Last fall, after the Yankees were eliminated in the first round of the American League playoffs by the Detriot Tigers, there was about a week of time during which the question of whether Torre would return for the final year of his current contract with the Yankees was very much up in the air. George Steinbrenner was reportedly not pleased with the quick playoff exit and, as he has in the past, was looking to the Manager as the person to blame. In the end, Steinbrenner listening to General Manager Brian Cashman and kept Torre on.
Now, though, with the Yankees potentially finishing April in last place in the AL East, speculation is once again in the air that Torre may not last much longer:
Joe Torre handled the questions yesterday with the calm assurance that has characterized his tenure as Yankees manager, even though his status may be as shaky as it has ever been.
?The losing is much worse than the questions,? Torre said. ?So don?t worry about it. Knock yourselves out.?
The questioning from reporters, though, is not why Torre?s job is in jeopardy. George Steinbrenner, the principal owner, is restless over the Yankees? recent losing streak and is considering whether he should fire Torre after this weekend?s series.
?I think he?s going to wait and see what happens this weekend, and then we?ll see,? Steinbrenner?s spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, said when asked about Torre before yesterday?s game. ?You can imagine how he?s feeling, but he?s not going to say anything today. He may say something after this weekend, I?m not sure.?
In other words, if the Yankees lose today, then Torre could be in trouble.
As I’ve said before, I don’t necessarily think that Torre is the one to blame here. Recent press reports have criticized the number of times that he’s gone to the bullpen already this season, but the only reason he’s being forced to do that is because the pitching staff hasn’t been delivering and because the players brought in to pitch in place of Mike Mussina and others who’ve been injured haven’t come close to meeting expectations. When the three of the most experienced pitchers on your staff (Mussina, Chien-Ming Wang, and Carl Pavano) have spent most of the month of April on the DL, it’s not surprising that the team is going to suffer.? Things should start turning around now that Wang is finally making his 2007 debut in New York, and Mussina is returning on Thursday.
Depending on how this weekend goes, a few weeks of winning and a healthier pitching staff may save Torre for now, but two things are clear. One, Torre’s contract will not be renewed when the season is up; Torre may decide to retire anyway, but Steinbrenner has telegraphed that one since last year. Second, if the Yankees stumble again, Torre could be out and Steinbrenner’s hand-picked successor will be in:
NEW YORK — If George Steinbrenner decides to blame Joe Torre for the Yankees’ awful start and fire him, Steinbrenner’s first choice to replace Torre would be Don Mattingly, SI.com has learned.
If Torre pays for the Yankees’ bad beginning, word is that Steinbrenner would name Mattingly in part because of his strong relationship with the Yankees icon, who is also well-liked throughout the organization. Mattingly was moved from hitting coach to bench coach in what was seen as an elevation last winter, as well as a chance to apprentice under Torre.
I like Don Mattingly as a player, but I have no idea what kind of a coach he would make and the New York Yankees are not exactly the right place for someone who’s never coached before to start out.