Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Lightning 8.15.2010

  • Charming, grandfatherly and merciless:

Dodgers manager Joe Torre is holding off on announcing his decision as to whether he's going to manage next year. The relentless controversy surrounding the Dodgers due to the divorce of Frank and Jamie McCourt put any talks of a contract extension on the back-burner in the spring; now, with the Dodgers playoff hopes flickering almost to the point of extinction and his open declaration that his decision will be made in September, it's almost time to come clean...or is it?

For all his charm and likability, Torre has played his Saint Joe routine to the hilt. Subtly twisting public opinion into his favor, he's used his well-spoken manner and status as the Frank Sinatra of the Baseball World to make himself very wealthy, a sought-after public speaker and spokesman, and future Hall of Fame manager. He hasn't had many arrows slung at him because: A) many younger baseball people don't want him as an enemy; and B) the critics (Michael Kay, David Wells, Alex Rodriguez) either aren't well-liked; or haven't the cachet to warrant a reaction one way or the other (Buddy Groom).

Is Torre truly looking to retire?

Is he waiting to see how long and deep into the winter the divorce goes before re-upping with the Dodgers?

Is he hoping for another opportunity to open up?

Or is he waiting to see how things go with all of the above as possibilities?

Torre has a younger wife and teenage daughter and presumably, they'd like him to be able to spend time with them while he's in shape to actively participate in their lives; but the family usually agrees to move along with the "lifers" as they make their rounds. It happened with Vince Lombardi and Bill Parcells in football, and Chuck Daly in basketball.

Coaches coach.

Managers manage.

Years ago, before he took the Yankees job and moved from competent journeyman retread to the calming influence and steady general who navigated his way between owner George Steinbrenner, the highly paid superstars inhabiting the Yankees clubhouse, and the media to win four Yankees championships and coax the team to the playoffs every year he was there, he appeared prepared to spend the final phase of his baseball life in the relaxed arena of the broadcast booth----and he was an excellent broadcaster.

It would've been cushy, relaxing and very, very boring.

He'd never have made the money he's made managing----and Torre loves money----nor would he have received the accolades and future Hall of Fame induction. It was serendipity that he took over the Yankees at exactly the right time; the team was coming of age, tired of being under Buck Showalter's anal retentive thumb, and ready to win with a new and less stifling manager.

The Yankees-Torre marriage ran its course, he moved onto the Dodgers, made more money and maintained the Torre-aura by continuing to win while the Yankees made an uneasy transition to the younger Joe Girardi and missed the playoffs in the first year without him. He'd never admit it publicly, but it must have pleased him for that to have happened as he was leading the Dodgers to the NLCS.

Torre's competitiveness and "other side" of his personality have long been known to reporters who've seen him dismiss people who weren't of a great enough stature for him to acknowledge. While it was a pompous and self-aggrandizing rant in which he claimed to have "protected" Torre as if it were his domain to do so, Michael Kay wasn't wrong in his criticisms of Torre being about himself while emitting a grandfatherly air.

So how are the retire/manage/stay in LA/move on machinations going to be handled?

Torre has deftly utilized the Dodgers circumstances as a shield to hold off on making an announcement. If they were steamrolling toward the playoffs, he wouldn't discuss his future so as not to distract the team; while they're still on the outskirts of playoff contention he won't discuss his future so as not to distract the team; and while the situation he undoubtedly has his eye on---the Mets----is still unraveling, he's not going to make an declarative statement one way or the other.

I find it hard to believe that Torre's wife would want him to go back across the country and dive back into the New York cauldron even if it's for a short-term deal, but that wouldn't matter. The money will be there for him; the job is going to be open; he'd get to finish his managerial career where it started as a fitting end to his story if he can win that elusive championship for the Mets; and he'd again be a hero while sticking it to the Yankees from across town.

The Mets are monitoring Torre. Part of the reason they've yet to fire Jerry Manuel is because they'd have to stick scout Bob Melvin into the managerial seat with him increasingly likely as the permanent skipper; the team hasn't collapsed to the point where they need the aggravation of firing the manager mid-season to go along with all the other stuff they're dealing with in Metland. That could change with a bad road trip to Houston and Pittsburgh, but it appears as if the Mets are going to make a similar decision with Manuel as they did with Art Howe----manage the team for the rest of the year knowing he's out, barring anything miraculous.

Will the Mets learn from what could've been a prior mistake when, late in 1995, they gave manager Dallas Green a 1-year contract extension for 1996 only to see Buck Showalter depart the Yankees after the season? Would they have jumped on Showalter had they known he was available? And would Steinbrenner even have gotten rid of Showlater knowing that the Mets job was open and that they'd immediately have hired Showalter to manage the team? As capricious as Steinbrenner was, he was calculating and smart enough to know that Showalter turning the Mets into contenders right under his nose would have been an impossible vision to face.

We're getting into a Terminator-style alternate history, but if this series of events had taken place, where would Torre be now? Would Showalter have been the man who ran the Yankees during their dynasty?

Torre is smart; he's charming; he's cunning; and he's waiting before announcing his plans. He would accord instant credibility to the Mets; he'd be able to attract free agents; and he'd bring in fans.

He has something in mind.

That something is the Mets.

  • An organic bullpen:

With a veteran corps of relievers and highly paid closer, it's been proven time-and-again that a closer-by-committee, while logical, cannot work. The only teams that have had any success at pulling it off in my recollection have been the Rays in the last few years and the 1985 Cardinals under Whitey Herzog. The Rays lost anointed closer Troy Percival to injury and were forced to mix-and-match; the Cardinals lost Bruce Sutter to free agency after 1984, tried veteran Neil Allen before settling on Ken Dayley, Jeff Lahti and Todd Worrell to do the job.

Both clubs went to the World Series with this arrangement.

The Red Sox made the attempt in 2003 to disastrous results and cost themselves the World Series a year before they finally won it to break "The Curse".

A spate of blown saves and awful performances in recent weeks by the likes of Huston Street, Brad Lidge, Jonathan Broxton and Jonathan Papelbon again opened the debate on how to best utilize one's bullpen. Money is a major factor in the thinking of the pitchers who want to be the closer; closers get the big money while set-up men, who do the heavy lifting much of the time (Scot Shields for example), are ignored and under-appreciated. The glory, the opportunity to be the man on the mound for the last out of the World Series and the attached recognition are too alluring to pass up and any manager who tries to keep these payoffs from their players are vilified in the clubhouse and attacked by ignorant fans and media.

Can a closer-by-committee work?

Yes. And here's how.

If a team builds their bullpen organically from the ground up; has a manager who's supported by the front office and everyone is on the same page of sticking to the plan; and it works, there can be a bullpen-by-committee with properly utilized relievers depending on the situation regardless of inning.

What I mean by organically is that the club has to make a conscious decision to pick the pitchers they intend to use as relievers in the majors and use them in the same way in the minors. Even minor league teams have designated closers, but if there's an organizational template that there is no designated closer; that the right guy will be placed in the right spot, then it can be done. There are pitchers who are drafted as closers and developed that way in the minors, but rather than do that, these pitchers should be built up in the low minors by starting them, then transitioned to the bullpen as they reach Double and Triple A.

Young players have neither the right nor the hammer to demand how they're utilized. This is a freedom mechanism for the club to do what they want and not have to fight battles in the press with a veteran player's complaints about not knowing his "role".

To try this, it would have to be a young, developing team (the Pirates); one with a manager who has the resume and upper management support (Buck Showalter with the Orioles); or one with absolute fearlessness in doing what needs to be done (the way the Rays have evolved).

Teams with a shut down short reliever like Mariano Rivera don't exist anywhere but with the Yankees. Upper tier closers like Papelbon have been slumping lately; and it's a huge story when the Dodgers demotes Broxton. The whole idea of the closer goes against logic and in a perfect world, there wouldn't be such an animal.

The whole idea of the closer takes the responsibility away from the manager from actually "managing". Winning the game has nothing to do with the decision that the closer pitches the ninth inning; it's not managing, it's a safety mechanism to shield everyone from criticism for not doing their jobs.

Financials, public perception, misplaced team unity and managerial support have prevented the true attempt to do it correctly, but it can be done if the commitment is made. Judging from the way the supposed "fireman" has been entering games toting a gasoline can, would the end result be that much worse if it fails? No.

  • Viewer Mail 8.15.2010:

Joe writes RE Jeff Francoeur, Fernando Martinez and the Mets:

Martinez and Francoeur shouldn't even been platooning. Martinez should get all the at bats to help aid his development. He is much more a future of this organization than Francoeur is.

I have to agree with Joe at this point. Francoeur is increasingly showing that he has no future with the Mets as long as he doesn't listen and try to change his approach----or have an approach.

He's only 26; there's no question in my mind he can salvage his career, but the Mets can't sit around and wait----he's killing them. If he went somewhere like Pittsburgh and made the conscious decision to do as I've repeatedly said he should do and treat the early part of an at-bat as if he's already ahead in the count 2-0 or 3-1 and "zone" by not swinging at the pitch unless it's exactly where he wants it, nothing will change.

He's shown flashes of trying; I think his heart is in the right place, he hustles every play and is someone I want to succeed; but he reverts to his old habits once he begins struggling and that cannot work with a team in the precarious position of the Mets. By September, Martinez has to play every day.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE me:

This Kevin Towers Moment is brought to you by ~ "CREDIT DUE" and to those who do not suffer selective post column positional flip/flop syndrome. My biggest criticism about columnists and the talkies is never having to deal with things they've said in the past.

They have no reason to admit, reflect, revisit, nor entertain such talk of correction about positions they may have made on a given subject. They and many like them whether in main stream media or even "bloggers" are forward moving meteors stopping nowhere at anytime to account for anything they may have said until ultimately that meteor impacts in self humiliation, or, to be less dramatic, a dissipation of journalistic respect.

The PRINCE of NY admits, reflects, revisits, entertains and pursues discussions of correction. The Prince holds "the Pros" accountable on Twitter and he gets blocked. The Prince, in his work, conducts his own self challenge and revisits positions he selectively and conveniently does not forget unlike said Pros. He puts out a lot of information but never enough to take time away from self analysis. Twitter...I'm almost there and you may not like it. (inspired by kevin towers).

I am not paying Mike, the Brooklyn Trolley Blogger, for his comments.

Have you noticed, as I have, the following:

That when I say certain ESPN personalities are mailing it in and don't care they suddenly begin working harder at their jobs.

That the beat writers for big league teams are making inappropriate editorial analysis during games and putting on their "objective reporter" hats back on their heads immediately after the last out is recorded and they have to go and do their jobs, that the commentary on Twitter diminishes or stops entirely.

That when I highlight columnists are cheap shot artists who present flimsy alibis for their errors block me as if ignoring me makes me go away.

And that talk show hosts and broadcasters have no clue what they're talking about alter their statements to fit into the truth while maintaining their rampant egomania rather than continuing to twist reality to fit neatly into their agendas.

You want me on that wall; you need me on that wall.

I have a feeling that when the Trolley Blogger does join Mi Familia on Twitter, anyone that comes after me is in for a rude awakening as to what they'll have to go through to get at me----if they live.

Listen to the Red State Blue State podcast appearance. Click here for the RSBS blog and here to hear it directly.

I'm scheduled to be on with Sal at SportsFan Buzz later this week. Go and get your survival kit ready; the hurricane is on its way.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.

Buyer beware.

I told you my writing would take you places.

I never said they'd be places you wanted to go.


Julia Cates said...

great blog
Thanks for share
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She-Fan said...

Maybe Torre will write another book while he contemplates his future in baseball. Calling Tom Verducci!

NapLajoieonSteroids said...

Whenever I think of Torre I think of these two things:

1) The Yankees were damned lucky that during the Dynasty years Torre had three or four bullpen arms (essentially Rivera, Stanton and Nelson for the stretch run) and one of them was Mariano Rivera. If he only had Stanton or only Nelson, he wouldn't have taken those teams so far 'cause he would have burnt them out with the way he manages bullpens.

2) I understand that Scott Proctor was already in his late twenties when he arrived to the show, so it wasn't like he was someone who needed (or deserved) protection, but Torre completely destroyed him with the workloads. Torre punished him to a point where I imagine (fancifully) Proctor could make a strong case out of suing Torre for damages towards his ability to earn a living.

The poor guy probably cried when Torre became manager of the Dodgers.

Jeff said...

Yes! Bring on the BTB! He's got a good eye. Perfect for the fam!

Sample Resumes said...

Proctor could make a strong case out of suing Torre for damages towards his ability to earn a living.

syeds said...

Julia consider mine too..
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