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Torre and the Mets, Plus a Big Ol' Chat Reminder

Joe Torre: It ain't him, babe. (AP)

Joe Torre has apologized to Jerry Manuel and said he is "closing the door on managing the Mets and probably everybody else." This is a good thing, and not because at 70 years old Torre's best managerial days are almost certainly behind him. Even Connie Mack didn't win a thing after his 68th birthday. Jack McKeon, then 72, and his 2003 championship Marlins (a championship Torre's poor strategizing helped bring about) is the great outlier here. It seems a truism that however hip and empathetic a manager was in his youth, relating to the 23-year-olds gets to be difficult when he's not only old enough to be their father, but their grandfather as well.

There are always exceptions, of course, and if Torre wants the chance to be one, he has the right to seek a job. However, the Mets are the wrong team at the wrong time. Torre has many positive qualities, but one thing he has never been is a builder. He's more of a finisher. I never count his Mets teams against him because the organization was in a chronic state of disarray and I don't think Casey Stengel and Joe McCarthy working together could have salvaged that team. In Atlanta, he took over a team that had played roughly .500 ball in the two years before he came in and the team got just a little bit better, enough to win a division title in a weak division, before sinking again. The (reportedly) Torre-encouraged trade of two young players, Brett Butler (IE Brett Gardner I) and Brook Jacoby, during the 1983 season, helped push the team into a downward spiral that it didn't escape until Bobby Cox's rebuilding paid off in 1991.

With the Cardinals, he took over a team that was in a transitional period and in four years and change wasn't able to budge it at all. It just stayed stuck in the 85-win zone, and a lot of the problems it had when he showed up were the same problems it had when he left. Now, Cardinals ownership was also in transition at the time, and maybe Torre didn't get all the support in the world, but that's not too different from what the Mets are going through right now. Torre wasn't able to overcome that at 50, and it seems unlikely he can do so again at 70.

The Yankees were a team on the brink when Torre arrived, having had the best record in the AL in 1994 and gone to the playoffs in 1995. Torre got a lucky break (literally--it was Tony Fernandez who broke), an injury that forced him to overcome his reluctance to start a rookie shortstop, and the rest was history. Sure, there were many changes made to the Yankees during his long tenure, but they all involved manipulating players around the team's great core. He never had to be the kind of problem-solver required of a manager on a rebuilding team--do I choose this prospect or that prospect? The next five years may depend on my decision. How do I balance that kid against this veteran. I could win three more games this year with the vet, but five more next year if the kid pans out.

Torre isn't good at those kinds of decisions, particularly with pitchers (the list of young pitchers Torre brought along in his career is fairly short, though it has some notable names on it), and he clings to his veterans tenaciously, particularly if that player had somehow become one of "his guys." When someone broke down, Torre's first instinct was never to give a kid a chance, but to view it as a chance to give more at-bats to Tony Womack or Ruben Sierra. That preference would be murderous on a rebuilding team.

And make no mistake, the Mets will be rebuilding soon. Their offense is non-existent, internal replacements are few, and they don't seem too keen to spend money. Key contracts are up after next season and it's not clear where they're going to turn. Their pitching staff has been surprisingly solid this year, but the bullpen is ancient, the closer is having legal problems, and the starting staff isn't configured for the long haul, especially if Johan Santana doesn't bounce back from this month's shoulder surgery.

Torre's most recent team, the Dodgers, was in a solid but unspectacular place when he took over. He certainly presided over an improvement, and last year's 95-win season is certainly to his credit. Yet, much of the current core was already in place or well on the way in 2007, the year before Torre took over. This was another tweaking job, not a rebuilding. Doing this successfully is just not in his experience and probably never will be. This is not a criticism of Torre; every manager, every person, is a combination of skills and weaknesses. Torre had great skill in some areas, less in others. This is the way of things. Unless he wants to confront that quite publicly at an age when he would be better served to bask in his popularity and an imminent date with the Hall of Fame, he's better off begging off if the Mets come calling.

The Great Chat Reminder

Clifford "Mugsy" Corcoran and I will be here at 12 noon today to field your questions on the Yankees, baseball, life, romance, old comic books, the identify of John Lennon's elementary penguin, and anything else you can think of. Please drop by--a splendid time is guaranteed for all. Pretty sure I'm not the first one to say that, but it's true.