By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
Ever since George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees, they’ve been run like a moody teen with superpowers. When the young man was happy, he saved the day. When he was grumpy, he hurled cars and houses and made a mess of the town.
Likewise, when the Boss’s mind was right, the team was right. They returned to old-school Bronx Bombers form, winning World Series and resuming their ancestral perch as the most important team in American sports.
When the Boss was surly, you saw the dingy underbelly of power. The Yanks then had a comical revolving door of managers. Between 1973 and 1990, he had 19 managers — Billy Martin led the list with five turns as skipper — and a slew of furious missives that made Steinbrenner look like a maniacal monarch.
But since the old lion lost his grip on the club (and eventually passed away), the Yankees were a more mature ballclub, run like adults, by adults, led by his sons, Hank and Hal. When it became clear Hank was too petulant to steer a billion-dollar enterprise, Hal took the helm. A self-style numbers geek, Hal’s charge was to slash payroll while making the team more fiscally responsible.
They also allowed general manager Brian Cashman to build the club from the inside, which soon had the most fertile farm system in baseball. They also had their man at manager. Joe Girardi, who played for the Yankees juggernaut in the ’90s and was a bench coach after he retired. No one was better groomed or suited for skipper than G.I. Joe, who rewarded the Yanks with a World Series title in his second year.
And while he didn’t bag a stack of World Series trophies, no manager has won more games over the last decade than Girardi and the Yankees. They never had a losing season during that time, nor were they Page Six fodder. No missives. No rants. No worries. The Yankees were good and stable and, now, primed for a long run of prosperity, led by the Baby Bombers of Gary Sanchez and the incomparable Aaron Judge.
Even better, the Yankees, expected to be a contender in 2018, jumped the line and made an unexpected, exceptional October run in 2017, coming within one game of this year’s Fall Classic. If Girardi wasn’t Manager of the Year, he’s certainly in the discussion.
So, naturally the Yanks just gave Girardi the boot. With his contract expiring (appropriately) after Halloween, the club won’t retain his services, and won’t ask him to finish the job he so brilliantly started this season. There’s rampant speculation, from the media and masses, as to why Girardi was shown the door. But beyond laws and logic, these are the Yankees, where you must often suspend all reason.
Perhaps we should remember this is the same franchise that shoved Joe Torre out the door, offering an infantile, incentive-laden contract to perhaps the most beloved manager in the history of New York City, who also had won four World Series in five years.
WFAN baseball insider Jon Heyman reported that Cashman was the one who made this recommendation to Hal Steinbrenner, that it was time for Girardi to go. If so, you wonder what happened behind the dark-wood doors of the executive offices. Historically, the high orbit of pinstripe power has occasionally rendered the brass a bit dizzy, making more than a few questionable calls since the 1970s.
But there’s no reason, explanation or excuse for this move. If you needed proof the club had Girardi’s back and played beyond the back of their baseball cards and all sabremetrics for him, look at the ALDS. After a biblically bad move in Cleveland, where Girardi refused to challenge an umpire’s call on a plunked batter that never happened, the team still won three straight against the World Series favorite Indians and were up three games to two against the high-flying Houston Astros in the ALCS.
Over 162 games, plus playoffs, plus the crucible of Big Apple scrutiny, managing in the media vortex of the world, any man or manager will make a mistake. They are magnified because these are the Yankees. But only a revisionist historian will say Casey Stengel never made an error, or Billy Martin, or even the sainted Torre, who blew a 3-0 lead in the 2004 ALCS. Considering the fishbowl in which he resides, Girardi did a fine, if not fantastic, job as manager of the New York Yankees.
Cruising the high road, Girardi issued a statement thanking the Steinbrenner family for believing in him, and even thanked Cashman for giving him the opportunity. It’s one of those juicy times when we all wish we could read the unedited thought bubbles over Girardi’s crew cut.
More than anything, it seemed like the Steinbrenner kids understood they could not run the club like Dad did, that you can’t demand a World Series title every year. Especially now, with money spread more evenly across the MLB map, with regional baseball networks sprouting like weeds, the playing field is more even than ever.
Perhaps we can only fight Dad and DNA for so long, that we are as much nature and nurture. Perhaps Hal had to honor George with a throwback move that made little sense. For a team that has such a bright future, they just made a most retrograde move. Joe Girardi deserved better.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel