Posted: Tuesday September 6, 2005 2:26PM; Updated: Tuesday September 6, 2005 2:33PM
Joe Torre deserves his first AL Manager of the Year award since '96.
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If the Yankees somehow reach the postseason for the 11th year in a row, Joe Torre should be handed the AL Manager of the Year Award on a nice silver platter.
Torre is in his 10th year at the helm -- the longest run in the Bronx since some guy named CaseyStengel hung around for twelve (1949-60). Torre last won the award in 1996, when he shared it with Johnny Oates of Texas. The echoes from that season -- the dawn of the most recent Yankee dynasty -- can be found in the way Torre has masterfully held his team together through a relentless onslaught of injury, slumps and pressure.
Right off the proverbial bat, these Yankees were engulfed by the Jason Giambi mess. Then came their unsightly 11-19 start that plunked them into the basement of the A.L. East. There was a 1-9 skid in late May and early June that included a three-game sweep at the hands of the woeful K.C. Royals, and a 2-6 slide into July. A pack of wild card contenders has surrounded New York, and as soon as the picture brightens, the hoo-doo continues. Witness Jaret Wright getting knocked out by a line drive and Mike Mussina developing a sore elbow.
New York's beefy offense has fueled some impressive hot streaks, but these Yankees are prone to playing flatter than a flounder fillet in the middle of I-95, especially against teams such as K.C. and Tampa Bay. Torre has probably conducted more team meetings than at any time during his tenure. He most recently gathered his squad in Oakland after they opened a key three-game series with a 0-12 eyesore Friday. The Yankees came out and won the next two, patiently wearing out Barry Zito in a 7-3 win on Sunday.
Torre has been called a push-button manager, but he's had some funky buttons to push this season. The roster, particularly the pitching staff, resembles a contraption cobbled together by the Little Rascals out of wobbly baby buggy wheels, fruit crates, a bulb horn, cats on exercise wheels under the hood and a goose on a string attached to the front bumper. I don't think I've ever seen a team enter so many series without knowing who their starting pitcher will be in every game.
In 1996, the Yankees milked mileage out of retreads Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Cecil Fielder while trotting out the likes of such immortals as Dale Polley, Dave Pavlas, Mark Hutton, Robert Eeenhorn, Paul Gibson, Billy Brewer, Ricky Bones and Matt Howard. Matt Waxman's recent SI.com column details all the flotsam and green kids that have been outfitted with pinstripes this season.
As usual, Torre has remained as placid as a cow on thorazine. He's kept the glass over the panic button intact, as he did in '96 when New York's 12-game lead dwindled to three in late August and September, and in 2000 when the Yankees backed into the playoffs on a 3-15 roll and still won the Series. Never a small achievement when a team plays under a win-it-all-or-go-home-in-disgrace edict.
Clearly, the sun is setting on the dynasty, but I fully expected this to be the season when it all fell apart in a steaming heap. Yet here I am astounded to see Torre's gizmo approaching the finish line, tattered but intact.