Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Goo-Gobs of Love for Joe Girardi

During the 2009 season there was a cacophony of calls for Joe Girardi’s head. The Yankees missed the playoffs—a mortal sin around New York City—the season before, and had started off the 2009 season slowly. Sites such as “firejoeg.blogspot.com” popped up on the web, and tons of message boards (some not even sports-related) were wondering when/begging for, Girardi’s removal.

And then there were the constant comparisons to his predecessor, Saint Joe Torre, which filled talk radio and the back pages. It got so bad, that the fans and people even complained when he took out Sabathia, Jeter and Teixeira early on Yankee Stadium’s Opening Day, even though they were losing 10-2 and it was a chilly out. The press surely didn’t like him—too brusque—and criticized almost everything he did. Indeed, even when the Yankees were winning, as in last year’s playoff series against the Twins, some called the Yankees “lucky” and said Phil Cuzzi was more responsible for the Yankees winning than the Yankees themselves. And his players thought he was too hard and “not fun.” Girardi was being set up to be Jay Fieldler to Torre’s Dan Marino.

Heck, even the “highbrow” web site Slate.com got into the act:

“Often caught by television cameras modeling taciturn expressions while consulting thick binders full of arcane statistics, Girardi looks like an engineer, runs a game like one, and even talks like one. (How are the playoffs different from the regular season, Joe? “You have your parts, and you understand what you need to do with your parts, and you just go from there.”) And in this year’s playoffs, Girardi has done a fantastic job illustrating why baseball is a game for delinquents, not engineers.”

Then the Yankees won the World Series.

Now everybody loves him.

So far this spring, everything around the Yankees has been a peachy-keen lovefest. The media has covered Girardi in gooey praise as they reported on the Yankees visit to an arcade! Hooray! They reported how none of the previous managers did this, and how this was a good “team-building” idea. And they positively gushed this winter when Girardi praised the Jets.

Ian O’Connor, formally not a fan of Girardi’s did a puff piece on him recently, profiling Girardi’s toughness. He even commented on his “dockworker arms.”

And it wasn’t just the light fluff. LoHud’s Chad Jennings wrote that “Having the players buy into the system and respect Girardi is also huge.” The New York Times changed their tune as well: Instead of complaining about his over-managing, now they write “One of Girardi’s greatest strengths last season was how he managed the entire roster, showing a smart sense of when and how to rest his veterans, and he will again find ways for Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter to remain fresh. He proved equally adept at cultivating trust and communication among his players and the staff.”

The media also gushed about how he’s lightening up his usually intense training on his pitching staff this spring. The Daily News wrote how Girardi called Andy Pettitte over the winter and told him to not start throwing right away, but to get extra rest. The LoHud blog takes the article further to give a quote of Pettitte’s about Girardi.

“He pays attention,” Pettitte said. “He’s constantly thinking, ‘What can help us? What can keep us healthy?’ like no manager I’ve been around. He wants us to feel good. He wants to take care of us, whether it’s baseball, our families, that’s the way Joe is. He’s constantly thinking of ways to help us in life and to get us through this baseball season.”

Was there a subtle poke at Torre there or is it just me? “Like no manager I’ve been around?” Hmmmm.

That said, in the early part of the 2010 spring training everybody seems to be smitten with goo-gobs of love for the Yankee manager. It will be interesting to see how these same people react when the Yankees lose 2 games in a row to the Indians. Or when David Robertson blows a 9th inning save to the Red Sox when Rivera or Chamberlain was still out in the pen.

My guess is that the love won’t be there.

1 comment:

Pete S said...

Excellent points, P-Cat. I think people tend to gang up on a coach in sports when they don't handle the media as well as the coach in place before them. Girardi obviously does not handle the media as well as Torre did, but who does? Torre was the master along with Lasorda at dealing with the tough questions.

I saw Girardi manage his outfield in particular last year with genius. Perhaps Torre was Girardi's superior in changing the batting order during his tenure in NY, but Girardi shuffled the defense unbelievably well. The core of the Yankees didn't need rest in Torre's regime - Girardi had to deal with aging stars. That's much tougher.

Girardi deserves a lot of credit...thank you for pointing that out P-Cat. And I believe you're right...Mike Lupica and the other vultures will get on his case again ifall the stars don't line up this upcoming year.