Sunday, October 21, 2007

The End of the Joe Torre Era in New York

Technically, the New York Yankees did not fire Manager Joe Torre but they certainly made him an offer that he could refuse: a one year contract with a 33% reduction in base salary. Is that really a fair deal for someone who led New York to 12 straight postseason appearances and four World Series titles? I realize that most people cannot identify with someone who balks at being paid $5 million per year and who could earn $3 million more in bonuses by leading the Yankees to another World Series crown--but the market value for managers has already been determined, so it is a slap in the face to Torre to slash his salary, offer him only one year--effectively making him a lame duck--and act as if he needs additional financial motivation to be at his best during the postseason. Based on his comments during a press conference, the latter stipulation really stuck in Torre's craw. He also clearly believes that his early fantastic success in New York led to him being held to an impossibly high standard: "When you win four World Series in five years and appear in five in six years, are we all spoiled? Yeah, probably. But just because you spend the most money, you just don't phone it in."

Money is the central issue here--not just the money offered to Torre but also the huge Yankees payroll of $207 million that makes owner George Steinbrenner believe that a World Series title is his annual birthright. As the Yankees have found it in recent seasons, though, spending a ton of money is not enough; the money has to be spent properly. Unless we are to believe that some time in the past several years Torre forgot how to manage (or lost his motivation) the blame for the Yankees not winning the World Series should be focused on the players and/or the management team that signed them. Torre has proven that when he has the horses he delivers the goods. It will be very interesting to see how many years--or decades--it takes for the Yankees to win their next four World Series titles, let alone claim that many in a 12 year period.

There is one more unanswered question left about the Torre situation: What did Torre ever do to cause USA Today founder Al Neuharth to despise him? For years Neuharth has made a point of regularly writing that Torre is overrated and should be fired. Naturally, he is elated that Torre is no longer managing the Yankees: "Any one of a dozen or more tried--or untried--managers could do a better job than Torre did. The Yankees have so much talent that even the batboy probably could manage them successfully through the regular season." That surely must be one of the stupidest things ever written about sports. Cool headed leadership is a critical ingredient in any successful venture and to suggest that anyone could compile a record as glittering as Torre's is an insult not just to Torre but to anyone who truly understands what it takes to be a great leader.

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