Sunday, October 8, 2006

Just about three hours after the New York Yankees watched the Detroit Tigers celebrate their first playoff series victory since 1984, when they won the World Series, the champagne bottles were uncorked and doused on the New York Mets after sweeping the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series. To say New York was ambivalent is an understatement.

The $25 million dollar man in the Bronx, Alex Rodriguez, is on the hot seat, a seat once held by his manager, Joe Torre. The New York Daily News is reporting that Torre will be fired and Lou Piniella will return for his second stint as the manager of the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers have made the postseason every year under Torre's tutelage, winning the World Series in four out of his first five years. However, the Yankees have been World Series-dry for the past six seasons, and heads have got to roll.

The carnage isn't likely to be relegated to just Torre -- Rodriguez, who hit a "disappointing" .290 with 35 HR and 121 RBI, is being named in trade rumors, a product of general manager George Steinbrenner's intolerance for anything but the ultimate prize. Any takers for A-Rod? That's like asking if Heidi Klum can find a date in a singles' bar. But A-Rod has been notoriously poor in the clutch, as he hit only .071 in the ALDS.

1999 $ 88,130,709 --
2000 $ 92,938,260 5.46
2001 $ 112,287,143 20.82
2002 $ 125,928,583 12.15
2003 $ 152,749,814 21.30
2004 $ 184,193,950 20.59
2005 $ 208,306,817 13.09
2006 $ 194,663,079 - 6.55

At just 30 years of age, Rodriguez has won two MVP awards (2003 and '05), and is on pace to tie Babe Ruth's career homerun total (714) in his twentieth season. Despite leading the American League in errors, Rodriguez is a fine fielder and could play either shortstop or third base in a new home. There is a catch, though. He'll make $22 million in 2007, and that kind of salary is only able to be balanced on the payroll of the New York Yankees, whose payroll is $75 million more than the second-largest payroll belonging to the Boston Red Sox.

Bernie Williams is likely to retire, and Gary Sheffield won't be returning in Yankee pinstripes in 2007. The future doesn't hold to be terrible for the Yankees, but they may have passed up their greatest chance at a World Series title for years to come. They could attempt to rebuild their team, centered around Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, and possibly Philip Hughes. The Yankees have learned that opening their wallet upside-down doesn't work in terms of winning World Series. Ever since their last World Series in 2001, and their payroll balloned $20 million in 2002, they have been anemic in the postseason.

While those in the Bronx are sulking, Queens is alight with excitement as the Mets move on to the National League Championship to play the winner of the Cardinals-Padres series (the Cardinals lead the series 2-1). The approach general manager Omar Minaya took was similar to Steinbrenner's: spend, spend, spend. They took advantage of the firesale of the Florida Marlins, trading for Paul LoDuca and Carlos Delgado. They traded for Shawn Green, Orlando Hernandez, and Xavier Nady, eventually flipping Nady to the Pirates for two pitchers, Oliver Perez and Roberto Hernandez. Also acquired via trade were relievers Guillermo Mota and Duaner Sanchez. Billy Wagner, Jose Valentin and Julio Franco were signed via free agency. The Mets were a makeshift team just like the Yankees, but so far, they've yielded success, although the Mets' standard of success is slightly below that of the Yankees.

With Pedro Martinez and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez on the sidelines for the entire postseason (Martinez is out until next June), the Mets have found a way to band together and win in October. There are no superstars on the Mets, not even Carlos Beltran, who made $13.5 million in 2006. If one fails, another will pick him up, whereas if Alex Rodriguez fails, he takes a walk of shame back to the dugout as most of more than 56,000 fans in attendance boo him into oblivion. It is an environment that the Yankees have created for themselves -- a no-fail zone -- while the Mets have adopted an informal buddy-system.

When all is said and done, the Mets will not have had a more successful season than the Yankees because of the amount of money they've spent (Mets have the highest payroll in the National League), they will have succeeded because of the culture of the clubhouse, where no one is beyond reproach nor above deserving accolades. It is an instance where lowering the standards works out well, where you can accept failure and reap success.

The Yankees, as they wean themselves off of the fat-wallet, Joe Torre era, would be doing themselves a favor by trying to mimic the atmosphere the Mets have. New Yorkers aren't used to having the Mets looking down at the Yankees, and this type of ambivalence is intolerable in New York.