There’s a right way to do things and there’s a wrong way to do things. The New York Yankees appear to have a company policy mandating that they choose the wrong way.
It’s the wrong way to do things when you abandon your club’s farm system after winning four titles in six years, in the hopes of keeping the string going by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into your free-agent payroll, then coming up empty for seven straight seasons.
And it’s the wrong way to do things when you’re too cowardly to fire the manager who has guided your collection of misfits for 12 long years, enduring the incessant sniping of his meddlesome owner with dignity and class, by forcing him to fire himself.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner went out of his way to issue an ultimatum to Joe Torre during New York’s AL Division Series with Cleveland. He told a newspaper reporter — not Torre himself, but a newspaper reporter — that if the Yankees didn’t win that series, he was not going to invite Torre back. Then, after losing the series in four games, The Boss, along with general manager Brian Cashman, club president Randy Levine and Steinbrenner’s two sons, left Torre to twist in the wind for a few days while they tried to find a way to get rid of him without drawing the wrath of the Yankee faithful.
You see, unlike the Yankee brass, New York fans had a deep appreciation for everything their skipper had done in his 12 years in the dugout. They respected his ability to keep a clubhouse full of volatile personalities focused on one unified goal, year in and year out, and they desperately wanted him to return. Knowing full well that firing Torre for failing to win a world championship for the seventh straight season would alienate the base, Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, who have begun to take control of the club as their father’s health concerns rise, used an insulting, incentive-laden contract offer to absolve themselves of any responsibility.
The offer of a one-year deal for $5 million, with a $3 million bonus to reach the World Series, was flatly rejected by the proud Torre, allowing the Yankees’ execs to claim that it was Torre who wanted out.
“I sincerely wanted Joe to accept that offer,” Hank Steinbrenner said over the weekend. “We all wanted him to accept it.”
That’s some cowardly lyin’.
If they truly wanted Torre back, then why would they slap him in the face with a drastic paycut and the type of incentive package usually reserved for, let’s say … a 45-year-old starting pitcher who may have only fumes left in the tank? Oh wait — Roger Clemens earned his pro-rated $28 million dollar salary this year without incentives. My mistake.
“Where was Joe’s career in ’95 when my dad hired him?” Hank asked the New York Post. “Let’s not forget what my dad did in giving him that opportunity — and the great team he was handed.”
So in the very same interview in which he claims to have wanted Torre to return, the young Steinbrenner is planting the “anybody could have managed our roster of all-stars” knife in his back.
An old adage in coaching and managing says that coaches are hired to be fired. It happens all the time. Sometimes it’s performance, sometimes it’s a clash of personalities, sometimes it’s the whim of a megalomaniacal owner who answers to no one but the man he sees in the mirror each day. But to disrespect a man of great dignity and pride the way the Yankees did, because they were too afraid to anger their paying customers, is despicable.
Can you imagine Giants owner Peter Magowan or general manager Brian Sabean throwing a public lowball at Dusty Baker or Felipe Alou when it was time to part ways, just so he could say, “Dusty left us, we didn’t leave him”?
Neither can I.
Yes, there is a right way to do things. And then there’s the Yankee way.
Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to TheExaminer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.