By Sweeny Murti
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Joe Girardi’s biggest failure has always been that he wasn’t Joe Torre. He didn’t manage like him, he didn’t communicate like him, and he didn’t win like him. And it’s quite unfair to Girardi to be held to that standard, but unfortunately for him, he was the manager who replaced Torre.
Torre had the great fortune of getting Hall of Fame players Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera on their way up, while Girardi got to manage them on the way down and eventually out. Not only did Girardi have to oversee the at-times messy exits of Jeter, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez, but he also got to see two waves of youth movements.
The first of those didn’t work out so great when the starting rotation was built around Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain at the start of the 2008 season. The Yankees missed the playoffs that year.
The second was this year when the crew led by Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino went all the way to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
In between, there was the juggernaut of 2009, the Yankees team that reloaded with stars, won 103 games and never once faced an elimination game on their way to a World Series championship. There were also tough playoff losses to the Tigers and Rangers. There were injury-filled years with farewell tours but no playoffs. And there was a wild-card loss to the Astros.
While Torre ran off a string of world championships, Girardi, who learned Thursday he will not return to the Yankees next season, competed against that legacy and against a league that was catching up with better statistical developments and deeper pockets than they had in the ’90’s. Even if he had the same talent level, Girardi’s Yankees couldn’t run away from the pack the same way Torre’s teams did.
This isn’t to diminish what Torre, the deserving Hall of Famer achieved. It’s simply to point out that Girardi was battling a legacy he had little chance to match, that the failure of his Yankees teams to win multiple championships had less to do with his own shortcomings as a manager than it did with so many other factors beyond his control.
Not to mention that Girardi managed every game in a boiling hot social media cauldron where each pitching change or lineup maneuver or facial expression was met with mockery of “the Binder.” Can you imagine what your Twitter feeds would have said about Torre during the 2004 ALCS loss to Boston had that cyber-meeting space existed then?
Girardi’s moves as manager always came after analyzing loads of information, which didn’t always come out of a binder. They included real-time analysis of his players and how they were performing in the moment. His gut instincts were fed with information, not old-fashioned guesswork. The old-school managers had their tools for information, too, but Girardi’s engineering school mind always seemed to be more ripe for critique. But, then again, how would you begin to disagree with a manager who just said they went with their gut?
And the cool, calm demeanor that Torre exuded in media gatherings even when his seat felt the hottest? Well, that was a gift that decades of experience — and losing — certainly helped cultivate. Girardi’s demeanor could be friendly and joking, but it never reached the warm and grandfatherly tone that Torre set before him.
Baseball managers meet the media minutes after heartbreaking losses, and Torre could sit back in his chair and make everyone feel like it was all going to be OK. Girardi didn’t let tough losses slide off him that easy, and it showed. But is that a crime? He hated to lose and showed it more times than not. He wasn’t Torre, so he was never going to act like Torre. You know, Michael and Sonny were brothers. It doesn’t mean they reacted to situations the same way.
Girardi had a tough act to follow. And so, too, will the next manager. After all, his first year now has to end in a World Series berth or else the Yankees would have seriously underachieved again, right? And if he doesn’t succeed in Year 1, well, remember that Girardi guy won the title in just his second year on the job. Come to think of it, he wasn’t that bad after all.
It’s not easy, this managing the Yankees thing. And the bar is set pretty high for the next manager’s first leap.
Please follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN