As of press time, the question of New York Yankees Manager Joe Torre’s fate remains an open one. General Manager Brian Cashman said that he expects the process to take several days. Owner George Steinbrenner had no comment. And late Tuesday, the Yankees’ media relations department said no press conference had been scheduled.
Still, when an owner known for firing managers (as Steinbrenner is—he fired Billy Martin a record five times) issues an ultimatum of win a series or else, it is assumed that Torre’s failure to lead the Yankees past the Indians in the ALDS will end his tenure with the club.
But two prominent names currently floating around, Joe Girardi and Don Mattingly, are only partially known quantities. And hovering beyond the insular Yankee world is Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa, a high-profile choice with World Series titles—who just might set the team back for years. Ultimately, any of these choices represents a downgrade from Joe Torre.
Of the two familiar New York faces, Joe Girardi has the managerial experience. He spent a season running the Florida Marlins, winning Manager of the Year in the process. So at first glance, his perfect record, and his work behind the plate for three championship seasons for the Yankees make him a near-ideal replacement for Torre.
But by the time Girardi had won the award, he was already a former manager. The Marlins fired him after a very public spat between Girardi and owner Jeffrey Loria. Reportedly, Girardi felt Loria was too meddlesome, and when he publicly took exception to it, Loria decided to let him go at season’s end.
If Girardi felt that Loria overstepped his bounds, what might he make of working under George Steinbrenner?
It is also worth noting that Girardi’s team, the 2006 Marlins, was almost entirely without veterans. Every offensive starter, the top five starting pitchers, and three of the five most important bullpen arms were under the age of 27. Girardi’s ability to motivate veterans—essentially the reason behind axing Torre in the first place—is a complete unknown. Girardi’s only experience with that kind of team was his season as Yankees’ bench coach—under Torre.
Mattingly, meanwhile, earned raves for his three years as New York’s hitting coach. The Yankees scored 897, 886 and 930 runs in his three seasons as batting advisor. Of course, they scored 968 this year under the tutelage of Kevin Long, but it is hard to argue that Mattingly’s coaching did anything but help the Yankee hitters.
He spent 2007 as bench coach in New York. Without other managerial experience, this would serve as the primary background in strategy he’d bring to the table. By all accounts Mattingly is a bright baseball mind, but he’d be entering the job without Torre’s experience or knowledge from years of managing. How this represents an upgrade over Torre is hard to fathom.
La Russa is another story. He does not have a contract, and St. Louis is currently waiting somewhat impatiently for his answer. La Russa’s five pennants and two World Series titles are appealing from a resume standpoint. Among active managers, no one has more—other than Joe Torre.
But while Torre is praised for his demeanor on and off the field, La Russa is, well, not. There’s his difficulty handling the St. Louis media—a town renowned for its laid back, always-supportive fan base has somehow rubbed La Russa the wrong way. There’s La Russa’s tendency to try the unconventional, then get angered over second-guessing. Sound like a good fit for New York?
The job calls for balancing the egos of multiple superstars. La Russa failed to use his superstar first baseman Albert Pujols in the 2007 All Star Game, costing the National League a chance for arguably the league’s best hitter to bat with the bases loaded in the final inning, and angering his best player in the process. He has had a public spat over several years with third baseman Scott Rolen, who, when healthy, is probably his second-best player.