Sunday, October 08, 2006

Bill Madden: It will be deja Lou all over again in the Bronx

[The Yankees pitching was certainly not up to snuff...not the starting rotation...not the bullpen. Wang and Rivera are the only two pitchers who did their job consistently all year. That being said, how in the hell can the 'greatest lineup ever assembled' get outscored 22-7 during the last three games of the series? - jtf]

The New York Daily News
October 8, 2006

DETROIT - You can make the case that they didn't have enough pitching to get back to the World Series and a parade up the Canyon of Heroes, but I can assure you, George Steinbrenner doesn't want to hear it.

He may walk a little slower, talk in shorter sentences and seem somewhat detached from the operation he used to rule with an iron hand from the Stadium's boardroom to the bathrooms. But that does not mean there won't be repercussions from The Boss in the face of yet another humiliating early playoff exit by the $200 million Yankees.

Believe it. This time, faster than you can say "Goodbye, Joe. Welcome back, Lou," there will be. Steinbrenner doesn't want to hear about the pitching because in his mind he gave Joe Torre everything a manager could ask for, then had to watch as this modern-day "Murderer's Row" of superstar hitters visited Kenny Rogers' neighborhood Friday night and put on a performance as tepid as the real Mr. Rogers. They topped that by not even showing up yesterday as they skulked out of the playoffs.

Nowhere in sight was the plucky, energetic, opportunistic team that ran roughshod over the Red Sox those five games in August and took command of the AL East. And don't think that Steinbrenner wasn't hearing it from his Tampa player development kitchen cabinet: "Where the hell is Melky Cabrera?"

If nothing else, Torre's unabated loyalty to his veterans led to his - and his team's - undoing.

Everybody knew moving Gary Sheffield to first base was a gamble and that rushing him back into the lineup based on past performance would tamper with the Yanks' chemistry. Even Torre acknowledged that adding Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez to the mix these past couple of years made the Bombers too home-run conscious, with everyone trying to win the game with one swing of the bat. They fizzled those last four games against the Red Sox in the '04 ALCS and against the Angels in last year's division series, and it was the same story this time around: Twenty consecutive innings without a run.

The lack of passion shown by the Yankees was in stark contrast to that of Jimmy Leyland's scrappy underdog Tigers, and that as much as anything is a reflection on Torre, who was given a pass by Steinbrenner after the historic '04 collapse against the Red Sox and the early exit at the hands of the Angels last year. There will be no such pass after this one: Steinbrenner, who has always been a devotee of fiery managers, will undo his admitted biggest mistake as Yankee owner and bring back Piniella, his Tampa neighbor whom he fired twice in the 1980s.

Steinbrenner was never enamored with Torre's laid-back style. But save for those occasional subtle "it's up to Joe . . . it's Joe's team" swipes, he pledged his allegiance to Torre because of all the championships Torre won for him.

Now, the titles have stopped coming, even though Steinbrennner has pumped more and more money into the team, to the point where the bloated payroll is twice as large as any other team's in baseball. He does this because, at age 76, the Yankees are his lifeblood. So, yes, Steinbrenner is upset. He's upset his players have been underperforming for the money he's paying them. He's upset because outwardly his players don't seem to care nearly as much as he does.

In deference to Torre's four World Series trophies, Steinbrenner obliged Torre when the manager told him in their Tampa summit last November that he had to butt out and stop the jibes. In a series of meetings with the fractured Yankee front office last fall, Steinbrenner extended unprecedented power to both Torre and GM Brian Cashman. Ordinarily when things go badly in Yankeeland, no one escapes Steinbrenner's blame. But other than the $17 million spent on Kyle Farnsworth, Cashman's acquisitions - Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle from the high-end shelf and Brian Bruney and Aaron Guiel from the bargain-basement counter - were important contributors toward winning the AL East.

Even though Steinbrenner lived up to his pledge of silence and support, it was "on Torre" this year.

Torre wanted no interference, no second-guessing or behind-the-scenes sniping from Steinbrenner or any of his minions, and that's what he got. Total support, but it came with a price - winning it all.

Steinbrenner has stayed away, stayed quiet while giving Torre all the resources to make that happen. At Steinbrenner's age, he doesn't want to hear "you can't win every year," and now that his favorite son, Piniella, is out there, a free agent, his managerial batteries recharged, what's another $7 million in severance for Torre going to matter to him on top of another wasted $200 million?

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