had on an off night.

Torre blistered the team afterwards. His comments, players’ comments when the doors opened are damning.

Torre said, “I'm just not very happy. It was an ugly game. We didn't play hard enough, we didn't do anything to help ourselves win. It was an embarrassing game.” Derek Jeter was even blunter, catching himself short when he said that maybe the team doesn’t care.

“We are playing like we don't care, I shouldn't say we don't care, but the effort wasn't there," said Jeter. "We have to pick up the intensity, that's the bottom line. We get down a couple of runs and people hang their heads and say, 'Here we go.' " Continuing, he said, “It's just unacceptable how we've been playing. It just looks like we're going through the motions.''

Certainly, you blame the players before you blame anyone else. This team is extremely talented, full of some of the most talented players in baseball. They are professionals, paid extraordinarily well to do their job. Sure, the Yankees may have erred in trying to populate a team with all stars, forever damning the chemistry of this particular bunch, but there’s no excuse for lazy or lackluster or mindless play. No excuse to go through the motions.

Still, is Torre the right manager for this team? He is, at least at face value, a laid back manager. He treats the players like grown-ups, stays calm and resolute throughout crises, and trusts that they will do their job. That was the right approach when the team was made up of team-first, lunch-pail players like Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, Joe Girardi. Humble and steel-eyed stars like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte.

The team is a far cry from what it used to be. It is now chockfull of a number of me-first superstars. Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Randy Johnson, Gary Sheffield, and even the aloof Mike Mussina are the antithesis of the players of old. They all prepare and play hard, they all care, of that there is no question. Individually, they are stars, but the key word is individually. Where the team of David Cone and Paul O’Neill was greater than the sum of its parts, this team is somehow less than the sum of its parts. The guys seem more concerned about themselves than the bigger picture. They don’t have the resolve or professionalism of their predecessors.

Torre didn’t have to motivate the earlier group. They shouldered the responsibility themselves. They just knew how to play the game right. To work a walk in Game 1 of the World Series and set up the tying rally in the ninth inning. To be where no one else would have been to snag an errant throw from Shane Spencer and save the game with a back-hand flip to the plate. This current team can’t even make the plays when they’re in the right place.

Torre has a far different challenge on his hands, and maybe he isn’t the right personality to motivate this group. Maybe they need a sterner manager to right the ship. A little more Billy Martin, like Torre tried to pull with his tongue-lashing last night.

Torre deserves more of a chance, an opportunity to see if he can be the harsher disciplinarian that this team seems to need right now. But if the team continues to stumble, then maybe the Yankees need to make the move. Or maybe he does.

Unfair? Of course. He’s a Hall of Fame manager. He’s done wonders with the team, is an all-class person. He didn’t ask for this bunch of misfits. The real blame lies elsewhere, but when you can’t change the team, sometimes you have to change the manger. After all, something has to give.

Posted by Jon at June 11, 2005 08:24 AM

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If Darth Boss George doesn't go ballistic on Sunday morning's back pages, announcing the murder of someone, anyone--at this point, I don't care if it's Uncle Joe who's gotta take the blow, even if he doesn't deserve it--this train wreck of a season is over. A messy, bloody gunshot styled wakeup call is all these zombies are gonna notice.

Posted by: TC at June 11, 2005 10:14 AM

Joe may very well go this season, but I don't think he'll be the first one to go. Mel is the most likely one to get canned first because, (a) George doesn't like him, and (b) especially if The Big Imposter has another so so outing today. George likes Mattingly, so he's unlikely to exit early. Besides, what can a hitting coach do with these clowns? It's not their mechanics that need fixing it's their heads and their hearts. There's another point regarding Mattingly - it's a possibility that he or Girardi might be in line to take over if Joe does leave.

Posted by: SS at June 11, 2005 12:28 PM