Yankees' 'sad failure' is George's doing

Updated: October 9, 2006, 4:30 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

The Boss? George Steinbrenner is The Boss like Mariah Carey is Mrs. Derek Jeter. Those days are long gone, like the last glow of a cigarette butt.

Only Steinbrenner, the imperialistic owner of the New York Yankees, can issue a statement chiding his team's elimination from the playoffs as "absolutely not acceptable" -- the "absolutely" added later for emphasis. Only Steinbrenner has the nerve to announce that the Yankees "will go back to work immediately and try to right this sad failure."

As opposed to going back to work immediately and trying not to right things.

In Steinbrenner's goofy mind, the failure was losing to the Detroit Tigers in the AL divisional playoffs. The Yankees couldn't even force a Game 5, winning the opener and then dropping the next three. That's when, ever so predictably, Steinbrenner's temper reached critical mass and the New York newspapers began breathlessly clearing space for the verbal meltdown.

Joe Torre's Yankees managerial career will probably be found in a meat locker soon, just like Frankie Carbone in "Goodfellas." But unlike poor, frozen Frankie, Torre will have a $7 million severance check to help keep him warm. That, his annual stay in Kapalua, Hawaii, and the soothing knowledge of never having to work for Steinbrenner again should get Torre through the winter. Lucky him.

These shrill Steinbrenner outbursts are sooooo Billy Martin Era. They were interesting then, tiresome now. The man has become a cartoon character, a caricature. He's good copy, but his version of the truth never includes any self-blame. It's always somebody else's fault.

Yes, the Yankees had nearly a $200 million player payroll this season, financially obscene even by MLB standards. That payroll is $56 million more than the combined payrolls of two of the four remaining teams in the playoffs (the Tigers at $82 million, and A's at $62 million), and only $30 million less than the combined payrolls of the Tigers, A's and a third surviving team, the St. Louis Cardinals ($86 million). But bloated payrolls guarantee nothing.

Flush with his adidas, attendance and television rights revenue, Steinbrenner has spent wisely and stupidly. But even Steinbrenner should know the essential truth of the postseason: Good pitching almost always beats good hitting. The Yankees, with their lineup for the ages, led the big leagues in runs and RBI this season, but the Tigers led the majors in pitching. That's why Detroit, not the Yanks, plays Oakland in the AL Championship Series beginning Tuesday.

And just to refresh Steinbrenner's selective memory, the Tigers finished the regular season with only two fewer wins than the Yankees. It wasn't like they were baseball's equivalent of Athletes In Action.

But Steinbrenner is "deeply disappointed" with the early elimination. What else is new? Steinbrenner's day isn't complete if he isn't pissed at somebody or something.

Meanwhile, Torre, the guy who has won four World Series, is 11-for-11 in reaching the playoffs and has more than 1,000 games as Steinbrenner's employee, is the one who will likely get tagged and bagged. The reasoning: The Yankees haven't advanced past the first round in three of the past five seasons. The truth: The Yankees haven't advanced past the first round in three of the past five seasons and Steinbrenner can't fire himself.

Back on Nov. 2, 1995, the day he was introduced as the 21st manager of the Yankees, Torre said he got "goosebumpy" when offered the job by Steinbrenner. That was the same news conference that Torre said he and general manager Bob Watson "are going to decide the baseball side of this operation. Until I see otherwise, I have no reason to think otherwise."

Watson now works for MLB, and Torre is on the Pink Slip Watch. Both men quickly learned that nobody truly decides the baseball side of the Yankees' operation except Steinbrenner. It has been that way since Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973. It will remain that way until he croaks.

As the rival New York Mets (with a payroll half the size of the Yankees) wipe the champagne from their eyes and ready for Wednesday's start of the NLCS, Steinbrenner wipes the mud from his peepers. He is humiliated, embarrassed … blah, blah, blah. It's the same schtick.

But if Steinbrenner really wants to make news, he'll keep Torre and let someone else hire Lou Piniella. He'll realize that Alex Rodriguez, for all his vast talent and his remaining $66.6 million price tag, is simply too fragile to handle the October playoff pressure. And wouldn't it be refreshing if Steinbrenner said he shared the responsibility for the unexpected playoff departure? After all, he's the guy who approved the trades and big-ticket items.

Will any of this happen? Doubtful.

In a weird way, I admire Steinbrenner's baseball passion. But it's too convenient to issue angry postseason decrees from the safety of your Yankees office or Tampa retreat. You can't always be part of the solution. In Steinbrenner's case, he's usually part of the problem.

If Steinbrenner really wants to right this sad failure, then he needs to find some new pitching, not a new manager. He needs to understand the Tigers' series win was no fluke. Most of all, he needs to keep his mouth shut.

Ah, silence. Now that would make all of us goosebumpy.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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