Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 26, 2017

Thanks Joe; You Deserved Better

Let us start with the old maxim, the one almost every fan and certainly every major league skipper knows by heart, the one that goes “managers are hired to be fired.” With that in mind, ten years in the Great Game’s most high-profile managerial position is a major achievement, one in which Joe Girardi will always be able to take justifiable pride. So too can Girardi, whose expiring contract the Yankees today announced would not be renewed, relish the fact that in most of those years he got everything he could out of the roster he was given, the team regularly outperforming its sabermetric win expectation. As he moves on to his next chapter, whether it be in broadcasting or another dugout, the 53-year old Girardi should look at his years as the Yankees’ skipper as a job well done.

Yet one suspects that as he cleaned out his office at the Stadium, Girardi was also feeling both hurt and surprised. That much seems clear from his choice of words in the statement he released, which begins “With a heavy heart, I come to you because the Yankees have decided not to bring me back.” He went on to offer a long list of thank you’s, to owner Hal Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman as well as his players, but also to a variety of other team personnel who play largely invisible but crucial roles in putting a winning product on the field.

Girardi ended his statement by thanking the fans, recalling “the lasting memories of their passion and excitement during the Playoff Games, especially the final six games which will remain in my heart forever.” His reference is to the six home games New York played in this postseason, in which the Yankees went a perfect 6-0, defeating Minnesota in the Wild Card play-in game, topping Cleveland twice to rally from two games down in the Division Series, and sweeping Houston at home in the ALCS to move to within a single game of the World Series.

That potential date with the Los Angeles Dodgers never materialized, as the Astros took the final two ALCS games at Minute Maid Park. But for a team that during Spring Training was widely assessed as being in rebuilding mode, with a record a game or two on either side of .500 most likely in the offing, to win 91 contests and come within a single victory of its forty-first American League title gave the 2017 season the feeling of a fairytale come true in the Bronx.

When the Yankees’ royal coach turned back into a pumpkin with the last out of the ALCS’s Game 7, thoughts immediately turned to next season. If expectations were low when the team gathered in Tampa all those months ago, they will be profoundly different when pitchers and catchers report next February. As the Dodgers and Astros prepared for Game 1 of the Fall Classic, the headline over a story in the New York Times was “The Yankees Have a Consolation Prize: The 2018 Season.”

With New York’s dynamic young core under team control for several more years and more than $65 million in expiring contracts of aging veterans coming off the books, helping the team get under the salary cap and avoid the luxury tax penalty, the Yankees look to have a promising roster and the ability to complement it during the offseason. The Great Game does not issue guarantees, but certainly the potential to contend for the next several years seems to once again be at hand in the Bronx. It is reminiscent of 1995, when Buck Showalter led the Bombers to a Wild Card slot and a berth in the playoffs for the first time in fourteen years.

Great success followed that season, but it did so under the guidance of a new manager after Showalter resigned rather than bow to George Steinbrenner’s demand that he fire the team’s hitting coach. Now, as then, when the Yankees are introduced prior to their home opener next April 2nd, someone new will hear the cheers reserved for the team’s skipper. Two decades ago things worked out just fine under Joe Torre, and perhaps that will again prove to be the case with whomever GM Cashman hires. But just as that earlier transition did some seem fair to Showalter, so this one seems like a slap in Girardi’s face.

The often taciturn and relentlessly driven Girardi is by no means perfect. In Game 2 of the ALDS he committed a series of gaffes that likely blew the game against Cleveland, putting his team on the brink of elimination. And in the wake of today’s announcement have come a series of suggestions that the reserved Girardi was unable to communicate well with his young team.

But no field boss is perfect; part of the job is being subjected to relentless second-guessing by fans and the media. And the sudden whispering campaign questioning his empathy seems like so much after-the-fact justification, belied by the reality of the Yankees’ season and their playoff run. What was most striking to fans all year was the cohesiveness of this squad and the extent to which players remained loose and looked to be having fun. Then in the wake of Girardi’s ALDS debacle, his players roared back, picking up their manager when he most needed their help. That doesn’t seem like the work of a team grown distant from its leader.

Coaxing more wins than fans or ownership deserved out of a series of aging rosters, and leading a group of overachieving young players to the brink of greatness would seem to have earned Girardi a chance to take the final step with this edition of the Yankees. But Cashman obviously had other ideas.

Should he be interested in staying in uniform, Girardi should have little trouble finding a new team. Sportswriters in D.C. are already calling on the Lerner’s to forsake their parsimonious approach toward managerial salaries and hire Girardi to lead the Nationals. While the Nats and Phillies are the only other current managing vacancies, the offseason hasn’t even officially begun. Of course, after a decade on the Great Game’s biggest and brightest stage, Girardi may also want to take a break.

For the Yankees, the search begins, with no obvious candidate. Bench coach Rob Thompson and first base coach Tony Pena will be inside possibilities, though Thompson has never managed and Pena’s record in four seasons with the Royals a decade ago was undistinguished. Fans will clamor for the hiring of Don Mattingly, the current Marlins skipper. More than two decades after his playing days ended, Donnie Baseball remains a beloved legend in the Bronx. Whether Miami’s new ownership team, led by Derek Jeter, wants to part with Mattingly is unknown. Also uncertain is how long Mattingly’s revered status would last were he to return in a different role.

As noted earlier uncertainty is the nature of baseball; a fact that Cashman understands. That post-ALDS New York Times article ends with him saying “Ultimately, the future is never promised.” The Yankees head into winter with great potential, but now searching for a new field general. Whoever that turns out to be, and whether the Yankees roll to a title under him or regress and miss next year’s playoffs, this uncertain game has given Yankee fans one absolute: win or lose, these Yankees are Brian Cashman’s team now.

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Responses

  1. Good column. I guess after all these years I should not care, but when two managers bring their teams to the brink of the total prize and are cast aside, you wonder are little rich kids playing with toys. Chuck

    • Well said Chuck. I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for reading.

  2. Wasn’t it Yogi Berra who said, “The future ain’t what it used to be”? If not, it should have been.

    Have a great weekend, Mike.
    Ω


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