Tag Archives: jeter

Say It Ain’t So, Joe

The New York papers are abuzz with rumors of Joe Torre’s imminent firing. I hope the reports of his coaching death are greatly exaggerated, because Torre was far from the one to blame for the Yankees’ post-season demise. He was handed a pitching staff that might have been young (as opposed to the Padres’ Chris Young, who looked spectacular) a decade ago, sporting Carl Pavano (who didn’t throw a single pitch in pinstripes this year) as its poster child. Matsui and Sheffield got hurt, and along comes Melky Cabrera. Who knew? Joe knew. Joe managed, and played the hand he was dealt, and played it well. If Steinbrenner is going to give him the equivalent of 7-2 offsuit hole cards in a game of hold’em, Joe knows how to play it.

On my way to the airport this morning, the sports talk radio was filled with “Ditch A-rod” and “Take Jeter’s captaincy” complaints. The engineers were hitting the dump button more than for the Howard Stern show, deleting invective laced with expletive. Everyone seems to think it’s Jeter’s problem that A-rod doesn’t feel loved, and if A-rod isn’t loved then he can’t play well.

Excuse me? A-rod gets paid in a year what most people make in ten careers. That’s love. That’s the fans love of the game translated into insane ticket prices and $7 beers and $9 sausages and $25 t-shirts to pay for Mr. “I want to be liked”. You want to be liked? Start with the fans, and the community, and your teammates. Don’t wait for people to come to you, go to the people. Do the work. Joe Torre is in front of the press, win or lose, every day, doing the work even when his team isn’t.

Young, exciting prospects sell tickets and jerseys too. And they are eager to build up some street cred, on the street, so they’ll engage with the community. Veterans who want to win with every fiber of their (able) bodies sell tickets. Ray Borque, anyone? Pudge Rodriguez?

The Yankees will retool, and there will be a long winter of discontent when everyone is a manager, coach, third baseman, and negotiator, and then it starts again in 22 weeks. For once, it would be nice if the Yankees opened up with a clear gap between the average age of the players and that of the year-round residents around training camp. I just hope Joe’s still there to point out the players.

Leadership and Tradition

Two games into the 2005 Fall Classic, and I keep thinking about Albert Pujols. In Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, the Cardinals needed a monster hit, and Pujols delivered. His body language at the plate said “gopher ball”; he can be forgiven for an extra slow start toward first because, well, even he wanted to see how he crushed that pitch. Yes, the Cardinals lost in six, and yes, Pujols goes another year without a World Series ring. But he does so with amazing grace and dignity, and only after assuring that NL pitchers are a bit more afraid of him that last year.

The more I think about the big A from the Midwest, the more I think about the big A from the Bronx — Alex Rodriguez. Let’s say, hypothetically, Pujols hit a grounder back to the box in Game 5. Would he have attempted to slap the ball out of the pitcher’s glove? Would he have taken an extra fast start toward first? How you lose your last game defines how you’re seen for the first game of the next season.

Having a great player on a team makes everyone better. Not because that one player can always pull you out of a tight spot; those players set the bar for everyone else. Want to know why the Yankees were watching the ALCS, not playing in it? Nobody was setting that bar. Nobody delivered when it mattered – not Jeter, not A-rod, not Matsui. The Yankees tradition of winning (or of greatness or of sportsmanship or of whatever) looked, honestly, a lot less like the highest payroll in baseball.

I’m all for tradition — it holds our dispersed families together; it creates a framework for looking back on four years at Princeton; it’s why most of us cheer for the same teams as our parents. As traditions develop and take root, they become initial points. Tradition is a cause and not an effect.

Tradition begets respect. Respect begets sportsmanship. Sportsmanship begets leadership. Leadership begets winning. In four months we’ll see how far back to the basics the Yankees have gone.