Friday, October 19th, 2007...1:29 am

The Next Yankee Manager should be #23

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It’s sad to see Joe Torre out as manager of the New York Yankees. It’s the end of an era.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Torre when the Yankees hired him. He hadn’t accomplished much in his managerial stint with the Cardinals and he just seemed like a mediocre random guy to replace Buck Showalter. Showalter had just taken the Yanks to the playoffs for the first time since 1981 and was well-respected in New York by everybody but George Steinbrenner.

Torre turned out to be the ideal man for an impossible position. He had the perfect demeanor to deal with the pressure and chaos of New York and knew exactly how to manage the larger than life ego’s in the clubhouse and the Boss in the owner’s box. He always seemed under control, like he knew exactly what to do, and it was easy to trust him. He never lost his cool or compromised his morals, and always acted with professional and class. I always watched closely to see if Torre would blow his lid when the going got tough. He rarely snapped at a reporter or blurted out something that he would later regret. I think that is what they call professionalism. Mr. Torre, as Derek Jeter likes to call him, could easily be your father, uncle or grandpa. We lived through his survival of cancer, his brother’s illness, his other brother’s death and his admission of being a victim of child abuse. Torre was one of those special people who helped the city heal after September 11th. Torre is a New Yorker.

I think I first realized how special Torre and the Yankees were in Game 4 and 5 of the 1996 World Series. After the Yanks were demolished at home nobody was giving them a chance to come back from down 0-2. But Torre promised an irate Steinbrenner that the Yanks would bounce back in Atlanta. They did just that behind extraordinary performances from Leyritz in Game 4 and Pettite in Game 5. Torre brought a ‘chip back to New York and he would do it three more times in the next four years.

The Yankees of 2007 are not the Yanks of the late 90′s and perhaps it is time for a change. That’s ok. Dynasties end. The Yanks could have moved forward in a much classier manner with the grace of a world-class organization but that’s not what they did. It’s a shame, but Torre can leave with his head held high exhibiting the same class he has shown over the last twelve hectic and crazy years in the Bronx Zoo.

I want Don Mattingly to replace Torre. I realize he doesn’t have any managerial experience but Mattingly is one of the few athletes to be a hero in New York City. He has a love affair with the fans. Babe Ruth, Joe D., Mantle, Namath, Clyde and Willis, Bavarro, Messier and Mattingly.

I don’t think you have to be a genius to be a manager. You pick five starters and hope they don’t get hurt. You find a closer that doesn’t give you heart as much agita as a pork taco with a side of cheese cake. You fill out the lineup card then a few hours later send your pitching coach out to the mound to make way too many left-righty pitching changes. Heck, I watch enough baseball to know when to bunt, call a pitch out or give your clean up hitter the green light on a 3-0 count.

The key to being a successful manager of the Yankees has nothing to do with calling a hit-and-run. It is in the ability to get the team to focus and perform in the media frenzy and tumult in front of the spotlight that is New York. There’s plenty of big names in the clubhouse, one of the most intimidating bosses in the history of business looming over your every move and a local media that is more treacherous then a Nigerian charity soliciting your back account through email.

Ask Stump Merill, Dallas Green, Don Nelson or Rich Kotite how they liked coaching in New York. Ask Ed Whitson, Kevin Brown, Bobby Bonilla or Rany Johnson what they think of the town and its fans. I got to imagine it sucks. In fact I have a theory that the only truly successful New York athletes are the one’s who started in NY, grew up in the limelight and don’t realize how much more difficultly it is to perform in New York. Think of Patrick Ewing, Lawrence Taylor, Brian Leetch and Strawberry. The championship Yanks were built around Posada, Bernie Williams, Jeter, Pettite and Mo (don’t ask about O’Neil – still not sure how he revitalized his career as a Yank). Even this generation has Wright and Reyes, Melky, Robbie and Jaba.

Mattingly is one of those guys that somehow thrives in New York and therefore would be the perfect successor to Torre. Mattingly was my childhood hero and I’ll never worship another human being (no offense to Malik – R.I.P.) like I did the Hit Man (his real nick name before Donnie Baseball). Mattingly was a quiet, unassuming guy from small town Indiana but he got New York and New York got him.

I was too young to truly enjoy Mattingly’s glory years of 85 and 86 when he was the best player in baseball. I faintly remember when he hit home runs in eight consecutive games and had six grand slam home runs in 1987. But mostly, I remember Don Mattingly and his bad back. He was a shell of his former self and would try a new batting stance every day searching for his sweet swing and magic electricity in his lumber. He wouldn’t swing at the first pitch, seeming to wait for his back to heal, even after pitchers caught on and would throw fastball’s down the middle. He became a slap hitter who could only muster enough juice to hit about ten dingers a season. (Mattingly’s last homer in game five of the 95 ALDS was my favorite and the most special home run I’ve watched.) The fans questioned his ability. The media gave him a hard time. A young kid named Kevin Maas captured everyone’s imagination with a sensational September. A prospect named Hal Morris came along and they said he was as good a fielder and hitter as Mattingly. But Mattingly and his confidence never wavered and little kids like me remained loyal and transformed themselves into slap hitters with weird stances.

One of my best Mattingly memories was in 1991 when the Yankee manager Stump Merill benched him because his hair was too long and it violated team policy (immortalized in a Simpsons episode). Mattingly didn’t get mad. He didn’t cut it right away like Johnny Damon. He didn’t get squirmy and say all the wrong things like A-Rod and he didn’t say all the right things like Jeter. He just acted like Don Mattingly. The media had a field day with the incident but Mattingly just said : “I’m overwhelmed by the pettiness of it…Whatever I have to do to get back in the lineup; whatever I have to do to stay on the field the rest of the year, to show people I can still play and keep my value. I’ll come to play tomorrow. If I have to get my hair cut a little. . . . I don’t know. I like it the way it is. That’s why I kept it. Today I made a decision. Tomorrow I’ll have to make one.”

Mattingly stared into the camera and didn’t let an overbearing and instigating media, a lame duck manager or a tyrant owner push around the small town aging superstar with a bad back.

That’s why I love him. That’s why he should be the next manager of the New York Yankees.

  • K

    While I certaintly enjoyed your post, I have to say–proceed with caution. When a childhood hero comes returns to your team, the greeting is always especially welcoming. That all changes without results and can even remove some of the luster of your memories of performance. These are larger than life heroes in our minds who never failed. If they do, it is difficult to swallow.

    When I was young, Alan Trammel was my favorite player. At my first baseball game, I remember him hitting a long ball, as if it was in my honor. Lou Whitaker and him made double plays look as simple as a sexual harassment suit against the Knicks. (Isiah was also larger than life to me….at one point) When he took over the Tigers with little managerial experience, the press gave him the red carpet. That came to a halt when he narrowly escaped being the skipper for the second biggest losers in MLB history. When Leyland took over, Detroiters witnessed what an experienced manager can do…

  • jermaine

    Don Mattingly FTW