Along the way, a person hatched the idea that being the New York Yankees’ manager was the most difficult job in the land. The validity of this statement was at its peak back when George Steinbrenner was at his feistiest. Nowadays the job experience seems different in the Bronx. There is such a thing as job security, even after a “down” season. One couldn’t tell by the reaction to Joe Girardi’s three-year extension.
Girardi is not the game’s best tactician. He makes mistakes like every other manager in the world. He also makes his share of good decisions while receiving more blame on various non-decisions than he should – not pinch hitting for Lance Berkman with Austin Kearns comes to mind. Evaluating just how good Girardi is presents itself as a nearly impossible feat for an outsider. Even if he is only average tactically, there are other aspects of a manager’s job that need to be taken into account. The two flaws that Girardi’s detractors seem to be railing upon right now are: 1) he uses a binder during games to make decisions; 2) he failed to replicate Joe Torre’s early success.
Pretend for a moment that Girardi’s binder contains information about platoon splits and the basic rundown of data that a manager should be equipped with for in-game decisions. Whether this is the case or not is unbeknown to outsiders, but just pretend. Is there any downside to a manager having the information on hand with which to consult? Perhaps if the information itself is trivial or useless (i.e. how batters fared versus lefties over the last week or on Sundays), then Girardi is hurting the club, otherwise it’s hard to think of a downside.
Assuming that is not the case, the mocking of Girardi’s binder highlights the weird juxtaposition of the media’s treatment toward baseball managers who use information and prep work and their football counterparts who absorb film and schemes. Using numbers does not make Girardi a great manager, but it also does not make him a nincompoop. If he acknowledges that his gut and experience in the game does not hold all of the game’s answers, then he might be more self-aware and conscious than quite a few of his managing counterparts.
The ghost chasing aspect involved in the Girardi hate is equally weird. Torre’s first three seasons as Yankees’ manager included two World Series titles and regular season win totals of 92, 96, and 114. Girardi’s Bombers have only won a lone World Series and 89, 103, and 95 games. Torre is a better manager by that analysis, right? Well, no, because there are so many other variables in play that a direct comparison requires a lot more context.
But if the above analysis is believed to be true, then Jim Tracy deserves a ton of credit. Tracy’s first three seasons as Dodgers’ manager were also his first three as a manager at the Major League level, meaning he was a total novice. Yet those three seasons actually resulted in more wins than Torre’s first three seasons with the Dodgers. Not a soul out there claiming Girardi is inferior to Torre would be as bold in proclamation that Tracy is superior to Torre – and why should they? Rosters change, other teams change, luck changes, and even managers themselves change.
Evaluating managers is difficult, and whether Girardi is worth the money is probably beyond our analytical means. That he looks at a binder and is not his predecessor should not factor into the equation.