Saturday, October 20, 2007

The War of the Pinstriped Succession

Hans and Fritz, or whatever George Steinbrenner's kids names are, evidently went to the George W. Bush Business School. There is no worse form of management/government structure than a weak tyrant. When they dumped Joe Torre as Yankee manager, that's just what these two masterminds were.

Art is not eternal, let alone baseball managers. Despite Torre's sterling record, unsurpassed by any Yankee manager save Casey Stengel, if management felt the team's transition to a club built around its younger pitchers and players needed a skipper with a different skill set, then letting Torre go was its duty. And had the elusive "Tampa people" who play Sauron in the New York tabloids said just that, they would have received grudging respect from their terminally spoiled fan base.

There's no real good way to dispose of a beloved icon who's outlived his usefulness. The simplest method is the most brutal, and requires taking the resulting heat. Fire the guy's ass, and say why you did it. This was what Jerry Jones did when he canned Tom Landry. It is what the younger, healthier George Steinbrenner did so often it became a national joke.

Of course, to be successful, this method requires that the tyrant lopping off the adored head have a good idea of who's going to replace the icon, if for no other reason that once that guy's hired, people stop talking about you, and start talking about him. Jones had Jimmy Johnson, and all was well. It probably wouldn't have been if 17 other teams hadn't passed on Emmitt Smith in the draft, but that's another story.

Reports from New York made it perfectly clear the Yankee rulers, whoever they are, have no immediate successor for Torre. That's why management chose plan B for icon-dumping, trying to make it look as if it was all Joe's idea.

That plan can and has worked countless sports history, even Yankee history, even Yankee history under Hans and Fritz's Dad. Remember Old-Timers Day 1978, the not-quite return of Billy Martin? It could've worked with Torre, too. All the Yanks had to do was say, "Joe, we want to make a change, but we're not quite ready. How about we give a one-year deal, and you help us pick and groom your successor. Here's more money than you can imagine. We all on the same page now?"

The Yankees tried to middle the situation, and as middlers usually do, failed utterly. Offering Torre a pay cut instead of a raise, they got him out the door all right, to the accompaniment of publicity that made management look like guys who'd been caught molesting the Easter Bunny. Worse, far, far worse, the bungled Torre departure was a telegram sent to every other franchise in the majors, reading "Under new management. Stop. Don't what we're doing. Stop." The e-mail and voice mail in-boxes of the Steinbrenner Kidz will be full to bursting all winter long with messages Yankee fans better hope they don't answer.

To understand what's happening to the Yankees, and what will happen to the Yankees, we need to step outside the little world of baseball, and view the team from a different perspective than its All-Star roster and overbearing image. What the Yankees REALLY are is a family-owned business worth considerably more than a billion bucks where the family patriarch is in failing physical and perhaps mental health, was known for erratic behavior when hale and hearty, and who has given no indication of whom he will choose as his successor.

THAT'S why Torre is no longer manager. When George popped off during the Indians series about firing Torre, he couldn't be ignored. If an heir to the Yankees was already in place, said heir could have firmly told the Boss, "ya know, Dad (or George), it probably isn't fair to blame Joe for Chien-Ming Wang's 20.36 ERA in this series" and rustled up some boilerplate reconsideration for Steinbrenner's signature. But there is no heir, so the two POSSIBLE heirs pushed for incompetent action to save Dad's face and hopefully curry his favor.

Good luck, my dear friends who are Yankee fans. If "the Tampa people" could totally screw up firing a manager, which is the first day's lecture in Mogul 101, then the imagination reels at how it's going to handle contract negotiations with touchy and invaluable Hall of Famers like A-Rod, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada. No mistake about it. The odds are against the Yankees next year, and for all the years until a new Boss emerges.

Shakespeare wrote a play about the current Yankees once. The only difference is, this time the action will end in a Florida probate court instead of on a blasted heath.

And there's not a Cordelia in sight.


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