Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Joe Torre, I Have A Job For You

Following a heartbreaking seven game loss in the 1960 World Series, the New York Yankees dismissed their manager, Hall of Famer Casey Stengel, after twelve seasons, ten American League pennants, seven World Series victories, and 1,149 wins. The primary reason? At 70 years of age, he was considered too old to continue leading the team effectively.

The Yankees of the 21st century haven't had quite the same run of success - although ten division titles, six American League pennants, and four World Series titles in the last twelve years is still pretty damn impressive - while being managed by Joe Torre (like Stengel a former major league standout who initially scuffled as a skipper before landing in New York), the only man to hang onto the job for any length of time - twelve years - during George Steinbrenner's nearly four decades of ownership.

After a third consecutive loss in the first round of the playoffs, Torre appears to be on the verge of suffering the same fate as Stengel: being pushed unceremoniously out the door without much regard for past contributions to the team's success.

If Steinbrenner makes good on his threat to relieve Torre of his managerial duties, it's not the end of the world for the former catcher from Brooklyn. He has made enough money and enjoyed enough success that he could sit at home with his wife, spend time with his grandkids, and wait for the congratulatory call from the Hall of Fame in a few years. But is that the most intriguing option on the table? Hell no - not by a long shot.

Let's take a step back. Stengel didn't manage anywhere in 1961, but the following year he was tabbed to lead one of the most godawful teams in major league history: the 1962 New York Mets, which still holds the all-time single season record for losses with 120. Superficially, the records aren't so great - 40-120, 51-111, 53-109; there was annual improvement, at least - but Stengel's real value to the team was in public relations. He was a side show freak in Queens, taking what might have gone down in history as just a terrible, terrible team and turning it into a bunch of loveable losers.

Don't believe me? Look at the way New York's attendance climbed from 1962 to 1964, Stengel's final full season: from seventh in the National League to fourth to second - and in 1964, they actually drew more fans than the World Series-bound Yankees. There can be no question that while Stengel didn't lead the Mets to a huge bundle of wins every year, he provided them with some legitimacy in the eyes of the fans right from the outset.

What does this all mean for Joe Torre? Two words, four numbers: Tampa Bay, 2009.

Crazy, you say? Maybe. But the modern day Devil Rays are to my generation what the early Mets were to my father's: a laughingstock that really has little business as a major league team. The only difference is that the Mets were colicky babies who quickly matured into successful adolescents, while the Rays never outgrew the Terrible Twos and currently appear headed for a stretch in juvie if they don't get their shit together soon.

Joe Maddon seems like a nice guy and all, and he is the owner of hands-down the best pair of eyeglasses in baseball today, but he has yet to pull it together in two seasons at the helm. 61-101? 66-96? The grace period is over, Mr. Maddon. If that talented young lineup doesn't mature as quickly as planned and the admittedly young pitching staff doesn't figure out what the hell it's doing (Step 1: throw some fucking strikes, Kazmir. You too, Jackson), then guess what time it is? That's right...Torre Time in Tampa!

It makes sense, sort of, if you aren't bothered by little things like reality. As mentioned, the Rays are an all-around young team, right down to their 53-year-old manager, and most of the current players have never tasted any real success at the major league level. Torre's arrival would change that immediately: the man has eleven division titles to his credit. Six pennants. Four world championships. You think the players were responsible for all that success? Fuck that. They would've been good with any manager, but they needed the calm, cool, collected guidance of Joseph Paul Torre to become champions.

The players were undeniably talented, however, which brings me to the next point: Joe Torre's players love him. They love him a lot. They love him so much that some of them who are free agents in the near future might just be willing to travel to the seventh circle of baseball hell if it meant playing for him again. Jorge Posada's defense has been questioned, but might he help that young staff improve? Alex Rodriguez would probably triple Tampa Bay's entire 2007 payroll, but he would provide a bona fide power hitter in the middle of the lineup (I'm not sold on Carlos Pena as a long term solution...not until he produces like that for more than one season). And the ace in the hole, the one player that might single-handedly help the Rays add ten wins to their total in 2009? Mariano Rivera, who will be 39 that season, but remains a better bullpen option than anybody currently on the team.

Am I dreaming? Of course. Those three guy are free agents this offseason, which means they would have to sign with Tampa Bay on the off chance that Torre takes over the following season. Real likely, I know. But do I think Torre to Tampa would be an interesting move? Without a doubt. Will it ever happen? Unfortunately, we're not that lucky.


Anonymous said...

One reason attendance went up so much in 1964 was the opening of Shea Stadiumm which replaced the festering pile of crap known as the Polo Grounds.

TheNaturalMevs said...

If Torre doesn't come back in NY, there isnt another job in baseball he'd take as a manager.

Anonymous said...

Tampa would be a nightmare place to manage. There's no ownership support. You're going to develop young players, then watch them leave. The franchise really only exists to create a friendly place for teams like the Yankees and Red Sox to play friendly away games.