Yanks' win-at-all-costs mentality is counterproductive
Posted: Tuesday October 9, 2007 1:15PM; Updated: Tuesday October 23, 2007 4:07PM
"You understand the pressure everybody's under to win all the time. The only thing I try to do is allow my players to roll the dice out there and play, because every time we go to the postseason there's nothing that's going to satisfy anybody unless you win the World Series. And that's very difficult. Those are difficult situations for the players to play under. Even though they get paid a lot of money, it's still blood that runs through their veins."
Once again, the annual Torre Death Watch is on. The pinstriped inmates sit and wait for the chaplain to lead the condemned past their cells and on to Old Sparky. Of course, Governor Steinbrenner has commuted the sentence before. But throw the switch or not, it has become a tiresome ritual since the Yankees last won the World Series, in 2000. Their preposterous bottom line -- "win all the time" and World Series or bust -- automatically makes a sacrificial lamb out of the second-most successful manager in the franchise's storied history.
This counterproductive mentality is an unfortunate meat by-product of our win-at-all-costs society. Great successes -- the Yankees' streak of 13 consecutive postseason appearances; the Braves' 14 -- is often viewed as disappointment or even failure because Series rings were not procured often enough to suit expectations -- or is it demand? This mentality is no different than corporations and Wall Street bemoaning "disappointing" profits after they've just come out millions of dollars in the black.
Yes, the goal of playing the game is to win a championship, but there ain't never been anyone who has come up with a surefire recipe or even an effective repellant for the unexpected -- injuries, blown calls, bad breaks, untimely slumps, swarms of bugs, you name it. Yet, once you get used to winning, it sure gets easy to take it for granted. But I'm sure there are more than a few fans in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Milwaukee who would be bull-goose ecstatic with one stinkin' playoff appearance, no matter how it ended. Give them 13 in a row, with four Series rings mixed in early, and they'll be...what? Jaded?
Yes, the manager or coach is traditionally the first carcass over the side whenever it's perceived that a change is needed to rattle a team's lounge. But the Yankees' ongoing playoff flameouts are due more to a shortage of young, playoff-caliber power pitching and a failure to hit young, playoff-caliber power pitching in the clutch than Torre's mismanagement. No manager or coach is perfect, but Torre has been the perfect manager for the Yankees. If they're going to continue re-tooling their stale, veteran star-heavy roster with talented, enthusiastic kids, they're going to need someone who can keep the dinghy stable and the young swabbies calm and focused through all the thunder, lightning and wind that constantly roars through the Bronx. They'll need someone like ... Joe Torre.
When The Boss emerged from the opera house rafters before Game 3 to intone that Torre probably wouldn't be back if the Yankees lost the series to Cleveland, I suspected that it might be just a motivational ploy. Steinbrenner has always had a thing for "creative turmoil" and Dickensian cruelty, and I've seen his mad Bill Sikes-dangling-poor-Oliver-Twist-over-the-railing routine many times during his 34-year reign. It seemed to work when Johnny Damon immediately stated that the Yankees were playing for their beloved manager. They won Game 3. But, alas, love wasn't enough to produce a solid start from Chien-Ming Wang or a couple of timely hits off Paul Byrd in Game 4. However, it is a tribute to Torre that even guys he's tweaked or demoted at one time or another, such as Mike Mussina and Alex Rodriguez, remained in his corner, or at least not in open revolt.
If Torre has lost the respect of his players or has been managing like he's got a skull full of Mars Gas and rum, fine. Hand him the pink slip. But telling him to scram after he just presided over a stirring comeback from a huge early season hole to qualify for the playoffs for the 12th year of his 12-year tenure? Hand me one of them there breaks, would you? Does Joe Girardi, Don Mattingly, Tony LaRussa, or whoever else replaces him come with a title guarantee?
After all, the title is the bottom line, isn't it?
We feel your pain
Last week, after the Mets' unseemly collapse, we ran a little ditty about the agony of defeat and readers sent in their own nominations for what you'd call your new miserable experience: