By Jason Keidel
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On opening day 2006 the Yankees payroll was roughly $195 million. And Joe Girardi won Manager of the Year that season.
But he did so with the Florida Marlins, whose payroll was $15 million, less than A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, and seemingly half the Yankees made alone.
Not only did the Marlins have a laughable budget, they were also last in National League attendance, barely scraping a million fans. They had a young Miguel Cabrera – who was already a beast – and a young Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson, both of whom had yet to become stars.
Dontrelle Willis was the rotation’s graybeard, at 24. Oddly, after charming America with his odd delivery and wide, white smile, Willis was on his way inexorably yet inexplicably downward. A middle-aged Joe Borowski closed their games.
Joe Girardi took a cocktail of kids, castaways, and misfits and somehow won 78 games. Then he got fired a few days later for yapping at the owner. Since then he has taken some lumps in the public relations crucible, but his baseball acumen seems keen as ever.
Indeed, Girardi seems the easy choice for Manager of the Year again, at least at the quarter-pole. (With a nod to Terry Francona.)
The feisty catcher who made the most of his marginal talent was always looking over his broad shoulders to see which young buck was about to bogart his starting spot, Girardi parlayed his skill set into a nice run, aided by the serendipity of playing for Joe Torre and the dynastic Yanks.
This year, Girardi is taking his piecemeal personnel – a walking triage ravaged by age, wage, and injury – and turning it into a most unlikely, united machine of timely hitting and clutch pitching. If anyone tells you they saw this team in first-place before the season started, they’re lying.
If you were teleported to Yankee Stadium from last year to last month and saw the lineup, it would read like a roster of red shirts on Star Trek, the ones who beam down to some mysterious planet just before being to salt cubes.
But Girardi clearly relates to younger, scrappier, less egocentric souls, whom he can mold into his own ethos, while he runs the last club to keep last names off their jerseys. No doubt he’s equally empathetic with the crusty veterans who feel slighted because one too many teams told them to retire.
Aside from Robinson Cano (and just recently Curtis Granderson) that’s pretty much what the Yankees are. Cano leads the team in every relevant category except on-base percentage.
Sure, they’ve gotten some stellar pitching, but not from their ace, CC Sabathia. The source of power pitching and hitting has come from a cornucopia of rookies and retreads. Travis Hafner. Lyle Overbay. Vernon Wells. David Adams. Austin Romine. One of their contributors, Chris Nelson, isn’t even on the roster anymore.
Like most of you, I bristled at the moves Brian Cashman made before the season, after the stars started falling like a row of dominoes. Yet here we are, Memorial Day weekend, where everyone takes initial stock, and the Bombers are in first place. At 28-18, the Yankees have a better record than anyone in the American League except Texas.
Maybe we owe Brian Cashman an apology. Or maybe we owe Joe Girardi our gratitude. Maybe he’s managing better than the rest.
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