Jilted Joe

He arrived to headlines proclaiming “Clueless Joe.” After his first five years he was known at “Saint Joe” for largely making all the right calls in helping to bring four World Series titles back to the Bronx. Now, it appears unless the New York Yankees can right their foundering ship and at least move past the Cleveland Indians to face their arch-rivals the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, “Jilted Joe” is the sobriquet to fit Joe Torre.

Yankees Boss George Steinbrenner put his manager of the past 12 years on notice in Sunday’s The Record. After encountering insect issues in a 2-1 loss to The Tribe in Game 2, the Yanks trailed 3-0 in the third Division series contest behind their misfiring Hessian, Roger “Rocket” Clemens. Yes, the Yanks were about to become the Minnesota Timberwolves, the NBA’s perennial first-round playoff losers. But with 21-year-old Phil Hughes holding Cleveland in check, the Yanks’ bats came to life and Torre, even though he may have overused Joba Chamberlain, got to rule for one more day.

In addition to Yankees fans and haters, TBS officials were among those closely watching the reprieve. No one at the "very funny" network, which got off to a fast Nielsen start with its exclusive coverage of the Division series, could have been laughing at the prospects. TBS was staring at an unprecedented sweep: four, three-game exits in baseball’s opening playoff round. With them all four of the clubs in the largest media markets would have been shut out: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago (the Cubs can now say hello to trying to end 100 years of World Series futility) and Philadelphia. The Yanks’ 8-4 triumph bought TBS another game and if all goes well, a fifth contest on Wednesday night back at the Jake— Lake Erie midges can RSVP now.

Ed Goren and his friends at Fox, also figure to have more than a passing interest in the Yanks coming all the way back like they did in the 2001 ALDS versus the Oakland A’s. Yanks/Bosox remains the game’s biggest rivalry and given all the caps with Boston Bs these days, no one in the seemingly expanded Red Sox nation, has been quite sated by the slaying of the 86-year-old ”Curse of the Bambino” in 2004.

Executives at YES Network also have their eyes on the proceedings. What impact would Torre’s departure have on free-agents like Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, who along with Derek Jeter and the manager are the only Yanks that have been around since Torre’s postseason run began during 1996? Does Andy Petitte, with a player-option, take his game elsewhere or retire to Texas, where Clemens presumably will finally hang ‘em up? And what about A-Rod, the game’s highest-paid player who holds an opt-out clause following the conclusion of this season? Is he more likely to return with Torre at the helm? Or does he (or agent Scottt Boras) harbor—despite comments to the contrary—any resentment about being dropped to eighth in the last game of the Yanks’ 2006 Division series loss to the Detroit Tigers?

Any of those possible defections could have deleterious impact on YES next season, which is coming off its top campaign with the club, as Yankees’ games averaged a 4.69 household rating (454,000 viewers) in the New York DMA. Moreover, network officials said that rating was the best ever on cable for the club.

Maybe only those making a living in Bristol, Conn. were rooting against commuting Torre’s sentence. This week, ESPN’s Monday Night Football, which has been finishing second to last season’s high standard, features America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys. But the opposition is the less than formidable Buffalo Bills. 

It would be foolish to think that any MLB game is going to stack up well against the nation’s favorite sport, pro football. ESPN, though, will likely lose a chunk of audience as many sports fans will opt to keep a watch on an elimination baseball game than what figures to the ‘Boys remaining one of three NFL undefeated teams after the fifth week of the season.