WHO IS RUNNING the New York Yankees? The team's clumsy divorce from Joe Torre as manager last week shed harsh light on a front office in flux as the Yankees try to find their way without an aging George Steinbrenner, 77, running the daily operations. The shakeout of power and titles is ongoing, to the delight of the rest of baseball. "A little chaos in paradise is good," one rival executive said.
This is an article from the Oct. 29, 2007 issue
Torre walked away rather than accept a take-it-or-leave-it one-year, $5 million contract offer he regarded as an indication of ownership's clear lack of belief in him. It carried a 33% pay cut and postseason bonus money to "motivate" him, according to team president Randy Levine. Twelve seasons in which the Yankees went to the playoffs every year (the next-longest current streak is one), six World Series appearances, four world championships and more wins than any Yankees manager except Joe McCarthy ended in 20 minutes—without negotiations.
"If somebody wanted me to manage here, I would be managing here," Torre said. Replacing him might be as quick and easy as hiring bench coach Don Mattingly, who has never managed at any level but is a lifelong, popular Yankee. Replacing Steinbrenner is the tricky part. One of his sons, Hal Steinbrenner, was named chairman of Yankees Global Enterprises in September and was the one to inform Torre of the contract offer. But it was Levine who announced Torre's leaving while positioning himself as the dominant voice of the organization.
But there is Hank Steinbrenner, too, another of George's sons, who deferred to Levine on the announcement but who seems to have the headline-making traits of his father. Already Hank has stepped into baseball issues (he said pitcher Joba Chamberlain will be a starter next year), fired back at Torre (he told the New York Post that Torre should be grateful his father hired him) and sharply put pending free agent Alex Rodriguez on notice (Hank told the Post, "If he opts out, goodbye").
And there is Brian Cashman, too, the G.M. whose agreement with George Steinbrenner for autonomy on baseball operations seems imperiled. There is also Felix Lopez, whose baseball qualifications include and are limited to marrying the Boss's daughter, and longtime chief operating officer Lonn Trost.
Who will hire the next manager? Who decides the strategy on A-Rod? (The Post reported that the Steinbrenners gave Cashman the O.K. to make him an offer.) Who speaks for the organization? The rest of baseball hopes a clear delineation of power takes even more time.
Gone for Lack of Razzle-dazzle
FOR ALL of the attention the Hope Solo affair got during last month's Women's World Cup (SI, Oct. 8), it wasn't the baffling decision to bench his goalkeeper and then boot her off the team when she complained that did in U.S. coach Greg Ryan, who was fired on Monday. No, Ryan's downfall was that the U.S. played unimaginative, uninspired soccer. While Brazil put on a dazzling display, dancing around U.S. defenders in a 4--0 rout in the semifinals, the Americans seemed content to hoof the ball in the direction of 5'11" Abby Wambach and hope for the best. "We were a little predictable this World Cup, and we have to get some new methods to our attack," forward Heather O'Reilly said. We can look for Abby's head, but we've got to open the game up in other ways."
The loss to Brazil was only the second defeat Ryan suffered in his nearly three years in charge, but it's likely that anything short of a World Cup title would have cost him his job. Ryan never had much of a mandate. He was hired in 2005 after April Heinrichs was ousted in a players' revolt. Then U.S. Soccer president Bob Contiguglia passed on several higher profile candidates and selected Heinrichs's top assistant, Ryan, whose last head-coaching gig had been an unremarkable stint at Colorado College. By refusing to overhaul the staff, U.S. Soccer sent a message to the players that the federation was still calling the shots.
The decision to axe Ryan was made by Sunil Gulati, who took over as U.S. Soccer president in 2006. Gulati was vague about a successor, other than to say that he wanted someone who is familiar with the U.S. setup and has international experience. Whatever Gulati decides, expect it soon. Olympic qualifying begins early next year.