This being my last column of the year (a fact that is sure to delight many in this community) I considered doing an upbeat “Year in Review” piece. Perusing my previous use of this space, however, brought me back to reality — I enjoy being a curmudgeon too much to craft something positive as my swan song for the year. I love sports, don’t get me wrong. But, as usual, the sports world provided plenty to be cynical about this past week.
Once again, the subject is baseball, but the biggest idiots of the week are the collective television, radio and print talking heads who feel the need to opine on the George Steinbrenner/Joe Torre feud. Coincidentally, some of these media members are the same ones who, in previewing New York’s current series with the Anaheim Angels said that the Yankees would be looking to exact some revenge for the playoff elimination last year. So if the Yankees were to sweep the Angels in the middle of April that would make up for last year’s ALDS loss? Please.
But the biggest headline out of Yankee land is of the seeming dissension between Steinbrenner and Torre. Long story short, Torre and Steinbrenner had a conversation last week in which the Boss told his skipper he preferred that his $32 million pitcher Jose Contreras be sent to Tampa to work with Yankee pitching guru Billy Connors, but that ultimately the decision was Torre’s. Torre and current Yankee pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre thought it best to assign Contreras, who has been a gargantuan bust thus far, to Triple-A Columbus to allow the right-hander to see significant pitching action against live hitters. Steinbrenner vetoed the idea, and Contreras went to Tampa.
Clearly, Steinbrenner was dead wrong to reverse Torre’s decision after telling the manager it was his to make. However, with those who get on their 2-inch soapbox and proclaim that Steinbrenner is wrong to even interfere in baseball decisions at all, I could not disagree more.
Steinbrenner is the principal owner of the Yankees. He signs the checks. If he wants to give someone $50 to blow on his dice at Foxwoods, he can. It is his money. But that doesn’t mean it’s smart.
Steinbrenner deserves a say in every decision that will affect his investment. Without his cash, the Yankees would not be the Yankees, and Torre’s wallet would probably be a whole lot thinner. In fact, let’s remember that Torre was never a winning manager until he took the Yankees’ helm in 1996, and while there is little arguing his merits as a manager, Steinbrenner’s lofty payroll surely helped.
That said, there have been times when Steinbrenner and the Yankees would have been much better off had the Boss just stayed out of things and let his baseball people rule. Whether it was the purging of seemingly every young prospect in the 1980s or ordering Don Mattingly to get a haircut in the early 1990s, Steinbrenner has been wrong on many an occasion.
Simply stated, however, it is wrong to criticize him for caring about his team. Surely, ego plays a part of it as well, and his motives need not be pure. However, I cannot find fault with an owner whose biggest sin could be described as caring too much about his investment.
So, while Steinbrenner was out of line to tell Torre it was his decision and then overrule it, let’s not question his decision-making right in baseball matters. As a parting thought, had Steinbrenner not “interfered” this past winter, the Yankees would probably be without Hideki Matsui right now. Entering last night’s action, Matsui has been nothing but a fundamentally sound, clutch, exciting player who is quickly becoming a fan favorite. Not surprisingly, Steinbrenner was ridiculed for this, and countless publications and radio talk show hosts had Matsui pegged as a bust.
As usual, though, Steinbrenner had the last laugh. And Torre has himself a terrific left fielder.
Torre should not let Steinbrenner overrule another one of “Torre’s decisions.” But that doesn’t mean that baseball pundits should have a right to criticize Steinbrenner’s general decision-making powers.