Warming to idea of Yankees meltdown

October 20, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

When the Yankees dropped that insulting one-year offer in front of longtime manager Joe Torre and made it obvious they wanted him to walk away from his string of 12 straight postseason appearances, there was nothing to do around here but find a way to put the whole sorry episode in a Baltimore-centric context.

Here goes:

Clearly, new Orioles president Andy MacPhail is a genius. He'll never admit it, but his long-range plan to get the Orioles back in contention in the American League East depended in large part on the Yankees eventually getting stupid again, and it looks like they have obliged.

They have pushed aside one of the most successful managers in the history of that storied franchise because he was able to reach the World Series only six times in 12 years. They have taken a page from the early George Steinbrenner period, when the Boss was so busy seeking instant baseball gratification that he pushed the team into a 14-year postseason drought.

It was Torre who restored the Yankees dynasty, and now the franchise has come to take the playoffs for granted. He might have done one of the best managing jobs of his career to hold the team together after a horrible start and return it to the postseason, only to be given a public ultimatum by the ailing Steinbrenner after the Yankees fell two games behind the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series.

Shades of late 1970s, when the Boss ruled with imperial glee and the Yankees were the most volatile franchise in professional sports. Now, he is in ill health and his sons apparently are taking control of the team, which normally would be cause to maintain some semblance of organizational stability while the whole ownership succession thing shakes out.

Obviously, it's a ridiculous stretch to try to make any connection between the current Yankees upheaval and the Orioles' latest attempt to regain their footing in the AL East, but Orioles fans should welcome any news that might cast into doubt the long-standing divisional dominance of the Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

The Yankees are expected to replace Torre with either Don Mattingly or Joe Girardi, which would mean the new guy would have no more than one year of major league experience when he takes over one of the most challenging managerial assignments in baseball.

The new Yankees manager would inherit a team that is growing out of its glory years and must decide how much money to spend to hang on to what's left of the veteran core that won four World Series before losing its playoff touch the past seven years.

From all indications, Alex Rodriguez will opt for free agency, and the departure of Torre will make it more difficult to re-sign pending free agents Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada.

Torre's replacement might also find himself dealing with a new ownership paradigm. Hank and Hal Steinbrenner apparently have taken control of the team from their father and - based on the events of the past 10 days - intend to be more hands-on than the Boss has been the past few years.

Hank Steinbrenner even went so far as to tell reporters recently that he would insist that promising young Joba Chamberlain be moved into the starting rotation next season, a pronouncement that prompted much speculation in New York about the amount of field-level input that might be expected from the second generation of Steinbrenner ownership.

The Orioles have their own mountain to climb before they can even dream about climbing over the Yankees, but an organizational meltdown in the Bronx would certainly make a baseball renaissance in Baltimore more plausible. It wouldn't break any hearts in Boston or Toronto, either.

There's still a slim chance Yankees management will figure that out during the next few days and make a more appropriate offer to Torre. Maybe they'll get smart again before it's too late. Seems like old times.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on most Saturdays and Sundays.

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