When the Yankees and Joe Torre parted ways after the 2007 season, the team lined up only three interviews for a replacement. The Yankees said they had only those men — Don Mattingly, Tony Pena, and Joe Girardi — in mind for the job, but even if they wanted to look outside the organization they might have found few takers. Who wants to follow Joe Torre, he of the dynastic late 90s Yankees? When the Yankees named Girardi, they handed him the universal task: win now.
It wasn’t an easy first season in pinstripes for Girardi. Not only was his team falling apart on the field, but he had troubles dealing with the media to explain it all. Fans and media, used to the stoic Torre, didn’t take to Girardi’s rigid ways. Add in a few gaffes, such as lying about injuries, and it’s an instant bad reputation. By season’s end, when the Yankees were headed home for the first time in 14 years, many fans wondered if this would have happened to a Joe Torre team.
Girardi still gets plenty of crap from fans, but it’s mostly in the form of second-guessed bullpen and bunting decisions. His handling of the media has improved, and I haven’t heard many, if any, complaints about him this season. He takes the blame and deflects it like his predecessor. Oh, and he allows ice cream in the dugout.
Tyler Kepner wrote an excellent profile of Girardi that dives a bit deeper into the changes he’s implemented this season. There haven’t been many, but the ones he’s made have made a difference. While Kepner spends a lot of time on the family-like atmosphere Girardi has built in the clubhouse, there’s one bit at the end which strikes me as pretty important:
Girardi has worked on other faults, improving his relationship with the news media by being more honest about injuries. He solved that problem by telling players what he planned to tell reporters, and finding that most understood.
Emphasis mine. This seems like it should be standard operating procedure. Why say something to the media that hasn’t already been said to the player? The player is the more important part of that scenario (sorry, beat writers), and should know what’s going on beforehand.
While it feels like Girardi just got here, the subject of his next contract will loom this off-season. As Tim Smith of the Daily News says, any extension talks will depend on how the Yanks do in the playoffs. A first-round exit will probably preclude extension talks, meaning Girardi will head into the 2010 season as a lame duck. While football teams tend to avoid the lame duck coach, it doesn’t seem to be as big an issue in baseball. It would probably take a World Series appearance to earn Girardi another two or three years.
iYankees wants to see the Yankees let Girardi’s deal expire and let him walk. I’m not too sure. Then again, I wanted to bring back Torre for 2008 and beyond. Regardless of what we want, the Yankees will probably consider an extension if they make the Series. If not, it’ll be a lame duck 2010. I wouldn’t really mind that. It’s fun to say. Lame duck.