Monday, May 21, 2007

what jeff pearlman is trying to say

is that it's joe torre's fault that george steinbrenner is a raving lunatic and brian cashman is a blubbering bowl of wuss that wont stand up to him. yes, thats right, pearlman has the solution to the yankees' early season struggles; fire torre. the article is constructed entirely on anecdotal bullshit (stole that term from chris w) and contains no real analysis whatsoever. par for the course for espn's page 2, in other words. without further ado, "it's time to let joe torre go."

Sixteen years ago I called for a coach to be fired.

He was Loren Kline, head coach of the men's soccer team at the University of Delaware. At the time, the Blue Hens were in the midst of a 4-14 season -- their third consecutive losing campaign. Kline had coached the team for 28 years, and I believed the moment was right to install some new blood.

It remains my greatest journalistic regret.

sappy and pathetic as this is, the best part is pearlman actually thinks he got this coach fired. as if the school's administration was sitting around deciding what should be done about the poor preformance of their men's soccer team, and then decided to fire the coach because pearlman thought that was what they should do.

When those of us in the media feel compelled to demand a person lose his or her job, we damn well better be right. Though Kline's record suggested that perhaps a change was in order, I was hardly the person to call for it. Truth be told, I was nothing more than a pimply-faced sophomore trying to make a name for himself at the student newspaper. I'd never attended a men's soccer game; never even worked up the guts to call Kline and get his take.

It was pathetic, and I still owe the man a thousand apologies.

this is really cute and all, but jeff, im pretty sure the school wasnt listening to you. you sound like a little kid blaming yourself for your parents' divorce. also, if you know this guy's full name and some of his employment history, i bet it wouldnt be that hard to get his contact information and actually make those thousand apologies. just saying.

I bring this up because today, for only the second time as a writer, I am recommending a person be fired.

This time, however, I am right.

jeff's misperception of his power as a C-list sports journalist is pretty funny if you ask me. this is not a presidential veto. its you, expressing your personal opinion about something over which you have exactly zero control. if you really want to you can call for the firing of every coach and manager of every sports team at every level across the country. i dont think too many people would notice or mind.

The New York Yankees need to rid themselves of Joe Torre. Now.

oh christ. weve got one of those people who thinks managers have enormous impacts on baseball games on our hands. this will certainly get worse before it gets better. there are a strange breed of baseball fans out there (and there are more of them than you think) who are convinced a team's manager is more important than all their players put together. i mean, im not saying managers have no impact whatsoever. but more than in any other big time sport, baseball is won and lost by the players on the field. there are no plays to draw up. there are no timeouts to manage. there are fewer substitutions and almost no matchups to exploit relative to basketball or football. yet the pearlmans of the world (as you will see) seem to have it in their minds that a guy who generally motivates his players, draws up a lineup card, and calls for 1 or 2 bunts/steals and 3 or 4 pitching/batting substitutions a game is the single most important factor to a team's success. it is truly bizarre.

When George Steinbrenner first hired Torre to replace Buck Showalter back in 1996, I was among the legions of people befuddled by the move. In his 14 years of guiding the Mets, Braves and Cardinals, Torre captured just one division title (with Atlanta in 1982) and never won 90 or more games. Surely there were more qualified candidates -- Gene Michael … Clyde King … Billy Martin's ghost … Alf … me.

Yet, in one of the great managerial achievements in Yankees history, Torre took a team of castaways (Mike Aldrete, Matt Howard, Charlie Hayes), youngsters (Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera) and big-name vets on the downside of their careers (Dwight Gooden, Cecil Fielder, Tim Raines) and molded the franchise's first world champion in 18 seasons.

yes, the success of that team was entirely due to torre. not the players playing well, or the fact that the general manager brought them all together. the team had made the playoffs the year before, and was 27 games over .500 (70-43) when the strike ended the 1994 season 2 years earlier. its not like torre turned a bunch of quirky disney movie-ish misfit losers who didnt even own their own gloves into world champions. they just had a great run in the playoffs that year, which just happened to be torre's first, winning many close games. kind of reminds me of tons of other world series winning teams. regardless, if were going to accept pearlman's premise and assume that managers have a massive impact on their teams, it seems that hes admitting torre was good at one point. keep this in mind.

Torre's touch was subtle, yet undeniable -- he knew when a button needed to be pressed, and when a player was best left alone. He allowed pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre to handle the arms, and hitting coach Chris Chambliss to deal with the intricacies of bat control. And he rarely overmanaged, opting for trust in his players over trust in his own brilliance.

so in other words: torre treated his players like any manager would, let his coaching staff do what all coaching staffs do, and allowed his players to play the game rather than, i dont know... how do you "overmanage"? try to make a quadruple switch at least twice a game? walk onto the field to physically grab and move your players for different defensive alignments rather than just telling them where to go? im lost here. how was torre special again? at this point it doesnt matter if we accept pearlman's premise about managers being really really impactful on the game. hes making no sense either way.

Over the ensuing five years, Torre and the Yankees were an ideal match. The front office always managed to find the right piece -- be it Scott Brosius, Luis Sojo or Chili Davis -- to fit Torre's world. These were mostly mature, self-motivated men in their early-to-mid 30s who didn't need to be pumped up by their manager before a big game. Torre's greatest strength was not his handling of the bullpen or sticking with a steady lineup (in both areas he was only fair), but his innate ability to relate. Black players loved Torre, white players loved Torre, veterans loved Torre and rookies loved Torre. When the 32-year-old Jeter refers to his manager as "Mr. Torre," it is done not for effect, but out of respect.

great. fine. this is the part of the article that makes sense, at least to me. lame as it is that jeter addresses torre like he's a teacher, it does show that his players like and respect him (to a degree). and yeah, the fact that players of all races and ages liked him would definitely be important. im not sure how many managers out there are racist, but whatever. and pearlman also admits (im not a yankee fan so i can neither confirm nor deny this) that torre's technical management of the game could have been better. so what? his teams liked him and were winning titles every other year. that seems to be whats important to me. now lets see where jeff takes this concept, because im sure its going to end up at the intersection of dumb street and "what the hell are you talking about?" avenue.

Unfortunately for Torre, times have changed. With the departures of coaches like Stottlemyre, Willie Randolph and Don Zimmer, he is left with a cast of failed managers (Tony Pena, Larry Bowa) and future failed managers (Don Mattingly) as his assistants. Whereas once the Yankees built a team primarily through player development and small- and medium-scale trades, now it seems like the team (with rare exception) is built on other franchises' blocks. When you nurture and develop the Jeters and Riveras and Jorge Posadas of the world, those men will live and die for those pinstripes. On the other hand, when you shell out fat wads of cash for Alex Rodriguez and Carl Pavano and Jason Giambi, are you buying skill and passion, or just skill?

so this is torre's fault... how? i dont even know where to begin here. lets start at the end of the paragraph and work backwards.

1) i wont even get into a discussion about the "skill and passion, or just skill?" comment. its too ignorant address. look at alex rodriguez and jason giambi's numbers as yankees. except for the latter's post-steroid crapfest in 2004, both of them have been absolutely dominant hitters each and every season. absolutely no question about it. these two are tremendous baseball players. that is what matters. not jeff pearlman, or any other journalist's, opinions about whether or not they "play with passion!" pavano... ok i got nothing there. but blaming the yankees' current "struggles" (relative to what things were like for them in the late 90s) on him makes about as much sense as blaming jay mariotti and jay mariotti alone for the creation of this blog.

2) moving upward, i cannot imagine jeter, posada, or riveria truly dying for their pinstripes. if a crazed gunman had them hostage and told them to either stop playing baseball for the yankees or he would kill them, im pretty sure they would choose the first option. i know pearlman wasnt trying to be literal. but regardless, im pretty sure the dedication of those three is just about the same as the dedication of other non homegrown yankees.

3) finally, the most important part of this paragraph, which is the second sentence. so torre has been saddled with a crappier coaching staff than he's used to- are we going to call for his firing because of that? im sure he has some say in who gets to sit on the bench with him, but hes not signing their paychecks. hes not their "boss", per se. ultimately its king george bringing these guys in and expecting them to win games for him. when they dont, why is this torre's fault?

Watching the current Yankees -- 10½ games behind Boston and going nowhere fast -- answers that question. They are a flat tire, with nary a jack for miles. Here is a team in dire need of pizzazz, of intensity, of spirit, of soul.

pretty awful metaphor. not as awful as it could be, but still, whew.... anyways, in order to solve this made up problem of pearlman's, perhaps the yankees should trade for well known gritty lunchpail guys david eckstein and darin erstad. play erstad in right, where bobby abreu and his lifetime .400+ obp usually sit, and then replace robinson cano's shitty ass at 2nd base with eckstein. im sure that would turn things around instantly.

Torre is routinely ripped for overworking his bullpen, but his biggest problem is that, quite frankly, nobody except for Jeter and Johnny Damon appears willing to surrender a left kidney for a win. And now they're going to throw Roger Clemens in the mix -- a man whose idea of teamwork is a Wednesday afternoon picnic with his wife and the ol' transistor radio. The old Joe Torre never -- never -- would have let Clemens come in and pitch under his own rules. The new Joe Torre said, "Eh, why not? Pour me some tea."

maybe torre likes tea. i dont see why that's relevant. also, for the 10th time this article (so far), pearlman conveneintly ignores who really makes the decisions in new york. ill give you a hint: his initials are g.s., and he was a fringe character on "seinfeld". further hint, i have already named him in this post. he has a crony named brian who is responsible for carrying out his horrendous orders who also has ten times the control over personnel that torre does.
if "the old torre", or the new one for that matter, were in charge of the team, would he have made all of the atrocious moves the yankees have in the past several years? would he have assembled a rotation for 2007 that consisted of mussina, wang, the corpse of andy pettite (who i have to admit, has played well so far, but i wouldnt expect to keep this pace all season based on his age and last year in houston), carl "the human question mark" pavano, and a bunch of guys who werent major league ready? its not his fault steinbrenner is batshit crazy and constructs his teams based on who his favorite players from 5 years ago were. the team went into the season with a lot of shaky characters both in the rotation and the bullpen. surprise, surprise, not only did some of them fail (kei igawa) but when injuries struck others (mussina), there was no one decent to replace them! riddle me this, jeff pearlman: HOW IS THAT JOE TORRE'S FAULT?

furthermore, the clemens thing- lets say torre actually really hates the special treatment the rocket is getting. could he realistically go to steinbrenner or cashman and complain about it, and expect anything to get done? ill give you zero seconds to think of the answer because it is: NO.

and finally, again with the hyperbole about guys being willing to give a kidney for a win... it sounds dumb and diminishes from the impact of your point. im trying to too be too picky here, but come on... except for MAYBE the 7th game of the world series, i dont think any baseball player would give a kidney for a win. ok, maybe anthony young would have during a regular season game in the early 90s. but thats the only exception.

in any case, the point remains: the yankees are not below .500 because they lack passion, or are a deflated bike tire, or whatever pearlman says. they have lost a lot of games because their pitching sucks. plain and simple. they are in the top 5 in all of baseball in almost every meaningful offensive category including runs scored. they also have the 6th worst ERA, have walked the 10th most batters, and homegrown wondercloser mariano riviera has been atrocious. this is why the yankees are losing. do not listen to jeff pearlman. im begging you. now back to the crap.

Just a few miles away at Shea Stadium, the New York Metropolitans scrap and claw and bite for every run. They play with immense heart, celebrate like puppies in a bowl of Triscuits and shave their heads in a sign of team unity. The Yankees, meanwhile, are blah. No spunk. No fire. No urgency. Torre is the best calming-influence manager in the game, perhaps in major league history. But when it comes to getting something out of nothing, he's no different than Don Baylor or Bill Plummer or any other run-of-the-mill skipper.

ill start with the nit-picky stuff: puppies do not eat triscuits. triscuits are a human snack food, popularized by their appearance the 1995 comedy hit "billy madison". puppies DO eat dog biscuits, which rhymes with triscuits... maybe thats what jeff was going for? what a disaster of a similie.

furthermore, all that stuff about the mets scrapping and clawing and lunchpailing and gritting is complete and utter crap. please prove to me that this is the case somehow, jeff, and i will comment further on the matter. until then, im going to label this as anecdotal, unprovable bullshit and move on. ALSO- remember back when jeff was happily reminiscing about the bang-up job torre did in 1996? wasnt that getting something out of nothing? i mean, you saw the list of the kinds of players that team had: castaways, youngsters, and big names on the downside of their careers. isnt winning a championship with that getting something out of nothing? or could it be that jeff is stupid? ill let you decide.

In an odd twist, right about now the Bronx Bombers could use a sixth helping of Billy Martin -- throwing bases and kicking dirt and challenging his dogs (Martin vs. Bobby Abreu would rival Martin vs. Marshmallow Salesman) to step up and show some cojones.

clearly because torre is not doing these things, he has no testicles. also, extremely awkward marshmallow (sales?)man reference. does anyone understand this? i think he means the stay puft marshmallow man... who most people associate with being big and scary because of "ghostbusters". so if thats the case, chalk up another crash-and-burn pop culture joke for jeff.

With No. 1 long deceased, the logical choice is Bobby Valentine -- who's currently managing the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan's Pacific League. Those who've had the fortune/misfortune (depending on your perspective) of covering Valentine speak of a man who is annoying/passionate/insensitive/intelligent/self-absorbed/inspiring. But one thing goes without debate -- he can manage, and he can push guys to play hard.

theres probably a reason valentine is currently in japan, and that is: no owner can tolerate him. hes had plenty of chances to stick with an mlb team and blown them all. hes a jerk. he once badmouthed the mets players and organization while still employed by them during a speech at upenn's business school. hes been an ok, kind of sort of good manager throughout his career. whether or not he can manage does not go without debate. although that time he snuck back into the dugout in disguise after getting ejected was pretty cool. i dont know if that a passionate enough act for jeff or not. he kind of half-assed the disguise; not sure if thats going to light fire under anyone or convince them to trade kidneys for wins.

Torre has had a great run. And, like Tom Landry before him, he deserves to be ushered out with a parade through the city's downtown avenues. But make no mistake about it. He deserves to be ushered out.

i am making a mistake about it, or an issue, or whatever you want to call it. the yankees have terrible pitching, especially starting pitching. anecdotal bullshit (i really like that term, thanks chris) about how the mets are puppies and no one on the yankees is trying hard is not enough to justify firing a guy whos been stuck with (presumably) a shitty coaching staff and (definitely) god-awful pitchers. its journalists like pearlman that will be responsible for my heart attack at age 40. how do you get a job in this industry, at or near its highest level, by writing like this? i just dont understand it. i guess this is the kind of stuff that sells magazines/builds website popularity. that thought alone is enough to make me cry myself to sleep tonight. go away and write another terrible barry bonds book pearlman. you make me ill.


Chris W said...

with the departure of mel stottlemyre?

is he fucking serious?

stottlemyre is generally regarded as one of the more worthless hitting coaches of the past decade (and pitching coach is a management position that is generally regarded to actually BE important to a team's success).


Chris W said...

i also thought this was pretty funny:

"do not listen to jeff pearlman. im begging you. now back to the crap."

in other words: please don't listen to jeff pearlman. now, here's more jeff pearlman.

pnoles said...

I'd also like to commend you for starting after and finishing before me in creating these posts we worked on today larry (I kept adding bits and pieces all day). Now no one will ever see mine, and I LIKE ATTENTION DAMMIT!

Jeff Pearlman said...

Larry B:

Do me a favor when you have a chance—drop me an e-mail @ I'm actually a regular reader/fan of the blog, and by no means mind you firing away at me (if I'm allowed to slam Torre, you're allowed to slam me, right?). But I don't have an e-mail address for you, and wanna address a point ...


Jeff Pearlman

larry b said...

high comedy. i knew it was wrong to open the board to anonymous comments. which one of you clowns was hoping i would fall for this?

Jeff Pearlman said...

oh my god, larry, just friggin' send me an e-mail.

Jeff Pearlman

larry b said...

jokes on you pearlman, i already did. so check it and then get back to me with some more dumb non-analysis. HA.

Chris W said...

dope exchange. for really

Chris W said...

and thus a life-long penpalship was born

token australian said...

nice blog. I remember reading the pearlman piece at the time and thinking most of what you have put.

I do think, though, that over the course of the season the manager is very important. Sure... one or two pitching changes a game and putting on a few signals in isolation don't seem much, but over 162 games the manager is pretty important.

the best bit is i got here from a link in pearlman's apology article.

pnoles said...

....not exactly.

You have it backwards, token australian.

Over the course of ONE GAME a manager can be pretty important by making a bad pitcher switch or something like that, but most managers make reasonably good long-term decisions for their team (i.e. nobody moves Johan Santana to the bullpen, or nobody makes Prince Fielder a back-up first baseman just because his defense is bad). The day-to-day decisions may feature decisions that will prove brilliant (i.e. putting on a suicide squeeze may work out and make the manager look like a genius) or horrific (putting in a closer an inning early for a 6-out save and having him tank it in the 9th), but over the course of the season, these minor brilliances and failures generally come close to averaging out, because there is a lot of luck involved in whether a managerial decision works well.

Joe Torre managing the White Sox leads them to the same abysmal record. pnoles would have managed the Yankees to the playoffs. This isn't football where there are plays to draw up and right and wrong times to call them. Ditto with basketball, and pretty much every sport out there. This is baseball, nearly 100% determined by the guys on the field.

The fact that this post was written in May, commented on in August, and I'm replying to the August comment on November 1st proves that yes, in fact, I do have a life.