Let me begin this column by stating that I am a Mets fan, and I have no bones to pick here. Man, Joe Torre, is one lucky guy. He fails to win a World Series in his last 7 years as Yankee manager, despite the Yankees spending a stimulus worthy amount of over $1 Billion in payroll, and you hardly hear a peep of blame. In fact, most Yankee fans were sad to see him leave. I do not think Joe wanted to come back with the current management structure of the Yankees, and I do not think the Steinbrenner Sons wanted Joe back. It was bizarre for New York. In other cities; they are a little more patient. Jeff Fisher has been the only in coach in Tennessee’s history, and Bill Cowher was in Pittsburgh, and did not win a title until his 14th and final season with the Steelers.
Yes, Joe won 4 World Series in 5 years, and that is undeniable. He was also very fortunate to step into a very good situation. And last year, Manny Ramirez falls in his lap as he decides that Fenway park will never get wi-fi in the green monster, and moves to an area more comfortable for him, La-La Land.
Last week, his book, The Yankee Years, was the talk of the New York sports world. People were reacting that the Yankees were not going to retire his number 6, and that there would not be a Joe Torre Day someday at Yankee Stadium. Now, it seems like that may happen a lot sooner than you think. This week the book seems to be as memorable as Bill Parcells’ book about his last season in the NFL when he coached the Jets in 1999. He returned to coach the Cowboys in 2003. Personally, I think Joe’s book is overblown. What I disagree with the book is the timing. It reminds of me that car that makes a fast turn to cut in front of you, and then proceeds to drive under the speed limit. You then look in your rear view mirror and see there was no one behind you. My point here is, Joe couldn’t wait? Joe couldn’t wait until his managing career was over to release some details that he thought were sacred cows of the clubhouse? Did he need the money that bad? I believe Joe Torre is a nice man, but I think he is a man who still likes the spotlight, and the spotlight he has as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers is not like he had in New York. Joe, being from Brooklyn, knows their is no limelight in sports like New York baseball.
I think one of the most seldom asked questions in New York sports is what if Buck Showalter did not leave the Yankees after the 1995 season? People tend to forget that Buck took over the Bronx Bombers in 1992, after the 1991 season with Stump Merrill as Manager posting a 71-91 record. Buck did not get along well with George Steinbrenner and was not really seen as a New York kind of manager, despite his success.
Buck ran it to unfortunate luck as Yankee skipper. If the Wildcard system was in place in 1993, the Yankees would have won that. In 1994, the Yankees appeared to be running away with American League East, they had a 6 and 1/2 game lead over the Orioles and had the best record in the AL with a 70-43 record. No one would ever see how that season would finish as the 1994 baseball season ended prematurely on August 11th, due to the players’ strike. Buck was named AL Manager of the Year in 1994 as a consolation prize. In 1995, after a 144 game strike-shortened season; Buck led the Yankees into the playoffs for the first time since 1981. The Yankees met the Seattle Mariners in baseball’s first ever Division playoff series. The Division Series originally ran with the Wild Card team hosting games 1 & 2 and the Division Winner hosting games 3, 4, & 5. This would change after 1997; I can’t help but think that the Yankees would have won that series if it was a 2-2-1 series. Just another unlucky piece for Buck’s resume. It was an epic series, where the Mariners outlasted the Yankees in 5 games after a classic 12-inning finale. There was a young 20 old shortstop named Alex Rodriguez on that Mariners team.
Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez was a natural. He couldn’t miss. He tried out for Team USA while still in high school. He was drafted first overall by the Seattle Mariners. Major League Baseball could market him as the next superstar, young, good-looking, a boy with a Latino roots but born in America and could speak to people of so many backgrounds. He could have been to Latin-Americans, what Joe DiMaggio means to Italian-Americans, what Willie Mays means to African-Americans, and what Sandy Koufax means to Jewish-Americans. An American born of a minority race with unparalleled talent that would be talked about by generations of fans as their personal baseball icon.
Somewhere along the line the boy known as Alex Rodriguez became A-Rod. Arod is a Sindarin word that means noble. Unfortunately, for Mr. Rodriguez, his version of A-Rod has a hyphen and now it means something totally opposite of the Sindari counterpart. His numbers were piling up in Seattle, and then he went to Texas in 2001, where he would sign that monster 10 year/$250 million contract. After three years of terrific stats, his Rangers failed to make the playoffs and the Yankees would trade for him in 2004.
When Alex came to New York, he was given his king’s salary and given all of the media spotlight. But, there was no key to the city to be rewarded, because this was not his team. (If LeBron James becomes part of the New York Knicks in 2010, you will see what the key to the city really looks like). A man by the name of Derek Jeter has the key sealed until he retires. Jeter is a New York icon, and held the position that Alex grew up playing which was shortstop. You almost feel bad for A-Rod. He is kind of like what Maris was when compared to Mantle. The only thing is here, Maris, I mean A-Rod, makes over $20 million per season and will not receive an ounce of pity. He would move to third base, and it would be the hot corner for him in more ways than he could ever imagine. This week it became an inferno.
Derek Jeter was supposed to be a good player, he made it himself great through his hustle, running down to first base on almost every at bat, going after balls that few would dare, and then in 2004 by diving in to the stands and risking his body and his possibly his career to make a catch. It was a play that was completely Jeter-esque, but it is a piece of the game that does not seem like it is in A-Rod’s repertoire. The heart of Jeter well overshadowed the supreme talent of A-Rod. It is a very large shadow and it is one you do not get away from if your cocky, unfeeling, and make the front page headlines for who you are dating rather than the back page headlines for his accomplishments.
A-Rod had his chances to make add to the Yankee legacy, but it was not meant to be. I wonder what Yankee fans would be saying about A-Rod today if it were he and not his predecessor at third base, Aaron Boone, who hit that home run to win the 2003 American League Championship Series. I also wonder what would have happened if he had homered in extra innings in either Game 4 or Game 5 of the 2004 American League Championship Series to knock out the Red Sox, instead of having to be part of a dubious legacy. But, when the chips were down, A-Rod could not deliver. Over the years, he became the other K-Rod, or my personal favorite, Double Play Rod.
You look at A-Rod and you are not really sure that it matters to him. He knows he is great, heck, he will tell it your face. But, to be great in sports, especially when you play in New York, and double that when you play for the Yankees, you need to be a champion. He had been a Yankee for 5 seasons, and the Championship cupboard was bare. Could it get any worse for A-Rod? Oh yes.
A-Rod came out this week and admitted he had used steroids in his time with the Texas Rangers. Ok, let’s set the record straight, he didn’t come out, he was forced out by a Sports Illustrated report that said he had tested positive for steroids back in 2003. After appearing, voluntarily, on 60 Minutes in 2007, and stating that he never took steroids, he now puts himself in the world of first class baseball liars along with Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and the list grows each and every day. One thing you didn’t think A-Rod would do was take steroids. He did not really show any physical build up like those mentioned in the prior sentence. With his talent, did he really need to do it? But, he did it. He is digging a hole so deep, that I do not know how anyone can come out of it. There is just one thing that I don’t understand; I may find myself rooting for A-Rod. I may not be alone. He is about as steep of an underdog as there is right now, and New Yorkers always love an underdog. If he can pull himself out and show the heart that matches his skills and lying ability, he just might redeem himself. Will this happen? I have no idea, but I am going to tune it. I bet you will, too.
Like the opposing team’s manager his Mariners defeated in 1995, A-Rod did not have much luck in the Bronx. Unlike Buck, he may get a chance for redemption and a chance to change his luck. Also unlike Buck, A-Rod’s wounds are mostly self-inflicted and he cannot undue the damage that has been done, but he may get a chance to do something good.
I wonder what else Joe Torre knew, maybe he will save that for his next book.