Everyone’s talking about change these days. Presidential candidates on all sides of the aisle want change. Baseball officials want to change the perceptions of a drug culture surrounding baseball. And, hey, there’s a new manager in New York, and things have changed.

Now, as you can pretty well guess based on the headline, I’m not about to write some nostalgic piece pining for the days of Joe Torre or noting how weird he looks in Dodger blue. Today, in my office, a few people were commenting on Torre’s appearance in a Dodgers hat, and to me, it wasn’t that big of a deal. But then again, I signed off on Joe Torre shortly after midnight on Thursday, October 21, 2004.

In the comments to Mike’s short piece about Torre’s appearance on ESPN’s Sunday Conversation, opinion seemed divided on Joe Torre and whether he should be considered the “right” person to manage the 2008 team or should have been let go long enough. It seems now that the writing was on the wall for longer than we thought.

Yesterday, in a piece that nicely complements the ESPN interview, Torre talked with Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News about his tenure with the Yankees. Here’s what the man once dubbed Saint Joe by the New York press had to say:

The last 3 years were difficult. I think it started probably with losing to the Red Sox. Because that becomes a mortal sin,” he said. “And even though the Red Sox were obviously a very good team that year, we got lucky early. They didn’t play well. Then we had two leads in Games 4 and 5 we couldn’t hold onto.

“Since that time, it may be a little too strong to say [the Yankees] wanted to make a change. But for me it wasn’t as comfortable. It could have been self-induced. I don’t know. Last season was very uncomfortable, especially with the bad start we had. There were a lot of questions and stories I had to address.

“I’m sure it took its toll on me, but when you walk into the clubhouse and all of a sudden the players aren’t sure what they should say, what they shouldn’t say, your coaching staff, that made it doubly uncomfortable for me. I just think over the last few years it was gradually getting to the point of not being a helluva lot of fun. The baseball was still fun, but aside from that…”

I know that Joe Torre wasn’t responsible for the way the team played during that 2004 ALCS, but his decisions impacted the game. He decided to all but ignore Kenny Lofton on the bench; he decided not run on Jason Varitek while the Red Sox catcher tried and failed to catch Tim Wakefield’s knuckleballs. He decided to allow Tom Gordon to pitch to David Ortiz in a pivotal at-bat late in game 5. Sure; hindsight is 20-20, but I vividly remember screaming at the TV while the games were played. It is just as easy to second-guess Torre for his managing during the ALCS as it was then, and my critiques have not changed.

Meanwhile, Torre’s impact on the team grew to the point where he openly feuded with key players. He played favorites with the bullpen; he gave guys like Miguel Cairo way too many at-bats long after they ceased being usable. In fact, Brian Cashman had to step in and trade Joe Torre’s guys away from the Yanks because Joe kept using them despite obvious ineffectiveness.

It was, in other words, long past time to go for Torre in 2007. It was well past time to go for Torre in 2005, but his saintly status kept him on.

Now, I know this sounds harsh. That’s the problem with taking an unpopular opinion, and it certainly understates Torre’s impact on the Yanks. His 1173-767 career New York record (.605 winning percentage) and his 12 straight playoff berths have long earned him my admiration. He did a masterful job handling the Yankees in the late 1990s with Don Zimmer at his side and always dealt well with the media even after Zimmer left.

But there was something about the way 2004 unfolded that seemed to bode ill for the future. Torre’s trust in his team was gone, and a lot of people started viewing his moves with skepticism.

I love Joe for what he brought to the Yankees; I don’t expect Joe Girardi to duplicate 12 years of unparalleled Major League success. But there comes a time for every team and every manager when they part ways. The 2007 split was far from ideal, and both the Yankees and Torre didn’t seem to handle it well. It was, in fact, a rare misstep for Torre who didn’t come out looking too sympathetic one way or another.

I’ll miss Joe for what he symbolizes — the winning ways of the Yankees during my high school years in the late 1990s when the Yankees were supposed to win the World Series because that was the way things were. I’ll wish him luck in Los Angeles and hope that the eventual mediocrity won’t tarnish his Hall of Fame credentials.

But I will look forward to the next Joe Era, the one of Girardi, the one in which players come to camp ready to compete and ready to get along better with their manager. It won’t be perfect, but it’s something new. And the Yanks have needed something new since that fateful night in October of 2004 when I sat alone and watched history unfold incredulous and shocked.

Categories : Front Office
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While the Mets and Phillies are engaged in their annual pissing contest over who’s the best in the NL East, Johnny Damon predicted his own early season success today:

“I’m ready to go out there and prove to everyone that I’m still a pretty good player. I’ve been pretty consistent over my career. But when you talk about good players in the league my name hardly comes up and I don‘t think that’s right. I need to go out there and show them.”

Peter Abraham notes that Damon looks like he’s in great shape. This is, needless to say, great news for Yankee fans. Damon got off to a terrible start last season and didn’t really hit his stride until August when his nagging injuries cleared up.

Meanwhile, over the last few seasons, the Yanks have started the year 9-14 (2007), 13-10 (2006), 10-14 (2005) and 12-11 (2004). If they could get out to a fast start, the team’s winning ways would take some pressure off the pitching. Make no mistake about it; Johnny Damon atop the Yankee lineup will be a major factor in that potential success.

Categories : Spring Training
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  • Brian Hoch reads RAB
    By

    Why else would he call them “the so-called ‘Big Three’? Anywho, Hoch has a great piece up at milb.com about the Yanks newfound approach to building from within. It contains a brilliant quote regarding the Proctor-Betemit deal: “Our people were right,” Cashman said. “We had Proctor in other forms. It was just that [fans] didn’t know the names yet.” Word up. · (9) ·

  • Project Prospect’s Top 150 List
    By

    The guys over at Project Prospect posted their list of the Top 150 prospects, with seven Yankees making the cut. James at YanksBlog gives you the rundown on those guys, so I’ll just refer you to his post. I’m glad Braves lefty Jeff Locke got some love at #89, that kid’s a dynamo sleeper. I’m also glad they knocked Dan Cortes of the Royals (#126) down a peg, the guys at BA were touting him like he’s the next Felix Hernandez, despite only having one good pitch.

    Update: I meant to link to this yesterday, but it slipped my mind. BA ranked the 30 farm systems based on how close their talent is to the bigs. The Yanks came in at number 2. That’s a good thing.
    · (9) ·

I was thinking aloud on this one this morning, so I thought I’d bring it to you guys for a public review. Keep in mind that this is a best case scenario. It’s assuming that no one completely bombs or gets injured for more than two weeks or so. So let’s break this down:

Andy & CMW: 33 or 34 — so we’ll say Andy with 33 and CMW with 34.
Mussina: 28 — could be more if he’s effective, but he does have a tendency to wear down.
IPK: 28 — at 7 innings a start, that brings him to 196, right around his projected goal number.
Hughes: 22 — at 7 innings a pop, he’d be at 154, or right around his goal.
Joba: 8 — could be 10, could be none.

Add ‘em all up, and we’re looking at 153 starts, so that’s nine that have to be filled by the likes of Igawa, Karstens, Rasner, Wright, White, Marquez, and Horne. Not too shabby.

Of course, there are a couple of further caveats to the above list, foremost being Joba. Going back to the 2003 Johan Santana parallel, he could make as many as 18 starts, but I think the Yanks will use him a bit more liberally out of the pen early on than the Twins did, and will transition him to starting later on. As I’ve said, even if he opens in the pen, the team would be wise to give him a spot start in each of the season’s first three months, so he’s not completely unused to starting.

Hughes is a tough call. He threw 146 innings in 2006, so he could probably go decently over the 150 cap we’re hearing about. I probably wouldn’t go more than 160 with him in any event, though 165, 170 shouldn’t be out of the question.

And, of course, Mussina’s 28 starts depend wholly on his effectiveness. Hell, if he could hit 30 starts, that would be amazing. Even at a 4.40 or 4.50 ERA, he could carry value.

Playoffs are another concern. This is why I see the Yanks keeping Hughes to around 145 innings during the regular season. It’s also why I don’t see Joba making more than eight starts, 10 tops. They want these guys to be able to pitch in the playoffs. This is why Mussina is that much more important. If he can eat 30 starts, he takes the pressure off the younger guys, allowing the Yanks to free up innings for playoff time.

Then again, in this year’s AL, the playoffs aren’t any kind of guarantee. The Yanks will be fighting with Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Anaheim, and Seattle for four spots. And even then you don’t know if a dark horse like the Rangers will emerge as competitive.

The overall message, though, is to not listen to the mainstream media. The Yanks look fine in terms of starters as of this moment. If something changes along the way, I’m sure we’ll discuss it. But it need not be met with panic.

Categories : Pitching
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In a fairly uncreative piece ranking the game’s General Managers, Jon Heyman at Sports Illustrated pegged Brian Cashman at baseball’s number five GM.

5. Brian Cashman, Yankees. Three rings in his first four years are something of a memory, though 10 straight postseason appearances and the ability to last in that pressure cooker aren’t bad accomplishments, either. The negative is one bad free-agent pitching pickup after another, leading to the new strategy to spend on youth and to go with youth. So far he’s spent on the right young guys, and that’s a big plus.

If Heyman’s talking about Carl Pavano as a bad free agent pick-up, let me again say hindsight is 20-20. Carl Pavano was a hotly-pursued pitcher, and no one knew he would make 19 starts over three seasons.

Meanwhile, for a number five ranked GM, Cashman doesn’t seem to garner much praise from Heyman. This guy’s put together a team that hasn’t missed the playoffs during his tenure. Despite some skeptical bloggers, Cashman is the guy who should be helming this team.

I’m not so keen on his choices as Theo Epstein and Billy Beane as numbers 1 and 2. Epstein can rest on the laurels of the Josh Beckett trade, a deal made when he wasn’t the General Manager, and the jury is still out on their $102-million import.

But with Epstein, it comes back to the same criticisms as Cashman should face. A lot of big-ticket free agent moves haven’t worked out. Anyone remember Edgar Renteria or Matt Clement? And had the Sox not gotten hot in October last year, Epstein wouldn’t be on the top of this list. Remember how the Sox had squandered a 14-game lead? That’s the team Epstein put together as well.

I’d rather see these lists headed up by guys who have put together winning teams with budgetary constraints. Again, with Cashman, Epstein can rest on his money. The Red Sox were, after all, the most expensive team to ever win a World Series (and, yes, Boston fans, the Yanks were the most expensive team to ever lose in the first round of the playoffs). But I’d have to go with the Indians’ Mark Shapiro as the game’s top GM.

As Heyman wrote, “He does more with less and should have made the playoffs two out of three years, despite decided dollar disadvantage in the increasingly tough AL Central.” Imagine what Shapiro could do with the payroll of the Red Sox, Yankees or Tigers. It’s not much of a competition.

Categories : Front Office
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Even the steel girders will have corporate sponsors. (Photo by Ben K.)

Around these parts, we’ve known for a while the the Yanks are going to name everything except the Stadium when the new digs open across 161st St. Now, we know just how much the Yanks are going to ask for when corporate sponsors come a-knockin’.

According to a report in Sports Business Journal, the top sponsorship opportunities are going to come with a $20-million annual price tag. The opportunities, of course, are limitless.

Terry Lefton has the details:

CAA is selling the package and using it as a cornerstone for marketing efforts of its sports division. The package includes a variety of sign and marketing inventory in and around the Yankees new home, but does not include naming rights to Yankee Stadium. That means that the Yankees and CAA Sports are attempting to sell one of the biggest facility sponsorship packages ever without what’s usually considered the most valuable piece of sponsorship inventory. That’s exactly what makes it so intriguing to the rest of the sports industry.

“As the uber-brand for baseball, and sports generally, the Yankees are the only American franchise that could do this, with the possible exception of the [Dallas] Cowboys,” said Phoenix-based naming-rights consultant Rob Yowell, who’s had a hand in the deals that put Honda’s brand on the home of the Anaheim Ducks and Oracle’s name on the Golden State Warriors’ home arena. “But I would put any price tag, even the asking price, in quotes on this, because you are dealing with a proposition that truly has never been done before.”

…Among the biggest signage opportunities offered in the comprehensive financial services package are large signs on the highways around the stadium; prominent exposure on Gate 4, the stadium’s main entrance; several fixed signs on top of the stadium, affording an aerial view; a large sign atop the right-field scoreboard; even bigger signage on the back of the scoreboard, facing a new subway stop; signs on interior gates leading to the field; fixed and LED signs inside the stadium and the stadium bowl; permanent dugout branding; scoreboard vignettes; behind-the-plate signage and a logo on all Yankees tickets.

That is quite the impressive array of packages, and basically, advertisements will fill up just about every single available space you can imagine in the new stadium and then some. Tickets will carry branding; concessions will come with corporate sponsors. It will be an advertiser’s heaven.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining about this. In fact, more sponsorship opportunities leads to more dollars for the Yankees, and more dollars for the Yankees invariably means more of an in-field fiscal commitment to winning. Of course, some of this money will have to go toward those $500-million stadium construction cost overruns, but with advertising a-plenty, the team will hardly be hurting for dollars.

Now if only we at River Ave. Blues could brand something. Anyone got a few million dollars to spare?

Categories : Yankee Stadium
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Feb
18

What Pettitte said

By in STEROIDS!. Tags: · Comments (23) ·

In a word, Andy Pettitte said nothing during his hour-long press conference this afternoon. Or at least, nothing we haven’t heard already.

For sixty minutes, Pettitte spoke to reporters and basically reiterated his position: He took HGH for only two or three days. He felt really bad about it. He feels bad about everything, and he just wants it all to go away.

But while Pettitte didn’t add much to the steroid talk, he did clarify a few of his own thoughts and shed some — but not much — light on baseball’s drug subculture. At the outset, reporters were quick to ask Pettitte if he thought of retiring. “I’d be lying if I said that didn’t cross my mind,” he said at least twice. He had a difficult off-season, he said, and wanted to hold the press conference as much to clear up his conscience as to clarify the issues.

Interestingly, Pettitte noted that he took HGH without much knowledge of the drug. “I didn’t know much about it,” he admitted. This, to me, is the kicker. Clemens took a similar stance during his Congressional circus hearing the other day. How can Major League Baseball players continue to inject substances into themselves without knowing what it is? How can they pump themselves full of chemicals without bothering to figure out the side effects and long-term problems associated with the drugs? It’s mind-boggling.

Finally, in the part that I found most interesting, Pettitte routinely discussed his relationship to the money he’s making. We take for granted the fact that baseball players play for a lot of money. Salaries, as you’ll see in a later post, are indeed absurd, and fans seem to assume that baseball players simply take the money and run. But along with multi-million-dollar salaries come the pressure the perform.

Pettitte, if you believe him, took HGH on two different occasions because he was trying to recover from injuries. Once with the Yankees and later with the Astros, he felt the need to come back and pitch as well as he could to justify the team’s investment in him and to help his team win. For players not used to the idea of taking home $12 or $16 million annually, the dollars can exert a lot of pressure.

At one point, a reporter asked Pettitte what sort of support the Yanks’ brass gave him and if they had asked him to come back or stay home. He said he wanted to do what the team wanted. “I don’t need the money, and I don’t need to go through this,” he said. If the Yanks thought he was a distraction, they could, he said, ask him to shut it down and go home.

Now, I’m not trying to make excuses for Andy Pettitte, but money does some odd things to people. If Pettitte feels the pressures of a contract when he’s hurt, imagine what players who aren’t making the big bucks must think. If they can bulk up, they get rewarded. So as baseball seems to be avoiding the subject of why and how PEDs are prevalent in the game, I think the answer lies in the economics of the sport as it always does.

For Pettitte, the days ahead will set the tone for his season. Does the media portray him in a sympathetic light? I thought the questions he faced today weren’t that tough, and he was more than willing to answer them more candidly than I thought he would. While the fans will be harsh, the media, at least, probably won’t be.

But baseball is once again left with questions it won’t or doesn’t want to answer. As players are sent out as sacrificial lambs, will anyone in power be willing to take the blame?

Categories : STEROIDS!
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