NEW YORK (AP) -The rat-a-tat-tat of drills echoed from the new ballpark being built across the street from Yankee Stadium, site of so many triumphs. There was no evidence - not just yet - that they were digging a grave for the current occupant of the manager's chair.
Listening to George Steinbrenner's threat last weekend, Joe Torre had committed his seventh deadly sin in a row, failing yet again to fulfill the owner's insatiable appetite for championship No. 27.
In the bowels of the old stadium, scheduled for extinction a year hence, the detritus of another season gone sour was being cleared Tuesday, a day after Torre's 12th season ended in a first-round loss to Cleveland. The unwanted memory, however, could not be purged.
So now the clock ticks on Torre, a genius when he led the pinstripes to four World Series titles in his first five seasons, but a less-sacred sorcerer these days.
Last year, Steinbrenner left open the possibility of an execution for 2 1/2 days following the final out against Detroit before issuing a stay. He may not be able to restrain his bloodlust this year.
That said, Steinbrenner would be a fool to let Torre go.
A long time ago, Steinbrenner said the biggest mistake he ever made was to let Reggie Jackson depart for the golden sunshine of the California Angels. This would top that faux pas.
The guess here is if Torre departs, other key components of the Yankees leave, too.
Mariano Rivera, who closed out so many October victories past, is unsigned and willing to consider other clubs. Jorge Posada, called the backbone of the team by Doug Mientkiewicz, also can become a free agent. Andy Pettitte, the Yankees' Game 2 postseason pitcher of choice, has an option to stay or depart.
Then there is Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees like to consider themselves a power for the ages, and in this era A-Rod certainly has been Alexander the Great. The opt-out clause allowing him to scuttle the final three seasons of his record $252 million, 10-year contract has been widely discussed.
With avaricious agent Scott Boras at the helm, perhaps he would seek $300 million over nine or 10 years from his next employer, who could cash in on A-Rod's pursuit of Barry Bonds' home-run record - or maybe even his assault on the 900 or 1,000 barrier a decade from now.
The Yankees probably want all of the core back, and Torre could be the link. He fits these Yankees like an old, comfy sofa.
But Don Mattingly's coronation as Torre's successor could occur any day now. Or perhaps New York will crown Joe Girardi, a class player, a standup guy and a Manager of the Year with the Florida Marlins in 2006. Maybe even Tony La Russa, whose World Series titles with Oakland and St. Louis give him the type of pedigree preferred by Steinbrenner.
However, all would start with question marks.
Would Mattingly be an imitation of Torre without the authority of managerial success? Would Girardi be wrapped too tight? Would La Russa's controlling demeanor work in a ballpark where guiding a team through the uncontrolled is the manager's primary task?
Player after player has said in recent days he would run through brick, through fences - perhaps through the old stadium's curtain wall itself - on Torre's behalf. He became not only their guide through the labyrinth of New York and the shroud over their fishbowl in the Bronx, but a father figure and a shrink. He teaches but does not deprecate - at least publicly.
Torre relieves pressure, like a hole allowing steam to vent from a volcano. Without Torre, Mount Steiny would have erupted more frequently and furiously.
When needed, he prods. Mientkiewicz's eyes still had disbelief when he described the scolding from Torre in Toronto last spring that snapped the team out of its 21-29 start, one that Mientkiewicz said startled veterans with its ferocity.
When Steinbrenner speaks with his sons and lieutenants, he should forget his frustration and focus on the future.
Looking back: The Yankees have made the postseason every year under Torre.
Looking ahead: He remains the best choice to lead them in 2008.

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