By Steve Silverman
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There is little doubt that Joe Maddon and Joe Girardi are both baseball lifers. Both managers have known the great success that comes with winning the World Series.
While Maddon’s championship with the Chicago Cubs is newly minted and also represented the end of a 108-year drought for the Chicago’s National League baseball club, he long ago earned his spurs as manager with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Despite competing with a less-talented team than the Yankees or Red Sox, he somehow got the Rays to compete on strong terms with both of his richer rivals.
When Cubs general manager Theo Epstein was looking for a manager who could guide the talented but young team and turn it into a consistent winner, he went back to his days with the Red Sox and brought in the man who had regularly frustrated Boston in crucial games.
Girardi had paid his dues before he took over for Joe Torre, amassing a 14-year playing career, largely with the Cubs, Rockies and Yankees. He also played briefly with the Cardinals at the end in 2003. But as a heady catcher from Northwestern University who played under Don Zimmer, Don Baylor and Torre, Girardi knew a few things about winning baseball, and how to make sure his players competed hard for 162 games.
While both men have been successful managers, there is something much more legitimate and easier to stomach about Girardi than Maddon.
Girardi is a straight-forward manager who demands the best out of his players every moment they are on the field. If he sees something he doesn’t like, he corrects it right away and he pulls no punches. He is all about looking his man in the eye, telling him what he did wrong and letting him know that a substandard effort will never be acceptable.
While he is smart and witty, his job is pushing his team and not entertaining the media.
Girardi, who led the Bombers to the World Series championship back in 2009, has been on his game this season, as he has his young squad ahead of schedule and battling the Orioles for first place in the AL East. The Bombers were not supposed to have the pitching or experience to compete for the division title or even a wild card spot. But through the first part of May, they look like they’ll be a tough out.
After Maddon’s Cubs found a win to beat the Indians in seven games last fall, the city of Chicago breathed a sigh of relief that must have felt like a hurricane to poor Cleveland.
Not only were the Cubs finally champions, they appeared to have the makeup to remain in contention for years, which was the crux of Epstein’s grand plan.
But Maddon nearly gave that title away by overusing flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman at the end of the World Series. There was no reason to use him in Game 6 because the Cubs had a big lead, but Maddon was gripping the wheel too tightly.
Chapman’s velocity was down a few notches in Game 7 as he gave up a tying home run to Rajai Davis in the eighth inning. Chapman somehow held the fort in the ninth, and then the heavens opened, allowing the Cubs to have a team meeting during the rain delay.
They decided to win despite Maddon’s goofball managing, and did just that in the 10th inning.
OK, so Maddon got a little tight when the money was on the table. His team did win, and he should take his share of the credit.
But the difference between Maddon and Girardi is the always-sunny attitude that the former displays every day. Maddon may know how to handle himself behind closed doors, but you can’t always stay positive about everything.
As you read this, the invincible Cubs are just a .500 team, after they were swept by the Yankees last weekend before dropping two out of three to the Rockies.
The Cubs are going through difficulty, and thought they will likely recover, the slogans and gimmicks are not working right now.
The Girardi approach may not be fancy, but it is effective. He doesn’t care about pajama parties on road trips and team book reports.
It is all about strong fundamental baseball and it always will be.
There’s something very comforting about that, and Yankees fans should take notice.
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