When Joe Girardi took over the then Florida Marlins in 2006, little was expected of him. The team was young, inexperienced and projected to finish in dead last. Girardi guided them to a 78-84 record, en route to winning Manager of the Year for the National League. After having disagreements with management, as most people seem to have with the Marlins nowadays, Girardi was fired and took a year off from baseball. He interviewed for the managerial job with the Yankees, and signed a three-year contract on October 30, 2007.
In Florida, there was no pressure to win. The team could win or lose and no one really seemed to care. In New York, you are expected to win – and if you don’t, the front office will dismiss you. Girardi is taking each and every obstacle thrown in his way in stride, day-by-day, and the Yankees now have one of the best records in baseball.
Since he signed on the dotted line (he then re-upped for three more years in 2010), fans have often criticized Girardi for his moves, most notably his tedious “binder logic” when bringing in relievers or playing match-ups with his hitters. His teams in years past haven’t had much flexibility, as seasoned veterans making big bucks were locked into their positions. In 2013, things are different; Girardi may be tasked with his most difficult year as a manager. Injuries to key players has allowed him to be more creative with using his guys, and we are finally seeing his prowess as a manager – without the superstars.
Girardi is putting players in positions to succeed. At times, he’s put Robinson Cano, the best player on the team, second in the lineup to increase his plate appearances. He has hit David Phelps eighth in order to spark the bottom of the order. He is trusting and sticking with Lyle Overbay and Jayson Nix, two guys who are playing important positions on the field. Girardi is willing to move Vernon Wells to third base late in a game when his bench is tight. He is trying to squeeze out every ounce of baseball these old guys still have left in them by knowing when to play Travis Hafner and when to sit him because he’s injury-prone.
Girardi is also trusting the younger players. In the second game of the doubleheader in Cleveland, he started Vidal Nuno, 25 – who went five innings giving up three hits and no runs. In a late game situation and only up by a run, Corban Joseph and Austin Romine – both 24-years-old, each hit back-to-back doubles, sparking a six-run seventh inning. It’s trusting and having confidence that the young guys can do the job that is making this team fun to watch and easy to root for.
A manager’s job is not only to fill out a lineup, it’s to manage 25 different personalities and create chemistry that is conducive to winning. With practically a new face at every other locker it seems like, Girardi has done a masterful job. Take a look at the Angels who are loaded. You can have all the talent in the world, but if the guys in the clubhouse don’t have good chemistry wins will be hard to come by.
Maybe it’s time for fans to stop being so hard on Girardi, who after all, took over for a legend in Joe Torre. Along with always being able to manage his bullpen by knowing when to rest guys and when to pitch guys, Girardi’s ability to work with the players he has has been remarkable. If you were to say on April 1 that on May 17 the Yankees would have the third best record in baseball with some of the names they have now, no one would believe it. When the stars come back, Girardi will have some very tough decisions to make. If this season is any indication, he’ll handle it just fine. In 2013, we are seeing Joe Girardi at his very best.
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