By Jason Keidel
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It felt like just a few days ago, the Yankees were waking up to a sprawling baseball sunrise.
A team that wasn’t even supposed to make the playoffs was up 3-2 in the AL Championship Series, nine innings from the World Series, and the story of the season.
Yet a few days later they were bounced from the postseason and decided to boot manager Joe Girardi, the man most responsible for their stunning October run.
Now the Yankees are looking for a new bench boss. We know the person most qualified for the job was just shown the door. So what now?
Back in 2008, when the Yankees had to decide between a qualified triumvirate — Girardi, Don Mattingly, and Tony Pena — there seemed to be more opinions than candidates. Yours truly wanted Pena, who not long before won Manager of the Year with the Kansas City Royals, before they got really good. But in light of Girardi’s glittering success — though perhaps not by the Yankees’ epic standards — he seemed to have been the best choice.
Now Pena is available. But do the Yanks want him bumped up from first base coach to manager?
What about Mattingly? Would he migrate from Miami back to the team of his dreams and origins? Or does Derek Jeter, the face of the team that just bought the Marlins, want to keep Mattingly where he is?
Perhaps the best answer for both has been asked and implicitly answered. If the Steinbrenner family didn’t hire Pena or Mattingly nine years ago, why would they now? What has happened since that makes either man exponentially more appealing? Pena hasn’t managed since his stint with the Royals, while Mattingly has done a good job with the Dodgers and Marlins.
But perhaps the Bronx Bombers want a fresh face.
Indeed, if you thought the list of potential replacements was long in 2008, it feels longer than the Magna Carta now. It seems everyone with a baseball card and a pulse is in contention today, from Mattingly to Pena to Kevin Long to — gasp! — Willie Randolph. Randolph seemed uniquely suited to manage in the Big Apple, but the way he flamed out with the Mets may keep him far from the Yankees’ bench.
There are others, like Brad Ausmus, Jay Bell, Rob Thomson, and Al Pedrique, who don’t bogart the bold ink like the aforementioned former players and coaches. If we dug deep enough, we could probably unearth over a dozen possibilities. But let’s keep it somewhat simple. And let’s duck into the Twilight Zone for one more man.
From a sportswriter’s standpoint, or anyone who adores the theatrical nature of managing the Yankees, the best choice would be — seriously — Alex Rodriguez.
Sure, A-Rod took steroids, lied about it, then took some more. But our hybrid ADD and forgiving nature, combined with Rodriguez’s relatively graceful exit from pinstripes, makes him at least a compelling longshot.
No one doubt’s A-Rod’s baseball brain or his lifelong addiction to the sport. Why else would someone who made nearly a billion bucks during his playing days now suit up for the FS1 studios as an analyst? You can’t deny he’s the best brain at that long table, which includes Big Papi, Keith Hernandez, and Frank Thomas. The truth is the game may have tried to discard A-Rod, but he can’t shake the baseball bug. And he has reshaped his image from ignominious to interesting in a few short years.
Laugh at the notion. No doubt we are more likely to get hit by lightning while attacked by a shark than to see Alex Rodriguez as the next manager of the New York Yankees. But at least admit you’re fascinated by the idea.
Imagine A-Rod running the Yankees. The most royal, power couple in Gotham of A-Rod and J-Lo, A-Rod and Jenny from the Block. We become so spellbound by the score, so tethered to wins and losses, that we often forget sports is not only a business, but the business of entertainment. Is there anyone more compelling, or perhaps more equipped, than No. 13?
Admit you smiled or smirked. And let’s see what happens.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel