Torre has come under greater scrutiny - and not just by Steinbrenner.
If nothing else, this season is exemplifying just how much quality players and a self-policing clubhouse could elevate a manager. No knock on Torre, whose serene demeanor and dignity ideally uplifted the Yankee roster for years. But it sure is easier to push the right buttons when nearly every button offers a good option, and when the clubhouse core motivates and regulates itself.
Torre may still be right, that his reassuring manner will evoke the most from a talented team again. However, this group looks often like it needs a kick, not a hug.
Well, Yankee fans, the media, and even George got their wish, as Torre lit into his hapless team after being no-hit by six, count em, six Houston pitchers:
"Whatever kind of history it was, it was terrible," he said sharply. "It was one of the worst games I've ever been involved in. I have no explanation. Usually I do, but I can't find a reason for what happened. The whole game stunk."
..."We didn't play baseball," Torre said harshly. "I don't know what we were playing."
This 8-0 Houston humiliation even left the perpetually find-the-positive Joe Torre totally negative. He lambasted his team beyond closed doors, perhaps in the strongest way of his tenure, and called this the worst effort of his Yankee stint. He normally does not pin out players publicly, but said Jorge Posada missed a take sign when he grounded out with a 3-0 count and the bases loaded in the third, ending the Yanks' one offensive glimmer. And he finally acknowledged that at least on this night his mentally adrift team was mentally adrift.
In describing this as "a total, inexcusable performance," Torre's anger seemed directed as much to his Boss as his 25 players. George Steinbrenner has wanted his manager sterner. You have to wonder if Torre's fury will be enough now to satiate Steinbrenner. Especially since Torre had said he liked the team's tenor in the last week, which meant the manager was either blind-sided last night or simply does not know his club anymore.
The door to the Yankee clubhouse stayed closed a long time. It turns out there had been a team meeting. When someone asked Torre who had spoken, he raised a hand like a kid in class. "Just me," he said.
He would be asked later if he was hot addressing his team.
"I'm unhappy," Torre said. "Whatever hot is."
"I can't find a reason for what happened tonight," Torre said.
"It was a total, inexcusable performance," he said.
"We can't hide from this, or use any excuses," Torre said. "We're all responsible, starting with me."
...He talked about Jorge Posada missing a sign and swinging at a 3-0 pitch.
"We weren't thinking well tonight," Torre said. "Once things started snowballing, we lost our composure."
...Torre talked until he was talked out. His phone kept ringing. He ignored it. He was asked about the owner and said, "There's really nothing he could tell me now ¡ª or do ¡ª that would make this worse than it is."
It is fitting that the Yanks were no-hit. Considering how they've been playing it should not come as a surprise, as Rob Neyer noted in his column today. Neyer tells it like it is, especially regarding the declining play of Derek Jeter:
Jeter's production has been falling steadily since 1999, when he might have deserved the MVP Award (which went to Ivan Rodriguez instead).
It's tempting to assume that Jeter's not fully recovered form his shoulder separation, and that he'll start hitting either this season or, at worst, next season after he's had a winter to recover.
Maybe. But the best evidence suggests that the power he showed in 1999 was something of a fluke, and also that his 2002 numbers were the rule rather than the exception. And if that's the case, the Yankees' fortunes this season could have a real impact on Jeter's image. To this point, a lot of people don't have any idea that Jeter has gone from being a truly great player to a merely good one, because he still has that postseason glow about him. But if Jeter finishes this season with another sub-.800 OPS and the Yankees don't play in October, then what kind of case will his defenders make?
"Chemistry" is a great argument when you're winning ... but when the winning ends, you have to fall back on the actual performance. And when the performance looks like this, it's pretty hard to justify $16.5 million.
Steve Keane asked me what was worse, the Yankees getting no-hit or Posada swinging 3-0 with the bases loaded. I think Posada swinging 3-0 felt worse to me, especially when I learned that he missed a sign. Posada may be the best hitting catcher in the game, but for someone who blasted his teammates after the Yanks lost to the Angels in the playoffs last year, for a guy who is a veteran of championship teams, Posada plays with his head in his ass more often than not.
The Yanks can save some face this afternoon if they come away with a victory, but the damage has been done. The wheels are in motion in George's universe and the fallout is going to be dramatic. After weeks of cool weather and rain, it is suddenly hot and humid like August in New York. It's like soup out there and it still hasn't rained. The game today will probably get washed out. Either way, Hurricaine George is on it's way. Right on the heels of Joe Torre's rainstorm.