It is widely assumed that George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees are going to fire Manager Joe Torre, whose postgame visage after the Cleveland Indians eliminated the Yankees 3-1 in the ALDS veritably screamed "dead man walking." Is this the right move for the Yankees to make?
In order to answer that question, one must first evaluate two aspects of Torre's performance as manager of the Yankees: (1) Have the Yankees reached their maximum potential during his tenure? (2) Is it realistic to believe that there is someone else who could accomplish more with the current roster? The answer to the first question is very clear: the Yankees have been by far the best MLB team during Torre's time at the helm. The Yankees have posted an 1173-767 regular season record during Torre's 12 years in New York. That works out to a .605 winning percentage, which is an average record of roughly 98-64 each year. He has led the Yankees to the playoffs every year, capturing 10 division titles and two Wild Card berths. The Yankees won four World Series championships in his first five seasons with the team (1996, 1998-2000) and made it to the World Series two other times (2001, 2003). Torre has led the Yankees to at least 100 wins four times and they had fewer than 90 wins only once--in 2000, when they won their last World Series. His overall postseason record is 76-47 (.618). Torre won the AL Manager of the Year Award in 1996 and 1998. No other manager or team has even come close to matching the sustained success that Torre and the Yankees have had during this time. Only the Florida Marlins have won even two World Series and they did it with different managers each time (Jim Leyland in 1997, Jack McKeon in 2003). Torre's six World Series appearances dwarf the totals posted by his nearest rivals in the past 12 years: Leyland has been to two World Series (one victory), Tony LaRussa has been to two World Series (one victory) and Bobby Cox has been to two World Series (no victories). Yes, that's right--Torre has as many World Series appearances and more World Series wins since 1996 than the next three managers combined. I suppose that it is possible that someone else could have achieved even more in New York during this period but I seriously doubt it.
The only negative on Torre's resume, if it can be called that, is that the Yankees have not been to the World Series since 2003 and have not won a World Series since 2000. Considering the team's bloated and star-studded payroll, this is viewed as a failure in some quarters--but the reality is that just because someone is a highly paid player that does not mean that he will be a productive player. This year's Yankees had a middle of the road pitching staff that ranked seventh out of 14 AL teams in ERA. The Indians team that beat them in the ALDS had a better record and a more consistent pitching staff that ranked third in the league in ERA. In 2006, Torre led the Yankees to the best record in the AL despite a similarly mediocre pitching staff that ranked sixth in the AL in ERA. They lost in the ALDS to the pitching-rich Detroit Tigers, who ranked first in the AL in ERA and eventually made it to the World Series. If anything, the numbers suggest that Torre--and a lot of good hitting--carried the Yankees to better regular season records than they otherwise might have had recently. Perhaps some of the pitchers--or the executives who spent exorbitantly to acquire them--should be updating their resumes instead of Torre.
The second question could be called the Marty Schottenheimer question; Schottenheimer led the San Diego Chargers to a 14-2 record in 2006 but was fired after his team lost in the playoffs to the New England Patriots, the closest thing that the NFL has had to a dynasty in recent years. Schottenheimer has been criticized for not winning "the big one," which is similar to the knock against Torre in recent years--but both Torre and Schottenheimer have consistently put their teams in position to win "the big one." Meanwhile, Schottenheimer's replacement, Norv Turner, has already led the Chargers to more losses in a month than they had all of last year and it is not at all certain that the Chargers will even make the playoffs, let alone win a title. To win a championship a team must first make it to the playoffs. One constant of the Joe Torre era is that the Yankees participate in postseason play every year. It is reasonable to wonder if the Yankees will take a Norv Turner-like step back if they fire Torre.
Perhaps the Yankees need a new voice in the clubhouse. Perhaps Torre will tell Steinbrenner to take the job and shove it before the ax falls on him--well, that probably won't happen because Torre is too classy and loves managing the Yankees too much to do that. If Torre is still willing to put up with Steinbrenner's blustering and the overbearing scrutiny of the New York media then the Yankees would be well advised to keep him and instead spend their time and money upgrading their pitching staff. We have already seen on several occasions that Torre can deliver championship goods when he has a championship roster, so instead of getting rid of him it makes more sense to supply him a complete roster with which to work.