While it seems that Joe Girardi was playing only five seasons ago, the current Yankees skipper has not played a game since 2003. A managerial veteran (1 year with the Florida Marlins in 2006, going into his 7th consecutive year in the Bronx), Girardi has led the team to a 2009 World Series title and a .580 win percentage during the regular season from 2008 onwards. Despite his managerial accolades, he is still viewed as only slightly better than average when compared to his peers. His critics would chalk up his early championship to exorbitant payroll spending. They would say Girardi has coasted off of Sabathia, Teixiera, Jeter, and Rivera among other star players. To some extent, they are correct. Girardi is the Erik Spoelstra of baseball. For those not familiar with basketball, Spoelstra is the Miami Heat basketball coach who inherited both Lebron James and Chris Bosh, en route to 3 NBA Finals trips.
But to really capture his legacy, one has to start with the inception of his baseball career. Drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the 1986 draft, he debuted as a catcher in 1989, playing in 50 games. After four mediocre seasons in the Windy City, Girardi was drafted again by the Colorado Rockies in the expansion draft. After three seasons as a starting catcher (and one postseason appearance), Girardi was shipped to the Yankees for pitcher Mike Dejean before the 1996 season. Continuing to start, he not only handled a multitude of pitchers well during his four Big Apple years, but contributed to three World Series titles and mentoring Jorge Posada for future greatness. After the 1999 season, Girardi returned to Chicago, where he would be a 2000 All-Star. He played with Chicago until 2002, and played 16 games with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003 before finishing his 15-year career as a backstop. He played in 1277 games, accumulated 1100 hits, and caught David Cone‘s perfect game in 1999.
After his dependable career, Girardi went to the broadcasting booth in 2004. He was a part of broadcasts on both YES and FOX, while also hosting Yankees On Deck on YES until 2007. He did managerial work in between, winning Manager Of The Year in 2006, but was fired by fickle owner Jeffrey Loria. Additionally, Girardi acted as a bench coach under Joe Torre in 2005.
His chance to head the Yankees finally arrived when Torre declined a pay cut in the Bronx and instead chose to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008. In his first season, but Yankee Stadium’s last, Girardi let the team to an 89-73 finish, yet the team failed to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 1994. In 2009, the Yankees spent over $400 million dollars on Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and others in an eventual 103-win regular season, and World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. For the next four seasons, Girardi and the Yanks went to the playoffs, but were bounced before the final round in each year. Last season, an injury-plagued lineup missed the playoffs again.
Heading into this season, a fresh, brand-new season, 2014 will be a barometer for Girardi’s career. With all the new pickups this offseason, Girardi must handle this team well; otherwise his pundits will be after him. They will characterize his managerial career similarly to his playing career; better than most, but not outstanding. Personally, as a Yankees fan, I not only want the team to succeed, but also for Girardi to receive the credit he deserves. No matter how much money a roster is worth, any force needs a leader. If Girardi at the helm leads to another World Series appearance, then he is hands down a top 5 manager in the MLB. If it doesn’t… then this season may be his last in pinstripes.