As we march, slowly, toward Spring Training a lot of posts are running that talk up the Yankees' strengths: pitching, offense, financial resources, etc. However, one topic, so far, has not yet drawn a lot of attention ... the Manager?
There was a time, not long ago, when I would have sooner argued that Nick Swisher become a permanent part of the Yankee bullpen than post in support of Joe Girardi. Throughout most of his tenure as Yankee manager Girardi had looked overmatched for the role. His micro-managing style may have worked well on a low payroll National League club like the Marlins, but in New York it looked heavy-handed and uncertain. Girardi looked like the kind of manager who was good only in specific settings and incapable of altering his style to reflect his new surroundings. Then the playoffs happened.
Clueless Joe seemed to be earning his nickname through the first series in Minnesota. Even when the Yankees were winning, he seemed to be managing every game as though it were his last, tinkering too much with the pitchers and the lineup. Nowhere was this more evident than in Game 3, when Joe pulled a brilliant Andy Pettitte after only 81 pitches.
Adding insult to injury, no one believed Joe was up to the task of taking the Yankees all the way. ESPN ran fan polls before each of the Yankee playoff series. In each poll fans were asked which of the two managers they'd rather have. Girardi lost all three.
Things changed as the postseason advanced. Ron Gardenhire outmanaged Girardi, but lost because of a lack of talent on his ballclub; however, Girardi clearly outwitted the much-hyped Mike Scioscia in the ALCS. Scioscia's club looked sloppy, and the manager didn't seem to understand his pitchers. Girardi seemed to occasionally understand when to use his pitchers, but other times apparently completely lost his mind.
Girardi also out the Yankees at a disadvantage in the ALCS when he would do things like using pinch runners too aggressively. Game 3 in particular stands out when he pulled Hideki Matsui for Brett Gardner after Matsui got on base in the late innings. Gardner was picked off moments before Jorge Posada hit a home run.
Heading into the World Series, Girardi was once again seen as inferior to his counterpart, Charlie Manuel. Thankfully this time Girardi seemed to be learning as the postseason progressed, having finally grown comfortable with the players available to him and which moves to make when. He stuck to his guns with the three-man rotation, and came away looking smart because of it.
Charlie Manuel, on the other hand, looked completely lost. He deserves to be second guessed as much as possible for declining to pitch Cliff Lee in Game 4. Giving the ball to the aging Pedro Martinez was a poor enough decision, but he also kept the righthander in far too long in Game 2, when even a basic scouting report would have said to take Pedro out after 100 pitches.
No articles have bee written i- at least that I've come across -i praising Joe Girardi. Perhaps they're overdue. Sure, he has the pleasure of managing the best team in baseball with incredible resources, but those expectations come with incredible pressure. In 2009, when the pressure was at its apex and his job was probably on the line, Girardi responded in the face of fierce criticism. Heading into the 2010 season its only fair to list Girardi among the Yankees' many assets. He's a postseason tested manager who leveraged a high risk situation into a World Series victory. Hopefully he'll continue to improve.