By Sweeny Murti
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Does the next Yankees manager have to have Yankee connections?
Ever since Ralph Houk took over for Casey Stengel in 1961, the majority of managers hired by the Yankees have had some connection to the team in their past — Yogi Berra, Billy Martin, Lou Piniella, Buck Showalter, Joe Girardi.
Joe Torre is an obvious exception, but, as a native New Yorker, he entered the job with a deep-rooted knowledge about all things pinstripes. He was in the stands for Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956 and watched his brother, Frank, play at Yankee Stadium for the Braves in the 1957 and ’58 World Series, meaning he attended three straight World Series in the Bronx long before he won three straight for the Bronx.
So if I make this leap for purposes of this discussion and count Torre as part of the New York family, the only managers the Yankees have employed in the last 50 years with no previous Yankees connections were Bill Virdon and Dallas Green.
My question is, does it matter?
The Yankees preach pride, tradition, legacy, and all that stuff still sells shirts with Mickey Mantle’s No. 7 on it and will sell Derek Jeter’s No. 2 for decades to come. Does the next manager have to come with his own pinstriped pedigree? Would he have to pass a Diner-style test of Yankees trivia before he was allowed to sign his contract?
The last time the Yankees interviewed for a manager the list came down to three people with various levels of Yankees pedigree.
You had Don Mattingly, who would have had to descend from Mount Olympus, er rather Monument Park, to exist with the mortals in the Yankee dugout.
There was Girardi, proud owner of three World Series rings with the interlocking NY logo, a connection to recent glory with an iconic moment — the triple off Greg Maddux in Game 6 of the 1996 World Series — on the mental loop of nearly every Yankees fan.
And there was Tony Pena, who was on Torre’s staff when the change was being made after the 2007 season. His one year in pinstripes and his relative success as manager of the Royals four years earlier were good enough reasons to put him in the conversation.
After choosing Girardi, the Yankees had their man. Thanks to his years as a player and all those Octobers, Girardi knew the importance of history and legacy when it comes to the Yankees. And that triple was run on the big board every year during Old-Timers’ Day.
But as the Yankees begin the next search, what are the traits that matter most? Communication skills, understanding of analytics, and team-building are essential skills. Managing the team and the game, that is still the basic job description.
Managing the fans and the media are just as big a job, especially in New York. When you speak publicly twice a day, every day, you are the face of the organization. The manager is responsible for commenting not just on his team and his players, but on the greater issues around the sport, sometimes other sports, and perhaps even items of political importance.
The last three Yankees managers — Showalter, Torre, and Girardi — did all those things with varying levels of success. All three knew their responsibility to their fan base started with winning and ended with winning, but also had many of those things stuffed in between.
But now it’s 2017 and you just have to look at the way other teams hire managers to know the landscape is different. Gabe Kapler and Dave Martinez were hired this week with no connections to their teams. Terry Francona will always be a hero in Boston, same for Joe Maddon in Chicago, but neither one was part of that team’s history before they came on board to manage.
Knowing how the Yankees have been run isn’t necessarily essential to running the Yankees. While it’s a nice bouquet to throw to the fans — “here’s a guy that you used to cheer and now he’s back” — it’s really not the best way to choose the next manager.
A few people around the game that I asked this week did admit there were certain elements where it might help to have a history or or at least familiarity with the Yankees, like dealing with the media for example. But there are too many sharp baseball minds out there to ignore such a large portion of the field.
And I’ve always thought it would be nice for the men who are front and center — the manager, the players — to all know a little something about Yankee history since it means so much to the fans. But that’s nothing a few Yankeeographies wouldn’t cover.
Bleeding your team’s colors is not the same consideration it once appeared to be. The only thing teams care about is finding the right man for the job. That’s all Brian Cashman is after this time around.
Please follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN