Jon Heyman
Tuesday May 29th, 2007

Also in this column: • Brewers call up a stud • Sheffield's latest rant • More news and notes

Brian Cashman might well be "on a big hook." But that doesn't mean Joe Torre is off the hook.

Just because Yankees owner George Steinbrenner didn't fire any high, hard ones Torre's way in his recent interview/diatribe, that doesn't mean it's guaranteed that Torre is staying indefinitely. While Steinbrenner suggested Torre's safe in those recent remarks to a Tampa AP writer, those around the team believe he meant to add the words "for now." That could mean for months, weeks or days.

One reason Steinbrenner went soft on Torre, I suspect, is that he wanted to highlight his criticisms of his general manager. If that was the Boss' strategy, it worked; as soon as Steinbrenner's words were known, the debate in New York on Cashman really got rolling.

However, Steinbrenner's first public words in weeks shouldn't be taken to mean that he is pleased with Torre. Steinbrenner has long been reticent to say how he really feels about Torre, since the manager has near-deity status in New York. Behind the scenes, Steinbrenner actually has been just as negative on Torre, criticizing the manager for his bad bullpen moves and the team's moribund appearance.

While Steinbrenner is annoyed by several of Cashman's decisions (Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, the conditioning guy, etc.), in terms of job security, in all likelihood Torre's position is more tenuous than Cashman's; the GM has another year to go on his contract and will almost assuredly be kept around, if only to be berated. It doesn't help that the Yankees have lost another four games since Steinbrenner spoke and fallen into a last-place tie with Steinbrenner's longtime laughingstock neighbors, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Torre is arguably the most successful manager over the last half century (no one else has four rings). But if Torre does keep his job, the reasons will have little to do with anything that Torre has done right.

These are the top three reasons why Torre may wind up keeping his job for a few days, weeks, months, or even the remainder of the season:

• Steinbrenner doesn't want to pay Torre his $7 million salary to sit at home in Westchester.

• Steinbrenner wants Torre to suffer this season.

• Steinbrenner likes bench coach/heir apparent Don Mattingly too much to subject him to this, and he isn't sure Mattingly, or anyone else, for that matter, is up to the task, anyway.

I believe Torre has earned his spot on the hot seat by failing to inspire his team. It is a flawed roster for $200 million (that's the price tag once Roger Clemens is promoted). Yet, it almost has to be better than this.

While the trend clearly is against in-season firings, here are the managers whose seats appear to be hot, or at least warm:

1. Torre.

2. Sam Perlozzo, Orioles. Baltimore is actually in second place now, and it's tough to fire anyone over one mistake, albeit a glaring one (Perlozzo's removal of Jeremy Guthrie after 8 1/3 scoreless innings that preceded a six-run Red Sox rally in a 6-5 loss on May 13). Besides, Perlozzo is actually said by Orioles insiders to be doing better than last year, when he was pretty darned bad. But stories such as a recent one in the Baltimore Sun, in which Orioles players didn't exactly rally to his defense (for instance, Brian Roberts and Miguel Tejada declined comment), don't help. And GM Mike Flanagan's statement, "We evaluate out manager and players all the time,'' wasn't exactly a glowing endorsement, either. The only two who are known to support Perlozzo are pitching coach Leo Mazzone, Perlozzo's longtime friend who doesn't exactly look like the magician he was in Atlanta, and owner Peter Angelos, the long-time dunce who hand-picked Perlozzo. Although, if you're going to have the support of a few, one of them may as well be a meddlesome, overbearing owner.

3. Jerry Narron, Reds. Nice guy Narron has gotten very little out of what appears to be an improved roster. Fundamentally, the team has been poor, and far too dependent on the home run. Narron also isn't exactly beloved in the clubhouse (it seems there are a quite a few Reds who don't own a mirror). However, in-season firings have never worked in Cincinnati (and they have tried that route often in this organization), and GM Wayne Krivsky and owner Bob Castellini have publicly supported Narron. Their recent surprise demotion of veteran pitcher Kirk Saarloos (0-4, 7.04) could be the wake-up call the team needs, and it actually looked alive in the 4-0 win on Monday that prevented a sweep at home at the hands of Pittsburgh.

4. Clint Hurdle, Rockies. It's a wonder he's still there. But he has stayed around just long enough to show some progress. Perennial underachievers, the Rockies are on a six-game winning streak (finally!). Yet I still wonder whether Hurdle, who got a two-year extension to start the season, is the long-term answer. He has had an interesting life and overcome a lot. But one thing he may not overcome are his own deficiencies in game strategy.

5. Phil Garner, Astros. Owner Drayton McLane recently served notice that he wants to see better results from the Astros, who have been handicapped by anemic hitting since the 2005 World Series. Garner isn't exactly a strategic whiz, either, but firing him this quickly less than two years after a surprise Series appearance would seem pretty harsh.

6. Buddy Bell, Royals. Bell is a nice fellow who seems more like a kindly caretaker than a manager; he's just there to make sure everyone feels good about themselves when there's no expectation of winning. Presumably they'll find someone to win when they think they're ready.

7. Charlie Manuel, Phillies. It's true the Phillies had bullpen problems from the start and that they're doing better now. But their habit of starting bad has consistently doomed them under Manuel. While he appears to have the support of the Philadelphia media (except the radio guy he aired out a few weeks ago) and doesn't seem to be in immediate trouble, he never fit Philly and probably should have been gone long ago.

8. Ron Washington, Rangers. He's only 50 games into his managerial career, but it's hard to believe they've gone this bad this fast (18-32). Players already are complaining behind the scenes. Yet it would seem to be far too early for his bosses to make their own judgments.

• The Brewers' promotion of third baseman Ryan Braun means their infield of the future has arrived -- "Braun's an absolute stud'' one scout said -- and it could be an all-time great one, with J.J. Hardy, Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder.

• Milwaukee, loser of six straight and 13 of 17, has lost only two games on its lead in the NL Central.

• Center fielder Ryan Freel showed what type of player he is and might have inspired the Reds with his spectacular crash/catch on Monday. Fortunately, he suffered only head and neck contusions after hitting right fielder Norris Hooper and the warning track, but Freel is still likely to land on the disabled list.

• Reds outfielder Josh Hamilton starts rehab today (it's the baseball kind, which is the best news of all) with games for Triple-A Louisville after suffering for three weeks from a gastro-intestinal disorder. The North Carolina native will be playing in his home state all week, first at Charlotte, then Durham, and it's going to turn into a victory tour for the comeback kid.

• White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was smart to remove A.J. Pierzynski from a game against the Twins on Monday after what the Twins felt was an attempt by the Chicago catcher to spike Justin Morneau's foot at first base. Guillen's move may have prevented Pierzynski from getting drilled in retaliation with the White Sox down 10-4. Pierzynski is generally unpopular among opposing players but seems most unpopular with his former teams.

• Gary Sheffield's recent remark that MLB should apologize for the steroid era makes it two guilty BALCO boys who think everyone else needs to apologize. MLB must have given the go-ahead for Sheffield to send those cash payments to BALCO's headquarters that the San Francisco Chronicle has reported.

• I don't know about you, but I found it hard to cheer rookie Elijah Dukes' game-winning hit on Monday. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Dukes has been accused of threatening to kill his schoolteacher wife NiShea Gilbert, and of texting her a picture of a handgun as part of the threat. The punishment of a couple games on the bench doesn't seem to have fit the crime.

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