Don’t Shed Any Tears For Joe Girardi Just Yet
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The reasoning behind almost all decisions made in baseball, from whether a team signs a star free agent to whether a manager pinch-hits for a veteran star, can be explained easily one of two ways: The game is a meritocracy, so success is rewarded, and just about everything that can’t be explained as a reward for success can be chalked up to someone covering their rear. Genius, stupidity, irrational loyalty, and every other human condition are on display in baseball, as in any other context, but mostly it’s people either doing what makes sense or doing what makes no sense in an effort to avoid looking bad.
All of this makes the current situation in Miami extraordinarily unusual. Joe Girardi, who was considered even as a young player to be one of the brightest managerial prospects in the game, was brought in last fall after a short stint as the Yankees’ bench coach. The team promptly traded away Carlos Delgado, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and Juan Pierre, among others, and saw A.J. Burnett fly to Toronto as a free agent.The maveuvers brought the Marlins’ payroll down to $15 million and put Girardi in something of an awkward spot, as the team he was managing was suddenly not the team he had agreed to manage. He somewhat unconvincingly insisted that the Marlins’ fire sale had not come as a surprise, and that he was enthusiastic about training a young team; pundits predicted a miserable season.
The Marlins got off to a pretty miserable start — their record after two months was 17–34, and things looked bleak despite the fine play of rookies like Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez. But then, of course, they started playing some great baseball — from June 1 to August 31 they went 48–34, edging into the wild-card race and shocking the baseball world. This month an unimpressive 11–13 record has knocked them out of contention, but 76–81 is far, far better than anyone possibly could have expected out of a team that started the season relying on pseudo-prospects like Uggla and Josh Willingham.
Meanwhile, Girardi seems a good bet to win Manager of the Year in his first year at the helm. He’s also a near sure bet to be fired at the end of the season.
How to explain this? In baseball, success is almost always rewarded, and Girardi has been very successful by any measure. The second law explaining baseball decisions doesn’t help, either; covering up one’s mistakes may explain something like the reluctance of Cubs brass to fire manager Dusty Baker despite his giving them every reason to drop the axe, but it sure doesn’t explain Giraradi’s situation. In fact, whatever the Marlins’ gripes with Girardi, they’re exposing themselves to brutal criticism if they do fire him, and sunny public relations if they don’t.
Assuming the Marlins’ chieftains aren’t insane (which is possible) or insanely stupid (they have a lot of rings and a lot of money), they must have some reason for what they’re doing. What might it be?
The storm of leaks and counterleaks coming out of Florida is more like something out of Washington than anything we usually see in baseball, but the stories, as they can be pieced together, make a fair amount of sense. Girardi doesn’t feel like he has the full control of the team that a manager needs to be successful; he feels betrayed that the team didn’t go out and get some veteran help for a young club that really had no business contending; and he thinks owner Jeffrey Loria, who’s given to doing things like yelling at the umpires from his owner’s box, and damaging the team’s chances on the field, is a braying jerk.
Management seems to feel that Girardi is, like most managers, a cipher, and that the team is successful because it has superb scouting that’s identified players like Uggla and a superb general manager, Larry Beinfest, who can acquire such players cheaply. Girardi is said not to even be on speaking terms with Beinfest. In such a situation, one of the two has to go, and it’s not going to be the guy with a World Series ring on his finger who can put together a decent ballclub for $15 million.
The various reported incidents along the lines of Girardi yelling at Loria to stop baiting umps (which actually led to Girardi being fired before Loria changed his mind) can’t help, but teams don’t fire managers over things like that.
Looked at this way, both parties might have valid complaints, but the Marlins’ seem a lot more valid. If Girardi feels the general manager is being overbearing by insisting, for instance, on certain players being used at certain positions, isn’t that just too bad for him? Yankee pedigree or no, he’s a rookie manager for one of the best-managed franchise in the game, a team that’s always more successful than it should be and is owned by someone who’s willing to run in the red when he has a shot at a championship and to play young, cheap talent when he doesn’t.
Miami isn’t Florida or Kansas City, and if Girardi can’t get along in a successful system, he’s the problem. In this light, Loria and Beinfest not only aren’t the interfering busybodies they’ve been painted as, they’re admirably decisive leaders who, on determining that the manager isn’t a good fit, completely disregard the moans of columnists and the fans who don’t come out to the park even when the team’s winning.
This is, of course, just one way of looking at the whole affair, the truth of which is really hard to tell between all the rumors, self-serving leaks, spin, and hoofraw that’s surrounded it. There are other ways of looking at it, more flattering to Girardi. I can say this much: I’m sure that no matter who’s managing the Marlins next year, they’re going to be a decent team. I’m not sure that the team Girardi manages will be any good. Baseball is all about success, and those who succeed get to write the rules. Even a shiny Manager of the Year plaque doesn’t change that.