Overrated Torre gets exposed

PHILADELPHIA – One look at Alex Rodriguez(notes) this postseason, just killing everything he sees, and it’s evident: Something is different. Left unsaid is the reason he dare not mention, because A-Rod has finally learned that sometimes the truth is best read between the lines.

Joe Torre is gone from New York, and the Yankees are better for it.

To Los Angeles he went, bringing along the Torre brand he promotes so well and his particular form of magic, which is a bunch of hocus-pocus. Sorry. Torre, it turns out, is like every other manager: As good as the players his front office gives him. Certainly not a genius, the title he willingly accepted, reveled in and profited off. Postseason after losing postseason, it becomes more evident.

Another season is sluicing down the tubes following the Dodgers’ stunning 5-4 loss to Philadelphia on Monday night that left them facing a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series. Torre did nothing wrong. His closer, Jonathan Broxton(notes), blew the lead on a 98-mph fastball that Jimmy Rollins(notes) hammered for a game-winning two-run double. It happens.

Joe Torre watches from the dugout in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the NLCS.
(Matt Slocum/AP Photo)

It also reinforces the double standard that exists for Torre as he skates to his ninth straight season without a championship after winning four in five years with the Yankees. A fall in New York without a World Series ring is considered a failure. Torre got run out of town because of that, though he left barricaded with excuses – the Yankees brought in the wrong players and the chemistry eroded – that, flipped on their head, say the Yankees teams with talent and camaraderie would’ve won regardless of their shepherd.

Nonetheless, the Dodgers were more than happy to reward Torre with a $4 million-a-year job two weeks after the Yankees all but forced him to resign. Los Angeles bought his name and what came with it: the gold and diamonds, the smiles, the bright lights, the cachet. Torre starred in a commercial before he managed a game in Los Angeles. He wrote a tell-all book about his decade with the Yankees after spending a year with the Dodgers. Torre is about Torre.

And yet because he won in New York and is a genuinely nice person – polite, respectful, easy to approach – absolution finds Torre. The blown opportunities in the 2001 and 2003 World Series? Mariano Rivera(notes) biffed the save and Josh Beckett(notes) shut down the Yankees. The all-time gag in the 2004 ALCS? Destiny drove Boston. The flameouts in the next three seasons? Inferior roster management by Yankees brass.

Eventually, enough losses piled up that the Yankees realized they needed change. Torre’s history saved him from countless guillotines. His reputation as a peerless masseuse of egos took a hit. The Yankees’ clubhouse devolved into a haven for the past-their-prime overpaid, and never did Torre squeeze a diamond out of such coal.

His championships came with teams that were young and motivated and, above all, talented. Could another manager have ridden the 1998 Yankees to a championship? Of course. Players rewarded Torre with credit because that’s what people do: Thank their boss for their success. Torre filled in a lineup card and strategized how to handle his bullpen and bench. In the grand scheme, a manager’s in-game maneuvers have little effect on a team. The best managers succeed in just over half their decisions.

Perhaps this is as much an indictment on managers as anything, and how their biggest job is to keep players properly motivated. In which case Torre’s handling of Rodriguez – and in particular the emasculating 2006 ALDS game in which he dropped A-Rod, the game’s highest-paid player, to eighth in the lineup – was egregious. A postseason titan loomed in Rodriguez. It took the right environment – one fostered by Torre’s replacement, Joe Girardi – to bring it out.

Whether the atmosphere Torre has built in Los Angeles is conducive to anything more than division titles is iffy. The Dodgers are bombing out against the Phillies this year just as they did last. If Cole Hamels(notes) doesn’t finish them off Wednesday night, they return to Los Angeles to face Cliff Lee(notes) and Pedro Martinez(notes) – 15 scoreless innings between them already this series.

Save for the Phillies’ meltdown at the end of Game 2, this series would be over, the Dodgers heading back to Los Angeles bathed in more disappointment. For a team that, because of its resources and fan base, should be Yankees West, the expectations – win, but not necessarily win a World Series – are frighteningly shallow.

“Ain’t nothing Mr. Torre can do,” Dodgers second baseman Orlando Hudson(notes) said. “His playing days are over with. All he can do is put the lineup out there and tell us to go about it.

“What can he do? Come over here, bend us all over and spank us?”

Something. Anything. Because when the Dodgers are losing on a night that Torre played in-game manager perfectly – his bullpen management, generally a problem, was flawless in transitioning from Hong-Chih Kuo(notes) to George Sherrill(notes) to Broxton – things are amiss.

Midas may have touched Game 4, but it turned out more like Medusa stared at it.

“One ballgame and we go home,” Torre said. “When you’re in the postseason you certainly have been capable of winning three games in a row.”

Torre has seen that before. It’s been five years since the Red Sox won four straight against his Yankees. Never in baseball had it happened before, and never has it since, and so Torre does believe that his Dodgers have such a comeback in them, even if his Yankees never recovered from a 3-1 deficit and his lone playoff appearance in 15 years managing prior to New York resulted in a sweep. All it will take is some of that classic Torre enchantment.

So he’ll reach into that bag of magic and close his hand. And when it comes out empty, it’ll be obvious: There wasn’t anything there in the first place.

Jeff Passan is a national writer for Yahoo! Sports. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Oct 20, 2009