Even though the New York Yankees won 91 games and got within one victory of the World Series, it still seemed like it might be time for Joe Girardi to go.
On the surface, it was a stunner when word came out of the Bronx Thursday morning that Girardi is gone. The Yankees have decided not to offer him a new contract and are moving on after 10 seasons.
The surprisingly deep playoff run is what had close Yankee watchers thinking Girardi was going to get a new deal. Maybe even deserved one. But it also masked what has been going on in the Bronx this season.
Girardi's status hung over the club, as everyone knew he was in the final year of a four-year, $16-million deal. When pressed on the issue, Girardi simply repeated that he'd sit down with his wife and three children after the season – like he always has – to mull his status. He said Thursday, however, that he had a "heavy heart" about not coming back, a definite sign he was hoping to return.
This, however, is clearly a decision the Yankees made for him.
You wonder if Girardi and GM Brian Cashman weren't as buddy-buddy as they wanted you to believe, and there's been a feeling around baseball that the Yankees would do better with a less intense manager now that they're a team building around young stars.
Just watch the World Series. Do Houston's A.J. Hinch or Los Angeles' Dave Roberts so much as flinch when times are tough? The difference in the strain on Girardi's face is evident.
"Everything this organization does is done with careful and thorough consideration, and we’ve decided to pursue alternatives for the managerial position," Cashman said in a statement issued today.
Girardi is always tightly wound, and his tension level was high last month on the weekend in Toronto when the Yankees clinched their wild-card berth. And then, of course, Girardi found himself in the middle of a firestorm during the division series in Cleveland after his botched decision on a replay challenge during Game 2 helped the Indians wipe out a five-run deficit and take a 2-0 lead in the series.
Girardi was crucified in the New York media and booed mercilessly when the series returned to the Bronx. He was almost certainly toast had the Yankees gone down quietly to the Tribe, but they rallied to win three straight and pull off a huge upset in that series and got to Game 7 of the ALCS before losing to the Astros.
The Yankees led that series, three games to two, and were one win shy of the World Series for the first time since 2009 before failing to close it out.
Ten years is a long time in any manager's post. Ten years in the fishbowl that is the Yankees, featuring the twice-a-day swarming by the New York media, is a remarkable accomplishment.
Girardi was a heart-on-his-sleeve kind of manager, a former Yankees catcher who took over for Joe Torre following the 2007 season. By 2009, the Yankees had won a World Series and Girardi, who wore No. 27 to symbolize the quest for the franchise's 27th title, was able to change to No. 28 for 2010. He never got another chance, as the loss Saturday was the closest the Yankees have come to getting back to the Fall Classic.
There were plenty of Girardi moments as a player in New York: The Game 6 RBI triple that got the Yankees going in their 1996 clincher over Atlanta, the embraces of John Wetteland and Mariano Rivera after the final outs in '96 and '98, the falling-to-the-turf bear hug with David Cone at the end of his 1999 perfect game.
As a manager, he went 910-710 in his 10 seasons but never summoned the kind of passion from fans that Torre did. The booing he took during the division series showed that the paying customers had tired of him.
That said, the Girardi decision by the Yankees continues a goofy trend of changes in game. The Red Sox and Yankees both made the playoffs and neither manager survived, as Boston ditched John Farrell and is going to introduce Astros coach Alex Cora after the World Series. The Washington Nationals won 97 games and took the National League East by 20 but canned Dusty Baker after yet another division series failure.
You would think the Nationals would be interested in Girardi. Same for the Phillies, who had reportedly been zeroing in on Triple-A manager Dusty Wathan – the catcher and heart-and-soul player from the Bisons' 2004 Governors' Cup champions.
You wonder if the Mets now have buyer's remorse about their admittedly interesting decision to make Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway a first-time manager. Just two days after hiring him, Girardi becomes available? A move from the Bronx to Queens would have been a back-page bonanza, and you know the Amazins' would have loved to have taken some of that pub – as well as a manager with a proven record of success.
And what do Derek Jeter & Co. do down in Miami? There's been no indication they're ditching Don Mattingly but does Girardi's sudden unemployment change their thinking at all? Girardi stayed loyal to Jeter through the end of his career in 2014, long past the point where his effectiveness at shortstop was worthy of his spot in the lineup. Jeter undoubtedly remembers.
If that happens, does Mattingly become a candidate in the Bronx? You would surely think so.
Girardi might also take a year or two off. He's only 53 and would be a top candidate for jobs next year, or whenever he wanted to return.
Assuming things stay quiet in Miami, what do the Yankees do now? Maybe they elevate bench coach Rob Thomson or first base coach Tony Pena, the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer who managed in Kansas City. They could go to Mets hitting coach Kevin Long, who did the same job for many years in the Bronx. They could turn to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre manager Al Pedrique, the ex-Bisons shortstop who groomed many of their young players.
Whoever gets the job will take over a primo post. The Yankees are poised to get No. 28 someday soon. It just wont be on Girardi's watch.
Thank you, Joe. My career wouldn't have been the same without you. It was a privilege. pic.twitter.com/BbF94Hn7tI
— David Robertson (@DRob30) October 26, 2017