Girardi succeeds despite following no ordinary Joe
Manager carving place in Yankees' lore after replacing Hall of Famer Torre
TAMPA, Fla. -- One Joe is waiting to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, and the other is beginning his seventh season as manager of the Yankees with a wildly different cast and revamped roster.
But no doubt, Joe Torre and Joe Girardi made their individual impact on the Yankees, combining to guide clubs to five of New York's 27 World Series victories.
"There are more similarities between the two than differences," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told MLB.com behind the batting cage on Tuesday morning, as the Bombers worked out at George Steinbrenner Field. "They both love people. They both have huge hearts. They both had great careers as players. They know the game."
And the differences?
"There definitely are some, but both approaches work," Cashman said. "Torre was an amazing communicator, trying to be in touch with each individual player. Girardi is an intense preparer. I just think Girardi is more in tune with that new-age area of statistical stuff. [Torre] wasn't. But they each found their way to success. It really comes down to the players we give both that make or break their win-loss record."
Torre rode the era of the Core Five -- Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Bernie Williams -- to four World Series titles in five years from 1996-2000, and additional American League pennants in 2001 and '03. The manager said his 12 years with the Yankees, his 1,173-767 record and .605 winning percentage, are the simple reasons why he will be inducted on July 27 in Cooperstown, N.Y., alongside fellow skippers Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa, pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas.
"If it wasn't for the Yankees, I wouldn't have been where I am, in the Hall of Fame or even seriously considered for the Hall of Fame," said Torre, who had a total of three other playoff appearances in 17 years managing the Mets, Braves, Cardinals and Dodgers.
When Torre left New York in 2007 after 12 consecutive trips to the postseason, it was because the Yankees offered to extend his contract for only a single season at a much lower base salary along with playoff bonuses. But Cashman was certainly ready to hire a manager more attuned to the Sabermetric approach made famous by Oakland general manager Billy Beane earlier in that decade. Torre, now Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, finished his managerial career in 2010 after three years of guiding the Dodgers.
Asked if a manager could survive in the Majors today without taking that Sabermetric approach, Cashman said:
"No, I don't think so. Today's manager, you need to be prepared like anything else. You need to be willing to utilize the valuable information sitting there right in front of you. If you don't, you're just hurting yourself and you're just relying on luck."
Girardi, who recently signed a four-year contract extension, has a chance to manage in pinstripes as long as Torre. In his six seasons in New York, Girardi is 564-408 with a .580 winning percentage and a World Series title in 2009, the year the Yankees added free agents CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett to the Core Four -- that original group sans Williams.
The Core has all retired around Girardi, with Derek Jeter having just announced that this will be his last season. It is a team in transition, with the Yankees again having opened the vault to sign $486 million in players this past offseason.
Torre's tree of managers -- guys who coached for him with the Yankees -- currently includes Girardi and Don Mattingly with the Dodgers. Willie Randolph and Lee Mazzilli have also been there and done that. But Girardi, who also played for Torre, is the one who followed him on the Yankees. And to be sure, Girardi always had his hands full replacing one of the great managers of the media in sports history.
"I think any manager that you follow, it's important that you do it your own way," Girardi said on Tuesday about the initial transition. "That was the first thing Joe told me. But obviously there was a ton of success here and there was an expectation here. It was important to me to carry on that success and expectation. In that way, it was a little bit difficult. But Joe made it easier because of some of the discussions that we had."
"It was tough for the fact that there were a lot of questions to be answered," Cashman added. "And thankfully, over a two-year period, Joe Girardi was able to deliver a championship. When you're following someone who had as much success as Joe Torre had, it's no different than [David] Robertson following Mariano Rivera right now. It's just an extra to deal with in the biggest media market. It was an adjustment with the players and the media. You'll never find anyone better than Torre to deal with the press, and you'll find no one with a better resume.
"Anybody trying to follow that, it's an impossible job. So I think the transition was tough for Joe Girardi to establish who he was in the shadow of Joe Torre."
That shadow will be cast even longer when Torre takes the stage behind the Clark Sports Center and is presented with the plaque that will remain in the red-bricked museum on Main Street long after this coming ceremony. To that end, Cashman has already toasted Torre, drinking champagne with the Yankees brass after the announcement of his selection, along with Cox and La Russa by the Post-Expansion Committee, at the Winter Meetings in nearby Lake Buena Vista this past December.
In doing so, Cashman reminded Torre of a decision he made in 1996 that impacted both men.
"I gave a speech and reminded everybody that he was such a great decision-maker, he was actually offered the job as the Yankees GM, not the manager, and he turned it down," Cashman said. "And then about three weeks later, he came back and interviewed for the manager's job after they made [Bob] Watson the GM. His career path would have been a lot different, but he was smart enough to turn the GM job down. It was a Hall of Fame call."
That call worked out well for Cashman. Eventually, Cashman replaced Watson and Girardi replaced Torre. And the two Joes have their place in Yankees history.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.