If Joe Torre Is Fired, Why?

I am one of those people who grew up living, breathing, and playing baseball but who has since become a casual observer at best. That said, since I live in New York it’s hard to not get caught up in the apocalyptic reaction to the Yankees’ elimination (and, though it has far less Shakespearian gravitas, the Mets’ currently lovely position).

So here’s what I want to know: if Joe Torre is indeed fired as the Yankees’ manager, as some news reports hint, what would be the reason/s?

The subject of a baseball manager’s importance, especially as compared to a head football coach, has long been debated. Here is an article by Allen St. John of the Wall Street Journal, who writes that “managers’ in-game decisions are second-guessed, but they often make little difference.” Here is a recent commentary by J.C. Bradbury at the Sabernomics website, arguing that the Manager of the Year award “should actually be named ‘the award for the team that was supposed to suck but didn’t.’ The reason behind this is that if a team performed beyond its expectations, then it must have been the manager who played a large part. How much of a part he actually played is hard to determine, but certainly he deserves some credit.”

But I’d like to hear what it is that Torre has done wrong, or not done right, that should result in his firing. Did he:

+ Fail to create a productive chemistry among a team of All-Stars?
+ Fail to insist that Brian Cashman obtain the players necessary to accomplish the feat?
+ Fail to anticipate the strengths and weaknesses of the Detroit Tigers?
+ Make poor pre-game decisions including pitching order, batting order, etc.?
+ Make poor in-game decisions including offensive and defensive maneuvers, especially the decision of when to pull a pitcher?
+ Make the mistake of winning a few World Series off the bat, thereby setting expectations unduly high?

I am guessing that one of the worst parts of being a baseball manager (or, really, of being the boss of anything) is taking heat for things that are beyond your control. On the other hand, Torre has always admitted that he got a lot of glory for things that were beyond his control as well. For all I know, Torre will have been fired by the time I hit the “publish” button on this post — though I doubt it; I don’t think he will in fact be fired this year at all. But if he is, I would really like to know why.


a20261

Managerial decision are important, especiall the in-game calls. Arguably lineups are easy to put together based solely on the numbers, but the if/when decisions of pitching changes, pinch hitting changes, and bunt/steal/squeeze calls are significant.

I'd like to quickly highlight one very important decision made by a major league manager this post-season. With runners on base and a 1-1 count to Robinson Canoe in the sixth inning Jim Leyland pulled starting pitcher Justin Verlander to bring in lefty specialist Jamie Walker. It's not often a starter gets pulled facing the number nine hitter (but, then again, how often is the number nine hitter a contender for the league batting title?), but pitchers get pulled even less often mid-count.

Leyland's decision got Canoe to ground into an inning-ending double-play, and might have saved the game. Who knows if Verlander would have unravelled in the face of the greatest lineup on paper the world has ever seen? Leyland, at least, suspected he might. Susptected a potential shift in momentum, or spirit, and nipped it in the bud.

Managerial decisions can have great ramifications. However, if put to me, Joe Torre would be the guy named "Manager of the Year" for doing so much (with so much?) with an injury-filled season; namely: beating back the Red Sox who were out in front early, and stayed there for a long time, putting together a winning season that saw him lose Matusi, Shefflield, Giambi, Johnson, Pavano, and others for lengthy periods due to injury, and maintaining the same even-keel he's had for more than the last ten years.

Poor managerial decisions didn't lose this division series for the Yankees. I'd say Torre was the only one of the whole bunch who did the job he's getting paid to do.

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simper5

As a longstanding stathead, I'm inclined to agree with Dubner that managers have little control over game outcomes. Certainly, the hype surrounding this series drastically understated the Tigers' underdog status.

I would say, however, that Torre's most important job as manager of the Yankees might be to shield his players from the insanity of the fans and media who cover the Yankees. This year, that responsibility should primarily have led him to find ways to explain that Alex Rodriguez was being vilified unfairly--that A-Rod is a great player who has come through in more clutch situations than most players will ever face, and so forth. Instead, Torre fed the criticism by inaction and then, in the final game, made the breathtakingly contemptuous move of batting A-Rod eighth. Lineup changes don't create large effects on their own, but this one as much as said to the team, "We're a great team in a tough spot. We can go out, bear down, and play our best, or we can panic. I choose panic."

I've admired Torre for a long time in felt that he was unfairly blamed for the Yankees' postseason losses, but I think he failed badly this year.

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Jimmyjazz

One thing that I find very interesting is the trend lately that fresh managers have more success. Look at the last couple of world series winners and their managers experiance with that team

Whitesox - Guillen - 1 year with team
Red Sox - Franona - First year with team
Marlins - McKeon - took over mid-season
Angels - Sciosa - 2nd or 3rd year
Diamondbacks - Brenly - 1st year

I wonder if this shows that the most important thing a baseball manager can do is to motivate. And that after a few seasons the ability to motivate the same players wears off. Another example is my favorite team the Cubbies. When Dusty Baker came to town he was able to get them within 5 outs of the WS his first year. Then each year after he dropped off until he got fired.

What are your thoughts.

bigred93

I think this is pretty simple. Steinbrenner is po'd, and because of that, wants to do something. Why does he want to do something? Because it will make him feel - for a short time at least - that he's in control of something that he can't really control. It'll give him the false sense that he's put the pain of this "loss" behind him, whether or not he actually increased the team's future prospects.

What's Steinbrenner going to do, fire himself?

The real question is whether or not Cashman is going to talk some sense into him and make him realize that all firing Torre would do would be create the appearance of change, not the real thing.

tim in tampa

What really blows my mind is that Lou Piniella is being whispered about as Torre's replacement. Piniella was fired from TAMPA BAY. If he's not good enough to be the coach of the worst collection of talent in the majors, what makes him good enough to manage the best?

(The answer, I guess, is that managers have little influence on team performance, which is what we've all already concluded, it seems).

josh

I think the line-up Joe Torre put out in the last playoff game was based on pure spite. I think that this poor showing is why he deserves to be fired. It won't help the team win much more, nor will it make the team lose any more. It's just that that type of garbage shouldn't be tollerated.

Maya

Not only do I question what the manager can do other than "manage" in the office-drone sense of the word (deal with morale issues, enfore policy, etc) I actually question whether baseball skills factor into outcome at all. Don't get me wrong, I'm a baseball fan -- but seriously-- a sport where success is defined by having a success rate of less than 33% (batting average) or winning slightly more than half your games? Baseball seems more like an organized series of coin flips [if you land 3 heads in a row, you get a point] than an enterprise where skills come into play.

I know that this has a lot to do with misinterpreting things as "luck" when skill plays a part [strategies for hitting into gaps, etc] but I still maintain that in a world where most teams finish right around .500, when a *crazy* number of games are played, and where the "worst" team can muster up enough luck and timely skill to beat the "best" team that the whole thing smells a bit fishy. I just don't understand why there is so much parity between the teams when it would seem that there shouldn't be. And it doesn't seem like certain teams should ever be able to beat other teams, let alone trounce them. But all these things continue to happen.

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Gaijin51

First, it does take a lot of skill, but that doesn't mean that luck doesn't play a big role at the Major League level.

If a good team wins 60% of its games against the league and its opponent in a 5-game series is another good team then from the fan's, mangager's, and owner's perspective, it is almost a coin toss.

From what I can tell, a batter does as well as he can by hitting a line drive, and it's basically a matter of luck whether the ball goes to a good place or not. Also, the best batters can distinguish between balls and strikes (like Barry Bonds). Bat speed plays a critical role here, because a faster bat speed means that the batter can wait a split second longer before committing to swing. Pitchers like Jamie Moyer or knuckleballers can do reasonably well even without great "stuff" by changing speeds and locations so that the batter has to guess.

If Joe Torre is fired, I think that the reason is that George Steinbrenner doesn't fully understand how big a role luck plays in baseball. Skill alone gets you into the playoffs, but only skill and luck will get you through to win it all.

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zbicyclist

To Tim in Tampa: Casey Stengel was a great manager for great Yankee teams, but his Mets teams didn't do squat. Some managers are teachers, others better at dealing with talented egomaniacs (perhaps this makes them deans).

Gaijin51

I think Casey Stengel must be the poster boy for proving that managers don't matter to much. The man had a very tenuous grip on reality, judging by his testimony before the senate.

Anyone who hasn't read this yet should check it out at least once:

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/quotes/casey_stengel_senate_testimony.shtml

brianchurchhowe

Managers in baseball (and head coaches in pro football and basketball) are always on a short leash at the end of the season, despite whether or not they have a significant impact on the team's performance.

The reason is that a pro sports team can only sell actual product (tickets) for a portion of the year. The rest of the time, during the offseason, they're selling something else-- hope for next year's team. Whether or not a manager should in fact be blamed for a bad season (or post season breakdown) doesn't really matter. He /will/ be blamed, usually moreso than any player individually. He's easily replaced, and the act of replacing him is a kind of human sacrifice for angry fans.

Yankee fans are already focused on spring of 2007, and axing Torre gives them hope (however irrational) that they'll have something better to look forward to come next fall. Season ticket sales and merchandise won't slump as much. Much for the same reason, I'd be suprised if Steinbrenner wasn't itching to get rid of A-Rod. He doesn't deserve half the ire he's received from fans, but I guarantee that trading him would make the next 7 or 8 months a little sunnier for general Yankee fandom.

Of course, there's contract issues with A-Rod that might be unresolvable assuming he wants to stay. Torre doesn't have that kind of safety net.

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brianchurchhowe

I should have added another easy analogy-- axing a competent CEO as a cosmetic gesture to shareholders following a bad earnings report. Might not fix the actual problem, but it gives hope for the future-- which is what stocks and sports offseasons are all about.

T

Interesting article here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/04/business/04leonhardt.html
It's about the A's manager, Macha, trying to negotiage with Billy Bean a raise in his salary.

As for the subject of Torre, I think he will get fired because his lack of movivating some of his players, in particular A-rod, during the playoffs. However, I bet Torre has tried everything. What more can he do?

badger99

The Yankees have spent a billion dollars on players since their last championship last century.

They have made the playoffs every year since then, making it to the World Series (and losing) twice in those 6 seasons. They have won their division every one of those six seasons.

The playoffs are a crap shoot - the real challenge is to make it to the playoffs. Anyone can be hot or cold in the playoffs...and it has very little to do with the manager.

People criticize Torre's game 4 lineup? First off, it has already been shown that lineups - in spite of all the debate about them - matter very little in terms of total number of runs scored. Secondly - noone else in that lineup did much - so no matter the order, they still would have lost.

People criticize the GM - "Pitching always beats Hitting". No - actually it doesn't. Scoring more runs than your opponent is what beats your opponent. The best pitching team in the playoffs doesn't necessarily win the World Series.

The playoffs are a crapshoot and the Yankees keep rolling snake eyes. They consistently get into the playoffs - which is all you can do. Once you are there, luck matters a lot....the 162 game scheduled can't smooth out the bumps anymore. Steinbrenner doesn't seem to realize this.

Joe Torre got too much credit for their success - and he is getting too much blame for their lack of success.

Players play the games. A football coaching staff has much more to do with success and failure than a batter hitting a ball....and even the best football coaches aren't any better than the players that they have. Bill Belichick was a .500 coach before Tom Brady...he will likely go back to being one as soon as he lacks a great quarterback.

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ramstone

Well as they say, you can't fire the whole team, so you fire the manager.

This just in: Torre stays. Uh oh.....

echalom

You asked what Torre did to get fired. The answer is "all of the above":

+ Fail to create a productive chemistry among a team of All-Stars? -- Yes. I think that many would agree that the chemistry of the team was better in the 3 months that Matsui and Sheffield were injured than it has been since 2001. This is because of the many young kids in the lineup. Torre should have recognized that and not rushed both back for the postseason (thereby marginalizing Cabrera and, to a lesser extent, Cano).
+ Fail to insist that Brian Cashman obtain the players necessary to accomplish the feat? -- Yes (or maybe). Torre has certain pecularities in terms of players he feels comfortable with in the post-season. He needs to communicate that to Cashman (though perhaps he does, I can't know for sure.)
+ Fail to anticipate the strengths and weaknesses of the Detroit Tigers? -- Yes. He should have instructed his players to be more patient vs. Rogers, who baffled the Yankees with pitches out of the strike zone.
+ Make poor pre-game decisions including pitching order, batting order, etc.? -- Yes, and these are numerous. ANY manager would have started Wang on 3 days rest in game 4 instead of Wright. Playing Bernie in Game 3 made no sense at all (in fact, he shouldn't have been on the post-season roster). Villone should not have been on the roster. A-Rod batting 8th killed team morale for the decisive Game 4 (Gary Sheffield said as much today). etc.
+ Make poor in-game decisions including offensive and defensive maneuvers, especially the decision of when to pull a pitcher? -- Yes. Wang was pulled too early in Game 1. Johnson was pulled too late in Game 3.
+ Make the mistake of winning a few World Series off the bat, thereby setting expectations unduly high? -- Yes. Though it earned him many more millions than if he did it the other way around.

He should be fired. He won't be, but he should be.

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John Fembup

"[Stengel] had a very tenuous grip on reality, judging by his testimony before the senate"

You must have an equally poor opinion of Whitey Herzog who has always regarded Stengel as a near-genius at the game.

BTW, this thread is an example of why baseball is so terrific for the fans. Everyone not in the game can have an opinion, and it makes not one bit of difference on the field.

My opinion? The Yanks should trade Andy Phillips for Albert Pujols.

badger99

+ Fail to create a productive chemistry among a team of All-Stars?

right - he should have told Matsui and Sheffield to not heal as fast. or piss them off by not playing them...always a smart decision to put all-stars with great numbers on your bench. If they lost with them on the bench, he would have been murdered for that too.

+ Fail to insist that Brian Cashman obtain the players necessary to accomplish the feat?—Yes (or maybe). Torre has certain pecularities in terms of players he feels comfortable with in the post-season. He needs to communicate that to Cashman (though perhaps he does, I can't know for sure.)

pure speculation.

+ Fail to anticipate the strengths and weaknesses of the Detroit Tigers?—Yes. He should have instructed his players to be more patient vs. Rogers, who baffled the Yankees with pitches out of the strike zone.

what?? did you watch the games? the approach of the Tigers pitchers was to throw strike 1 since the Yankees famous approach is to take lots and lots of pitches. Tough to take pitches on an 0-2 count...

+ Make poor pre-game decisions including pitching order, batting order, etc.?—Yes, and these are numerous. ANY manager would have started Wang on 3 days rest in game 4 instead of Wright.

Wang's home ERA is almost 1.5runs better than his road ERA. Wright's road ERA is 1 run better than his home ERA. If you need to win both games, doesn't it make sense to put both pitchers in the best position to succeed?

+ Playing Bernie in Game 3 made no sense at all (in fact, he shouldn't have been on the post-season roster).

I agree - except for not being on the roster. a switch hitter is invaluable on the bench in a short series.

+ Villone should not have been on the roster.

arguably the Yankees best middle reliever all season???

+ A-Rod batting 8th killed team morale for the decisive Game 4 (Gary Sheffield said as much today). etc.

yes - and Gary Sheffield should be listened to over all his teammates...the man is a legendary nutcase.

+ Make poor in-game decisions including offensive and defensive maneuvers, especially the decision of when to pull a pitcher?—Yes. Wang was pulled too early in Game 1. Johnson was pulled too late in Game 3.

right - the team scores zero runs in game 3 - but Torre's pitching moves are why they lost. And you are criticizing his moves in game 1? Last I checked - they won that game....and you wanted to pitch Wang on short rest in game 4...

+ Make the mistake of winning a few World Series off the bat, thereby setting expectations unduly high?—Yes. Though it earned him many more millions than if he did it the other way around.

the first argument that I ever heard that it was a 'mistake' to win 4 World Series so early. That is a laugher!

The thing that won those championships was an amazing starting pitching rotation followed by amazing middle relief followed by the best closer in baseball. everyone waxes poetic about Brosius and Paulie - but the fact is they had a middle of the road offense and the best pitching in baseball. That isn't the only formula - but it is one.

The Yankees team has lots of holes - and there is no way that it is Torre's fault. it is amazing that they won so many games in the regular season...

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stinkypete

In the book _Ball Four_, Jim Bouton, former pitcher for the Yankees and the Braves, among others, writes pretty devastatingly about managers and what it's like to be managed, being constantly second-guessed, mistrusted, told one thing and then another, etc. There's a lot of superstition. Consider if a manager sends in a pinch hitter and the guy strikes out, which they'll do basically 2/3rds of the time, well, he shouldn't have sent the guy in, should have sent in the other guy, etc.

Torre has had an amazing baseball career, many years as a slugger for the Cards, etc, and for sure has forgotten more about baseball than Steinbrenner will ever know.

a20261

Managerial decision are important, especiall the in-game calls. Arguably lineups are easy to put together based solely on the numbers, but the if/when decisions of pitching changes, pinch hitting changes, and bunt/steal/squeeze calls are significant.

I'd like to quickly highlight one very important decision made by a major league manager this post-season. With runners on base and a 1-1 count to Robinson Canoe in the sixth inning Jim Leyland pulled starting pitcher Justin Verlander to bring in lefty specialist Jamie Walker. It's not often a starter gets pulled facing the number nine hitter (but, then again, how often is the number nine hitter a contender for the league batting title?), but pitchers get pulled even less often mid-count.

Leyland's decision got Canoe to ground into an inning-ending double-play, and might have saved the game. Who knows if Verlander would have unravelled in the face of the greatest lineup on paper the world has ever seen? Leyland, at least, suspected he might. Susptected a potential shift in momentum, or spirit, and nipped it in the bud.

Managerial decisions can have great ramifications. However, if put to me, Joe Torre would be the guy named "Manager of the Year" for doing so much (with so much?) with an injury-filled season; namely: beating back the Red Sox who were out in front early, and stayed there for a long time, putting together a winning season that saw him lose Matusi, Shefflield, Giambi, Johnson, Pavano, and others for lengthy periods due to injury, and maintaining the same even-keel he's had for more than the last ten years.

Poor managerial decisions didn't lose this division series for the Yankees. I'd say Torre was the only one of the whole bunch who did the job he's getting paid to do.

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