Ive been annoyed with Joe Torre ever since he started Roger Clemens against the Mets on Belmont Stakes day instead of waiting for the following day. Big news coverage for the big Sunday papers, I guess.

As if that decision was made in Tampa and not in a locker room in New York.

The Clemens thing didnt work out as planned. Come to think of it, neither did the Yankees season. Or, for that matter, the Mets.

In town over the weekend for the Paul Moran Newsday retirement bash, nobody asked which horse I thought would win the Breeders Cup Classic. Instead; Do you think Torre will get fired?

I say if the Yankees re-sign Alex Rodriguez, theyll re-sign Torre. If not, then no.

And I dont believe that the Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Bobby Abreu and Andy Pettitte situations figure into this.

Roger Clemens? Please.

This is a big sports story outside New York, too. The results of an ESPN fan poll is that Torre should return, 71 percent to 29, a landslide.

Maybe it was Mets fans who voted. It certainly wasnt the front-page headline writers for the New York tabloids.

For the most part, I agree he deserves to stay. Yankees payroll or not, body of work counts for something. Number of seasons as Yankees manager: 12. Number of playoff appearances: 12.

Twelve, unfortunately, is divisible by three, as in the number of first-round eliminations the past three seasons. Underachieving is as underachieving does.

In defense of Torre, he was 0-for-0 at the plate in this ALDS, won by a team that played and pitched better baseball, the Cleveland Indians.

But when they werent grounding into double plays, the Yankee power machine popped up, after pop-up, after pop-up. That happens when big boppers forget to work the count or play station to station baseball.

A lot of boppers think theyre too good to work the count. If youre paid like a home run hitter, you act like a home run hitter, worshipping at the altar of the three-run homer.

If A-Rod is re-signed, the Yankees could use more Torre stability to usher in the new Yankee Stadium era. More melding of the young players with the old, especially the pitchers.

In the last three years, Yankee pitchers couldnt hold the fort when big bats went silent.

But isnt this when a little Stengelese would have come in handy? Mixing, stirring, shaking things up?

It was Torres stoicism that kept their post-season hopes alive in May and June when the team played like the worst unit in baseball. They looked like they had given up, lifelessly going through the motions.

The youth movement was that needed infusion of life.

If the Yankees lose A-Rods power production, maybe the youth-infused, suddenly promising pitching staff would benefit from some legitimate small ball.

Wheres Billy Martin when you really need him?

I know this: Martin would have pulled his team off the field in the bottom of the eighth inning in midge-infested Cleveland. And would have retaliated against Red Sox pitchers who threw at Yankees hitters.

In baseball, as in life, class, like good deeds, never seems to go unpunished.

Speaking of Billyball, hard to envision that he would have capitulated, according to reports, to managements calling the shot to start Chien Ming Wang over Mike Mussina, said to be Torres choice, in Game 4.

As a horse owner, Torre knows how to read a set of PPs. The PPs said that Mussina throws well fresh. He did in September, anyway.

Look, everyone knows fans are fickle. Another ESPN poll this week revealed that 83 percent of college football fans believe that USC should fall out of the Top Ten after their loss to Stanford at 41-point favorites.

Then thats why Im glad theres no public voting component to the Eclipse Awards. Fans, by definition, lead with their emotions.

In any case, I wouldnt be thinking about backing the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday.

If the Yankees dont re-up Torres contract, Id like to see the youth movement extended to the dugout. The Yankees offense needs to change its approach.

I was born a Yankees fan. My parents took me to Sunday double-headers from age six. I was in the building when Mantle hit the faade off Pedro Ramos and when Reggie hit three home runs when the Bronx was burning. I saw DiMaggio face Satchel Paige., and the Scooter and Yogi and Reynolds and Raschi and Lopat.

I know that whoever replaces Torre--whenever that is--has a difficult act to follow. But if the players on the field are different then so should the direction in the dugout. When are era ends, its over. Yogi could tell you that much.