Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Yankees should go with another Joe
By Buster Olney
ESPN The Magazine
The guess here is that Joe Girardi is going to be chosen to be the Yankees' next manager, getting the nod over Don Mattingly and Tony Pena. Here are the reasons why:
1. Experience in running a game
Girardi and Pena have managed in the big leagues. Mattingly has not. This is not the only factor, but it is a major factor, and if the Yankees would be taking a leap of faith in hiring someone who has never run a game -- a rotation, a bullpen, the everyday lineup. Mattingly, as one of the great defensive first basemen of all time, was into every pitch, into every moment; he told reporters on his conference call Wednesday that he has spent years thinking along with managers.
But managers will tell you that until you sit in their place and see the game from their perspective, they don't think you really understand or are prepared for the full spectrum of decisions that have to be made.
2. He knows pitching
The Yankees have rebuilt their farm system and are staking their future on the likes of Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes and the like. Girardi, like Pena, has spent a lifetime focused on pitchers: nurturing them, cajoling them, understanding how they hurt mentally and physically, conveying to his managers when the guy on the mound doesn't have it any more, understanding how the stuff one pitcher might match up better against a particular hitter. This could turn out to be a decisive advantage in Girardi's candidacy.
3. He knows New York
Really, all the current candidates know New York. But had the Yankees brought in a Tony La Russa to interview, there would have been an unknown: How is he going to react to the panic that follows every three-game losing streak? How is he going to react to the fallout the first time a Steinbrenner questions his acumen in the newspaper?
Girardi, like Mattingly, knows the culture. Nothing will surprise him.
4. He gets along with fellow employees
Girardi was effectively hired by Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, against the wishes of general manager Larry Beinfest, and the result was a poor working relationship between Girardi and the Florida staff (and we know a lot of this because as Girardi was shoved out the door; officials who didn't like him took a lot of anonymous shots at him). Girardi was an outsider and that became a problem.
That would not be the case with the Yankees, because Girardi has had a longstanding working relationship with GM Brian Cashman and other members of the organization. He knows them, they know him.
5. He knows the media
Girardi's press strategy as a catcher playing for the Yankees seemed to run along these lines: He was always genial and always available and kept reporters at arm's length while not really telling much more than they already suspected, and there was an air about his answers that suggested that he felt that he knew more than you did (and presumably he did).
Which means that, except for the air of I-know-a-little-better-than-you, he wasn't much different than Joe Torre.
The professional distance he kept from reporters didn't play well in Florida, especially because Girardi followed Jack McKeon, a back-slapping, gregarious guy who loved telling stories.
But the writers in New York know Girardi, have a sense of his style, and ultimately, everything he would do as manager of the Yankees would be viewed through a single prism: winning percentage. If the Yankees were to win next year, well, he would be deified, and if they were to lose and failed to make the playoffs, well, he would be roasted.
There are reasons to pick Mattingly and Pena. If you want a big name, then Mattingly would be the clear frontrunner. He's Donnie Baseball, the highest-regarded former Yankee who is not currently in the Hall (along with Torre, actually).
If you want a guy who would be embraced by the players, Mattingly would be the guy. Girardi might be a little "too Showalterish" -- too much like Buck Showalter -- in the eyes of one person who knows the Yankees very well; at the time Showalter left, some of the veterans thought the timing of his exit was perfect, because some veterans had grown weary of him. Girardi would have to take the job knowing that some veterans would be leery of how hands-on he would want to be.
The hiring of Pena would cost the Yankees the least, and their risk would be minimal. If they hired Mattingly and he turned out to be a bust, then his exit would turn into a debacle. If they hired Pena, on the other hand, he would be disposable in the event of a bad year -- an easy guy to fire if they wanted to make a change.
But the Yankees' executives probably should forget all about the politics, about marquee value and exit strategies. They -- like the next manager -- will be judged on whether the Yankees win or lose. Forget the tabloid response, or the possible fallout if 2008 is a bust. The only criterion for the Yankees, as for every team, should be this: Which manager gives us the best possible chance to win?
The guess here is that the Yankees will decide Girardi is that guy. We'll see.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He updates his Insider blog each morning on ESPN.com.