King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Steinbrenner's nuts, but firing Torre wouldn't be a huge mistake. Plus: Prediction pratfall, "Prince Albert," Fox's Terrell talk.

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Word out of New York is that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is about to fire manager Joe Torre after 11 years, 10 division titles and a wild card, six pennants and four World Series championships.

Some of us have been waiting for this Steinbrenner meltdown for a long time, for that moment when the old Queeg-like George returned in full force, bad-mouthing players and, especially, firing managers willy-nilly.

Specifically we’ve been waiting for the day the Boss issued walking papers to the only manager of the last quarter century who has managed to turn the Yankees’ financial advantage into success on the diamond.

In the 14 years between their then last pennant and the day the Yankees hired Torre after the 1995 season, they’d been managed by Bob Lemon, Gene Michael, Clyde King, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Martin again, Lou Piniella, Martin again, Dallas Green, Bucky Dent, Stump Merrill and Buck Showalter. What they had to show for it was a wild-card spot and first-round elimination in Showalter’s last year, though to be fair they’d been leading the American League East by six and a half games in ’94 when a strike ended the season.

So now that the firing day appears to be at hand, it’s kind of a letdown. Because it no longer seems that giving Torre the ax would be a colossal blunder. I don’t think I’d do it if I were George Steinbrenner, but then again I wouldn’t wear all those turtlenecks, and who am I to tell Steinbrenner what to do? After all, he hasn’t been convicted of anything in years.

Firing Torre would be an overreaction to the result of four ballgames against the Detroit Tigers and a misapplication of blame for the lack of a World Series title since way back in the mists of history, in 2000.

There are a couple of truisms about postseason baseball. One is that good pitching and defense usually beat good hitting. The Tigers had much better pitching and defense than the Yankees. Another is that the postseason is a crapshoot, that luck plays a huge role in who gets to four wins first out of seven games, and an even bigger role in who gets to three wins first out of five games.

The Tigers thrashed the Yankees, so where’s the luck? Well, just one example: From the Yankees’ point of view, it was unlucky that Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers picked last week to throw fantastic games. They’ve all had bad days recently.



I’m not saying the Tigers were lucky to beat the Yankees, or that Verlander, Bonderman and Rogers got lucky to have good games. It was their skill that beat the Yankees, make no mistake, but they’ve all had plenty of days when their skills just weren’t evident. They might have had one of those days against the Yanks but didn’t.

The Yankees aren’t in control of whether Verlander’s throwing BBs or hanging curveballs. Sometimes you get unlucky and the other guy has a great day. You tip your cap and figure you’ll get him next time around, except in October there is no next time around.

The goal of every season is to win a championship, of course, but teams should be judged on what they did in the regular season, when the effects of luck are muted by the number of games, the opportunity for luck to even out. Over a season, you’ve got several chances to run into Justin Verlander on one of his bad days. In a five-game series, you get one, maybe two.

Firing Torre would be putting the blame in the wrong place because what let the Yankees down was a lack of pitching. The question the Yankees have to answer if they want to go places in the postseason isn’t whether Piniella or Joe Girardi would be a better hire, but who they’re going to get to start games after Chien-Ming Wang and, if they pick up his option, Mike Mussina take their turns.

And they need to figure out who they’re going to get to carry games from the starter to Mariano Rivera, and who they’re going to get to replace Rivera, who’s not getting any younger. The Yankees’ record of hiring pitchers in the past few years is not stellar.

Torre made some nutty moves in the Detroit series, sitting Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield at odd times and batting Alex Rodriguez eighth in Game 4. But Torre’s always made those kinds of moves. He’s no tactician. Fortunately for him, tactical moves aren’t as important as most fans think they are. Studies have shown that batting order doesn’t matter much. Filling out the lineup card in the dumbest possible way, pitcher batting cleanup, that sort of thing, will cost you a few runs a year.

What matters is that hitting A-Rod eighth and bouncing superstars from the field to the dugout and back like basketballs foster chaos. And Torre’s greatest strength as Yankees manager has been fomenting a winning, unchaotic atmosphere in the chaotic universe that is New York and the Yankees.

He’s not doing that anymore. The Yankees are taking potshots at each other in the media. Gary Sheffield blasted Torre in USA Today Monday. Gary Sheffield’s always going to be Gary Sheffield, but how about that dog pile on Rodriguez in Sports Illustrated three weeks ago? Torre’s job is to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen. Instead, he participated.

Like I said, I wouldn’t do it. And maybe cooler heads will prevail and the Yankees won’t do it. But firing Torre wouldn’t be the worst decision in the world. Eleven years is a long time for one man to manage one team in this day and age, and it may be that change for its own sake every decade or so is a good idea.

And there’s even precedent in New York. After losing in the 1960 World Series the Yankees fired Casey Stengel, who in 12 years as skipper had won 10 pennants and seven World Series. Just as the Yankees were roasted in 1995 for hiring Torre, who had never been successful as a manager, they’d been hammered in 1949 for hiring Stengel, whose record was even more dismal than Torre’s.

Firing Stengel was an overreaction too. But it didn’t matter much. The Yankees won the next two World Series, and then the next two pennants after that.

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Perfect prognostications [PERMALINK]

I told you it would be the Twins, Yankees, Padres and Dodgers.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ 6-2 thrashing of San Diego Sunday completed the field for the League Championship Series, which consists entirely of teams this column predicted would lose in the first round — believe it or not a historical first. The Cardinals play the New York Mets starting Wednesday night, the Detroit Tigers visit the Oakland A’s in the American League series starting Tuesday.

I didn’t realize till the games got started that in all four divisional series I picked the team I was rooting against. I’m sure there are all sorts of psychological insights about self-loathing to be gleaned from this, but I like myself too much to glean them.

Even though I’m a complete loser.

The A’s, Cardinals and, since a 2003 visit to Comerica Park during which I witnessed one of 119 losses, Tigers are all involved in the Complicated Calculus of Teams I Root For, though it takes an electron microscope to detect my interest in a Cardinals victory. It wouldn’t have bothered me at all to see the Padres, my West Coast near homeboys and a team I practically grew up watching because those were the tickets people gave my dad, win.

The Mets I rooted for over the Dodgers on the anybody but my team’s rival theory, my team being the Giants.

You might think this would make the divisional round torture for me. Whom should I root for, the team I’m rooting for or the team I picked to win in front of the whole world? Not at all. I long ago gave up worrying about my predictions making me look bad, and happily root for whomever I want, picks be damned.

The most disappointing thing about the first round wasn’t the pathetic performance of my picks, it was the unmemorable nature of the series themselves. Two sweeps and two decisive 3-1 wins. Of course A’s, Tigers, Cardinals and Mets fans found them exciting, Oakland finally ending its postseason losing streak and the others waking up from horrible or sluggish finishes.

But the rest of us — the writer me isn’t really an A’s, Tigers or Cardinals fan, if you know what I mean — would like a little more drama please.

If Detroit and St. Louis pitch like they did in the first round, and if the A’s show up, we should get it. Predictions Tuesday. Bet you can’t wait, but I caution you as usual: Don’t use this column as a basis for wagering. Just often enough, I’m right, and you’ll get burned.

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Put “Prince Albert” in the can [PERMALINK]

Every time I hear an announcer refer to Albert Pujols as “Prince Albert,” I have to shift around in my chair. Can people please stop calling him that?

It’s bad enough having to hear about Kenny “Nipple Clip” Rogers.

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Say what you want [PERMALINK]

If you have a tape of the Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles game and three spare hours, do me a favor: Watch the game again and tell me how many times Fox announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman said something like, “You can say what you want about the guy,” and then something good about Terrell Owens, like that he’s a good blocker or something.

I counted two, and I only really listened to them for about 10 minutes of game time. That extrapolates to 12 “say what you wants,” but I bet it wasn’t more than eight.

I’m glad I can say what I want about Terrell Owens. Thanks, Joe and Troy. I think I’ll say that Terrell Owens is a ukulele-playing pterodactyl.

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