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Steinbrenner, Torre make the perfect pair

By Gary Shelton
Published October 10, 2007


Now warming up in the bullpen, George Steinbrenner.

It is his game now, his team and his time. It does not matter that the playoffs have put his Yankees to bed early again. It does not matter that the best of baseball is still to be played by better teams than his.

For now, it is Steinbrenner's voice the sport waits to hear.

For now, it is Steinbrenner's play the world waits to see.

Wherever he is this morning, it is safe to assume that the wall paintings are nervous. As you might have heard, Steinbrenner is a lousy loser. It's the first thing his critics will tell you about him. The first thing his supporters will tell you, too. Just a guess, but Steinbrenner wouldn't mind that being on his business card, either.

Even at 77, that doesn't seem to have changed. Even with reports suggesting that his health has slipped, you can bet that Steinbrenner is in a bad mood today. And when Steinbrenner is in a bad mood, it becomes contagious.

All of which leads us to the Yankees, which are in Steinbrenner's hands.

And to Joe Torre's neck, which might be, too.

From the sound of it, the fury is not far away. If you believe the reports, King George is sharpening the guillotine. To Steinbrenner, a first-round playoff exit is like a strike, and Torre has had three of them. Steinbrenner is ready to call him out.

So what's he's waiting on? Perhaps Steinbrenner just wants to loosen up properly. He hasn't fired anyone for 13 years, and at his age, you don't want to pull a muscle.

Personally, I wouldn't fire Torre.

Professionally, I wouldn't blame Steinbrenner if he did.

First things first: Torre is the most accomplished manager in the major leagues. He's a good guy, dignified and classy, and he has brought a calm to a clubhouse that once seemed to be a minefield. His skin was thick enough for New York, and his demeanor was even-handed enough for the Yankees.

He has not gotten stupid. He has not lost his clubhouse. He is not the reason the Yankees have not spent wisely on pitchers.

Still, Torre always knew the rules.

Around the Yankees, the standards are silly. That isn't new. The pressure is a little greater. The phone will ring a little more often. The quotes in the newspaper are going to be a little more outrageous.

On the other hand, managing the Yankees means you get every advantage that can be purchased. There is no free agent who is too expensive. There is no costly mistake that cannot be swallowed.

This barter has worked just fine for Torre. It has made his jewelry case fat with championship rings. It has made him rich in money and in reputation. It has paved his way into the Hall of Fame.

If this is the end, it is simply the cost of living in the castle. Who is to say if it is fair or unfair?

Oh, if I were Steinbrenner, I would think about collecting different skulls. For all of the stars in the lineup, the only people who should be frightened by the Yankees' pitching staff are, well, the Yankees. Shouldn't George wonder about that? One more time, whose idea was Kei Igawa? Who had Roger Clemens' number, and why was it $28-million? And here's the big question: When you compare the payroll and the results, did Torre underachieve or did Brian Cashman overspend?

For the record, I think Steinbrenner and Torre are perfect for each other. Steinbrenner has the passion to fill out Torre's lineup, and Torre was secure enough to absorb Steinbrenner's persona. It worked well enough for four World Championships, for 123 playoff games. The most staggering statistic of all? It worked well enough for 12 years.

If there was a disturbing part to all of this, it was Steinbrenner calling out Torre before Game 3 against the Indians. Did Steinbrenner think he was going to rally the troops? Was he trying to float a trial balloon to see how the notion of replacing managers would fly in New York? Was he sending out a signal to Tony La Russa?

After a dozen years with Torre, after all the championships, Steinbrenner should have known better. If a man has displayed as much class as Torre has along the way, don't you owe him a bit of it in return?

If Steinbrenner really wants to change managers, shouldn't they sit at the same table and talk about the years together? Shouldn't they thank each other?

After that, Steinbrenner could talk about wanting a new voice in the clubhouse. Maybe he could talk about hiring someone accomplished, someone dignified, someone astute enough to handle the press and the pressure and the fans and the players and, yes, the owner. Someone who can win championships.

You know, someone just like Torre.