Hindsight, they say, is always twenty-twenty. And never is that truer than the case of Joe Girardi and the decade he spent as manager of the Yankees. Because if an epitaph is to be written about those years, suffice to say in this instance perception was the reality. And Brian Cashman is right; there was no connectivity.
When a team is winning, it’s easier to gloss over things your gut tells you are “off.” And with the Yankees, who came within one game of going to the World Series in 2017, the stoic and stilted face of Joe Girardi in the Yankee dugout and before the YES cameras in post-game press conferences skewed all that was happening on the field, where the Baby Bombers were having fun – and winning.
Ten months ago when I was writing for Yanks Go Yard, I wrote a piece titled, Is Joe Girardi, the right man for THIS job? As you might infer, my answer, with little or no reservations, was a decided no. At the time, I centered on the team of Baby Bombers, led by Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, and Greg Bird, asking the obvious question about how Girardi would relate to players half his age.
But as the season moved along, those reservations widened when I saw players like Chase Headley, Todd Frazier, CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner and even Jacoby Ellsbury smiling and jumping in the air bumping butts with Judge and Didi Gregorius after a win or an outstanding play made by a teammate. I wondered when the last time any of these guys had fun playing baseball. And when juxtaposed against what the YES cameras saw in the dugout of Joe Girardi trying clumsily to get into the spirit of things, I should have known if I can see it, so can Brian Cashman.
But with the team looking more and more like they were bound for the playoffs, Cashman laid back, letting the season play out. In defiance of the traditional rule to not make big changes until the World Series is over, Cashman (seemingly) couldn’t help himself, firing Girardi hours after Girardi’s widely publicized “family conference” that produced a guarded, “I’d like to come back” statement.”
Joe Girardi, to a fault, stayed true to himself
By all accounts, Joe Girardi did nothing to hurt the team last year. Unless you want to count the blooper during the playoffs when he failed to ask for a replay despite Sanchez’s pleading, or maybe the “attack” on Sanchez in full view of the television audience when Girardi questioned his catcher’s lack of hustle. But over the course of a long season, there are bound to be a few mistakes made by everyone. Instead, it was more that Joe Girardi did little to help the 25 men in the clubhouse.
Laying back, he chose to do what he had always done by letting his veterans run the clubhouse. Much was made at the time of Gardner, Sabathia, and newcomer Matt Holliday “stepping up” to answer the call while Girardi remained in his office talking to the media instead of his players.
It’s been said you can’t be something you’re not. And more than anything, no matter how hard he tried, and he did work at it, it wasn’t part of his makeup as a person to be a manager in the second decade of the 21st Century.
To reiterate, he never hurt the Yankees or their players. He (just) never made them better than they already were. His only championship in 2009, for instance, came as a result of George Steinbrenner declaring he’d had enough after nine years of mediocrity. He solved that by handing Girardi Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia, both of whom he signed to long-term and expensive deals.
The nucleus of that team including Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada was the type of team Girardi handled best. A bunch of veterans who showed up at the ballpark prepared to play every day. Together with individuals who had their personal lives sorted out, and like himself, were deeply committed family men, Girardi was pleasantly in his comfort zone.
The 2017 Yankees, naturally, were different. Clint Frazier relied heavily on Reggie Jackson for guidance. Jordan Montgomery gravitated to Sabathia. Judge to A-Rod, and so on. But with the exception of Sabathia, Jackson and Rodriguez were “on-call” and not there every day. Girardi was.
Rightly so, the Yankees are moving on
The world has changed, and so has baseball. The days of Ralph Houk, Casey Stengel, Jim Leyland, Walter Alston, and so many others who acted as the team’s Field General, with an emphasis on the word General, are no more.
And in the end, that’s all that happened to Joe Girardi. The world passed by him.