LADY AT THE BAT: Pondering Girardi's Future As Yankees' Slide Continues

Friday, July 7, 2017

Pondering Girardi's Future As Yankees' Slide Continues

Thursday was a much needed day off for the Yankees, who have won only seven of their last 23 games and appear to be in a free fall.  Across the wide, wide world of cyberspace, where Yankees blogs collide, the blame game is in full bloom.

Now, the list of scapegoats can be very long and there is little point in calling out players and former players (Chris Carter, anyone?) who have been mentioned as center stage culprits in this recent pinstripe debacle. Instead, we will take a look at the one and only person wearing pinstripes who might be atop nearly everyone's  scapegoat list: Joe Girardi.

So what does this contributor to Lady at the Bat, think of Joe Girardi? If you study my profile you would probably conclude that I'm all in for Joe Girardi. We were born in the same place and attended the same high school. No, I never met Joe Girardi. I'm ten years older and he lived in East Peoria IL while I was in Peoria. So, our paths never crossed.  But he is manager of the New York Yankees and baseball managers just don't hang around for 40 years and get a gold watch on their last day. In Girardi's case there are multiple considerations concerning his future and decisions which need to be made before this calendar year is finished.  

1. Hired to be fired
As stated, no manager is there for an entire career or has a lifetime contract. Joe will be gone eventually. But Hal and Hank have let it be known, in the area of managerial musical chairs, this isn't their father's Yankees.

2. Who is the next manager?
Girardi's contract ends following this current season. So that would be the moment to make a move, should the Yankees be so inclined. Joe could simply be fired, not tendered any offer or offered a contract he CAN refuse, much like that last contract offer which sent Joe Torre packing. So for everyone clamoring for Girardi's removal who is next in line?

A little history first.

The Yankees dumped Casey Stengel because he lost game seven of the 1960 World Series (though Bill Virdon's double play grounder which hit a pebble and struck Tony Kubek in the throat contributed to the loss).  But for the life of all the fans who remember that series, why Stengel  didn't pitch ace Whitey Ford three times is another factor (pitching a number one starter three times in seven games was common back then). But the other issue was that Ralph Houk was waiting in the wings, and the Yankees surely would have lost Houk to another team if he wasn't promoted at that time. So, Casey was gone.

It needs to be asked, who if anybody is today's Ralph Houk? Do they seek out another recently fired NL manager who had an unimpressive record, as they did with the guy once dubbed "Clueless Joe"? Does lightning strike twice,  because with that Joe, the only clue he didn't have was that his Yankee managerial stint would get him to Cooperstown.

Is there anyone currently within the entire Yankees organization who is being groomed for a managerial position? Rob Thomson? Tony Pena? Someone in the minors? Luis Sojo was mentioned in the past, but it seems we haven't heard his name in a long time. It does not appear there is anyone with any amount of certainty. I always hear of talk about former players like Paul O'Neill, and any of the Core Four being qualified, but tell me of anyone from the 90s teams who would actually be interested? Right. Joe Girardi.

So the next Yankees manager is probably a mystery man, especially if he will start managing on opening day 2018. Chances are his name has not been discussed on any blogs. If Girardi goes, expect a replacement we know very little about. Yes, of course there is Don Mattingly, but he is under contract in Miami through 2019, so scratch Donnie Baseball.

3. The binder and other assorted complaints
I am keenly aware of what Girardi's critics are saying. In the most recent game, many wondered why suddenly erratic Dellin Betances was left in so long to face five batters, walking four of them. Brett Gardner bunting ahead of Aaron Judge was a bit suspect as well. The binder gets a lot of play these days from critics everywhere. Many among us think we can manage better than Joe. Making decisions which consistently turn put with poor results will get you fired eventually. Girardi's predecessor, Torre, also made some interesting decisions but was questioned less because many times those decisions worked. I remember what a bust Graeme Lloyd was for the Yankees following his August trade from  Milwaukee in 1996. Torre even consulted Brewers announcer Bob Uecker when he was considering whether to place Lloyd on the playoff roster. Then Torre called on Lloyd in some crucial situations including the bottom of the 9th inning at Atlanta with the score tied in game four of the World Series that year. Lloyd pitched out of a jam and the Yankees won in ten innings and were on their way to a championship.

Girardi has certainly had his share of critics when his decisions do not work, as results are all that matters. Then it comes down to the patience of ownership, which might work in Girardi's favor. 

4. Legacy
Girardi has managed in one World Series in his first nine years and the Yankees won that series. Torre managed twelve seasons with six World Series appearances and four championships and a trip to the playoffs every season. This is Girardi's tenth season as Yankees manager. There is no indication the Yankees are not planning to extend Girardi. So what is his next contract? If it is four years again and Girardi stays for the entire contract he will eclipse both Stengel and Torre (12 years each) in managerial tenure. Only Joe McCarthy managed longer at 16 years.  Regardless of what you think of Girardi as manager that would be quite a legacy.

Back home in Central Illinois, Joe Girardi is rarely mentioned these days. Local baseball products including Jim Thome who will have Cooperstown calling soon, and Ben Zobrist who was last year's World Series MVP for the Cubs first championship in 108 years, are much higher in the pecking order of baseball's hometown favorites. Such is life.

Yes, I am one of the few Yankees fans who went to the same high school as a Yankees manager. Perhaps you know someone who attended St Francis Prep in Brooklyn as Torre did.  The reality is the Girardi era did not produce the championships the Torre era did. The Yankees of the Torre era all grew old and the replacements were simply not as good in Girardi's time. Not yet at least. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez have just arrived on the scene, as will others soon. In recent years,  the Yankees struggled with some large contracts and players beyond their prime which has kept the payroll among the highest in the game. And don't forget, the current owners are more "stay the course" than their impatient father ever was. Yes, Joe Girardi will move on someday, possibly, but unlikely, this year. And by my count there are zero obvious successors to Girardi today. But as new players come along, new managers will eventually as well. If you don't like having Girardi as manager, take heart. His days are numbered.

It is just that we don't know what that number, large or small, is at this point.

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