Thursday, October 18, 2007

End of an era

Joe Torre's decision to turn down a one-year $5M contract with big incentives ends the Torre Era, but the Yankee dynasty he helped temper and guide has been dead for at least four years. Indeed, here's the list I wrote before the 2004 ALCS of the best and worst of the Torre years:

Top Playoff Wins by Series:

1. The 1999 WS Sweep over Atlanta -- one NY Times prognosticator got this right by picking the Yanks in four (either Jack Curry or Buster Olney) when everyone thought this would be a close series between the two best teams in baseball. This series was outstanding. Whacking the Braves for the second time in four years and this one was not close. This series determined who was the team of the decade on the field, not on the side of a 1995-vintage ring. Plus The Monk and Wongdoer went to game 4 and saw Clemens shut down the little Braves from the bleachers.

2. The 1998 WS Sweep over San Diego -- culmination of the season for the Best Team Ever. Tom Verducci had a great article in SI after the series discussing why the '98 Yankees were right up there with the '39 and '27 Yanks among the best teams assembled; better yet, Verducci dismissed the '75/'76 Reds completely out of hand and with good reason -- no pitching. (Like you'd pick Rawley Eastwick over Rivera? Get real).

3. The 1996 WS win over the Braves -- the one that started the 1996-2000 dynasty. I was so shocked and happy I didn't know what to do with myself. I also loved this because some git from the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote after Games 1 and 2 that the Yanks didn't belong on the same playing field as the Braves and the Braves were a dynasty in the making along the lines of the '27 and '36-'39 Yanks. HAH.

4. The 2003 ALCS win over the RedSawx -- what a series and what a game 7. Games 3-7 are all classics. And the result meant that the earth continues to revolve around the sun.

5. The 2001 ALCS win over the Mariners -- spanking the 116-win Mariners who had pretensions of being better than the '98 Yanks was great, especially because the Ms looked so feeble throughout that series and the Stadium was electric. Baseball was the ultimate escape that season for New Yorkers and NYC ex-pats like me after the 9-11-01 attacks.


Top moments:

1. Aaron Boone's dinger.
2. Jim Leyritz's homer to tie game 4 of the '96 WS after the Yanks trailed 6-0; they won and won the next two games.
3. Tino Martinez's grand slam in the '98 WS -- I love it when the Stadium explodes for those upper deck jobs.
4. Tino's homer in game 4, 2001 WS to tie the Dbacks.
5. Brosius' homer in game 5, 2001 WS to tie the Dbacks.
6. Derek Jeter, THE FLIP.
7. Curtis' homer in game 3, '99 WS to put the Yanks up 3-0.
8. Charlie Hayes catching Mark Lemke's series-ending pop-up, game 6, 1996 WS.
9. Brosius' three-run bomb to beat Trevor Hoffman in game 3, 1998 WS.
10. Justice's homer in game 6, '00 ALCS to put the Ms away.

And for the Yankee-haters, the worst moments:

1. Luis Gonzalez's ducksnort single.
2. Aaron Boone whiffs against Braden Looper with bases loaded, one out, game 4 WS. That's why he's Aaron "f---ing" Boone to us, too.
3. Sandy Alomar's bomb in game 4, 1997 ALDS.
4. David Wells' helplessness as the Yankee defense fails on a popup in game 4, 2002 ALDS -- Soriano can't field and he honked that whole series.
5. Fred McGriff's gong-of-doom homer off the foul pole in game 1, 1996 WS. I still get ill when I see and hear the replay

Since that time there are multiple additions to the WORST moments, none to the best: (1) the WorstChokeJobEver in the '04 ALCS -- this occupies the top four spots; (2) the butterfingers Yanks bonking game 2 of the '05 ALDS with horrid fielding; (3) the complete beatdowns from the Tigers in games 3 and 4 of the '06 ALDS; (4) the Jeter DP parade in the '07 ALDS.

The Monk was shocked that Torre retained his job after WorstChokeJobEver, and I pointed out his failures time and again, including this correct analysis after the '04 World Series:

Fourth, compare the relative success of the managers in the playoffs who managed every game like the last game of the season and those who didn't: Francona led his team back from 0-3 down to the AL title and won the WS; Garner led a shoddy and depleted Houston team to within a game of the WS exceeding all expectations; Torre's Stanks fell short; LaRussa's mountain men were clobbered and he never could stop the bleeding. Why do Torre and LaRussa manage during the season like every game is a must-win and then baby their players even a slight bit in the postseason? Baffling.

Torre's continued failures in the playoffs (everyone, including me, got so caught up in the midge issue after the ALDS this year, we failed to note that Torre should have yanked Chamberlain after he gave up the four-pitch walk to Sizemore in the bottom of the 8th; the old Torre would have done just that [see 1998 WS game 1; 1999 ALCS, game 4, 5; 2000 WS, game 4; 1996 ALDS game 4, ALCS game 4, WS game 4]). Mike Lupica (see link) calls this a team with a glass jaw -- and it has been since 2002. Thus, Torre may be a constant, but the variables from 2001 to 2002 were losing O'Neill and Tino, replacing them with Giambi and (essentially) Matsui, losing Pettitte after 2003, and draining the character out of the locker room.

So here's to Joe: he presided over the most recent Yankee dynasty, but he's not the man for the next one. The Yanks made the right decision -- offer a reunion with restrictions or divorce with dignity. Joe took the latter.

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