For the past three and a half years, I’ve been writing my own brand of game recaps. Little has changed between then and now. The formula seems to work: find the three most important points of the game and elaborate on them. There’s some chronological narration in there, but that’s only when the chronology is important.
This year, though, one thing changed. I started watching the postgame coverage to hear what Girardi has to say about what transpired. This is mostly to get the rationale for various maneuvers: why X came in to pitch when he did, why did he take Y out of the game, why didn’t Z pitch? It’s been valuable. Even when I don’t agree with his rationale, at least I know where he’s coming from.
I’m not sure how Girardi acted last year — the media seemed a bit harsh on him, and I don’t know if that has to do with how he spoke about the players or just his general demeanor. This year, though, he seems like an affable character. He answers questions as they are asked, and he speaks very well. I’ve actually enjoyed hearing him speak about the game, even after a loss.
What I’ve noticed is that he deflects the blame away from the players. When asked on Tuesday about A.J. Burnett’s performance, Girardi said “I’ll take the blame” for pitching him on a week’s rest. When reporters reached Burnett, they ended up talking about Joe taking the blame, rather than laying an inquisition on him. It might seem like a small deal, but as A.J. intimated, he appreciated it.
Even more recently, Girardi noted the team’s second-inning failures as a reason the Yanks dropped the Wednesday night affair. There was but one gaffe in the second, and it was Nick Swisher’s baserunning error. True, Girardi volunteered the quote, but even in doing so he didn’t put the blame right on the player, even when the player clearly deserved it.
As Ken Rosenthal notes, “Joe Torre’s greatest strength as Yankees manager was his ability to deflect attention away from players.” It seems Girardi has learned from that. It’s his team, and he’s out to protect his team from the frothy-mouthed press. Again, I’m sure the players appreciate this at least a little. No one wants to be thrown under the bus by his own manager.
This is in contrast to Girardi’s cross-town counterpart, Jerry Manuel, who seems all too eager to open up about his players, for good and especially for bad. Rosenthal notes some of Manuel’s more pronounced criticisms of his team, including his desire to strangle Ryan Church. You’ll also remember that Manuel grew particularly frustrated with Jose Reyes last year, saying “next time he [throws a tantrum] I’m going to get my blade out and cut him.” That came after the first at bat during Manuel’s first game as Mets’ manager.
The best example of their differences can be illustrated with Manuel’s criticism of Mike Pelfrey last week. The starter, pitching on five days’ rest instead of the normal four, got smoked by the Pirates. Afterward, Manuel said, “I was a little discouraged at Mike being where he was today after getting a day off, and kind of knowing what we needed and just not having it. That was kind of disheartening, because we really needed this game today.” Contrast that with how Girardi handled the press when Burnett threw with an extra couple days’ rest.
(And I’m sorry, even if you like Manuel’s in-your-face, tell-it-like-it-is style, it’s ridiculous to call an extra day’s rest a “day off.” We hear over and over again that pitchers are creatures of habit. It’s not that extra rest excuses a poor performance, but it certainly can’t be viewed as a day where the guy dips his toes in the pool, sips fruity rum drinks, and then goes to sleep on top of a pile of money surrounded by many beautiful women.)
I’ll agree with Rosenthal when he says:
I certainly appreciate Manuel saying, “We can’t keep sugar-coating things because that’s not real.” But while I like Manuel a great deal, I’m not sure I would like playing for him.
It’s always refreshing to hear someone tell it like it is. However, that’s shouldn’t be the first priority of a manager. The chief concern is to keep everyone playing at their peaks. It means creating an atmosphere where the players want to go out and fight for you every day. Is that what Manuel accomplishes by constantly pointing out his players’ shortcomings and mistakes?
Having never worked in MLB, and having never been inside a clubhouse, I’m not going to make that call. However, as we saw in the Torre years, the manager’s ability to manage the perception of his players is no secondary task. Is Manuel doing his players a service by outing them to the press? I’m not sure, but I’ll definitely agree with Rosenthal’s conclusion:
The question, in the end, is accountability. Manuel is right to hold his players accountable, but he need not do it so publicly. Accountability also works both ways. It can’t always be someone else’s fault.
Personally, I prefer a manager who handles the press and his players like Girardi, rather than like Manuel and Ozzie Guillen. Clearly, others have different ideas. So, as always, fire away.