By Jason Keidel
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Major League Baseball doesn’t have the equivalent of the NFL’s “Black Monday” — a corporate bloodletting right after the regular season ends, when a host of head coaches are crudely removed from their positions. Some compare it theatrically to the baptism scene from “The Godfather.”
Even still, there have been some eyebrow-arching terminations, such as John Farrell, the Red Sox manager who not only won a World Series but also won the AL East this year. Even more shocking was the dismissal of Dusty Baker, the head man in Washington, who led the Nationals to 97 wins and the NL East crown. In a cutthroat business amplified by the ADD nature of social media, owners now have the corporate patience temperament of teenagers.
Now we have New York City, where the white heat of expectations and fishbowl of media keep managers on their toes 24/7, a crucible unlike any in the nation.
Not only does managing the Yankees have more pitfalls than any other comparable job, you have 3 or 4 million managers who pour into Yankee Stadium every summer, nearly all of whom think they can run the club better than Joe Girardi. The layers of pressure and production practically come with the employee handbook.
Though the Yankees’ surprising run to within nine innings of the World Series produced a phalanx of revisionist historians — all of whom suddenly said they knew these Yanks were contenders back in April — the truth is no one saw this deep, fun run coming from this group of neophytes, cleverly branded the “Baby Bombers.”
Much of the credit also goes to the manger. So, with his four-year, $16 million contract expiring at the end of this month, the baseball world is watching. Will Girardi return? Does he want to? Does the club want him to?
If Girardi gazes across the Harlem River, in Flushing, he sees the Mets replacing their skipper, Terry Collins, who took the Mets to the 2015 World Series and was the longest-tenured manager in franchise history. Perhaps MLB isn’t quite as savage as the NFL, but both share the NFL’s haunting acronym, Not For Long.
It’s become a cliche to question Girardi over the years, to the point of tedium. Sure, he goofed in the ALDS when he didn’t challenge the umpire’s call that the ball hit the Indians batter rather than the bottom of his bat. But the Yanks won the series and came within a game of playing the Dodgers in the Fall Classic. And the truth is no one is better equipped to manager the Yankees, in experience, attitude or competence, than Girardi.
Cynics call him “Binder Joe” or “By-the-Book Girardi” for being so tethered to his trusty tome of stats. But while he may come off as rigid or apathetic toward the media, Girardi is a wizard at working with youngsters. Look at the job he did with this crop of fledglings. The Mets were supposed to bogart the bold ink for one more year as the core of the Big Apple, but Girardi took an eraser to projections and predictions, making this among the most adored Yankees teams since 1996, despite not winning the World Series.
Even before he signed to lead the Yanks, he won Manager of the Year with the Marlins for doing a masterful job with veritable baseball babies. Yes, he was fired the same year, but it’s fair to say he’s not the same cantankerous man or manager he was back then.
No matter what the online tough guys, Twitter eggs and Facebook gangsters think, there’s only one voice, beyond Girardi’s, that really matters. And we heard it yesterday. Joel Sherman from the New York Post was part of a 20-minute conference call with the Baby Boss, Hal Steinbrenner, who mused over the fairy-tale season that struck midnight in Houston.
While admitting it still hurt 48 hours hence, he was wholly proud of this group of Yanks that took us on an October joyride. Though he gave much of the credit to general manager Brian Cashman — whose contract also expires after Halloween — he said everyone in management did a fine job. Surely that includes Girardi.
Girardi may not be the nicest man or the best manager on the planet. But it takes a special man and certain kind of manager to withstand the avalanche from the media and masses of the five boroughs and beyond. And, whether you like it or not, G.I. Joe is such a man.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel