When Yankees principal owner, Hal Steinbrenner, sits down with Brian Cashman to ponder the fate of their manager, they only need to recall one event that took place over this long season to determine his value to the team.
Yankees manager, Joe Girardi, has a quality which defines his managerial style and it often leaves him wide open for criticism. Joe Girardi believes in his players, and he’ll stick with them, no matter what. Nowhere has that quality been seen more than in his handling of Gary Sanchez this season.
Managing a group of 25 men of all races, nationalities, creeds, backgrounds, and varying egos over the course of a 162 game six-month regular season is not an easy job. Each player has his “thing” that makes him tick, and it’s your job to find and maximize it.
Typically, your veterans are the easiest to manage, but they can be cranky at times and set in their ways which are not necessarily your ways.
But it’s with the young talent where a manager earns his keep. Molding, guiding, prodding, and sometimes riding a player become essential during a player’s development years. Which brings to mind why Derek Jeter, to this day, still refers to Joe Torre as Mr. Torre.
And while it’s doubtful that Gary Sanchez will ever be heard referring to his manager as Mr. Girardi, there is a bond developing between them. Tough love is what they call it in some environments. And Girardi has evidently been giving Sanchez a lot of “love” lately.
In truth though, all Girardi did was to give Sanchez a kick in the butt, both publicly and privately, and one he deserved. Sanchez not only looked lazy behind the plate, but he was lazy, and it was evident to anyone watching Yankees games.
Yankees reaping the benefits
But it was Sanchez himself who crossed the bridge, accepting the criticism, determining that he would get better. Now, it appears to be working on Sanchez, a player who is essential to the success of the Yankees.
His new work ethic was particularly evident last night when he caught Sonny Gray, who can’t even tell you the pitches he throws or how they will break when they reach the plate.
But you could see the difference in the way Sanchez took pride in not just blocking balls in the dirt, but catching them, even when there was no one on base. In short, he was in the game all the way.
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Noticeably, his offense has picked up as well, especially in the power department. His 21st home run of the season came off Jacob deGrom, The Mets best and one of the top five pitchers in the National League and maybe all of baseball.
It’s not the end of the story, but it surely is a new beginning. Catching is the hardest position on the diamond. You are in every play and pitch. Full concentration is required on every pitch called and received. To boot, a catcher bats four or five times a game where everything becomes backward with the need to battle and not direct the pitcher.
Occasionally, as with Girardi himself when he caught during the late Nineties run for the Yankees, offense contribution is not needed and therefore not stressed. But with this Yankees team, Sanchez is an integral part of the offense.
Sanchez may never go down in the baseball history books as one of the greatest defensive catchers of all-time. And the Yankees don’t need him to be that catcher. All they need is for him to be steady and reliable behind the plate, improving with time and experience each year.
And while Sanchez will always be acknowledged by fans for the home runs he hits and the run production he induces, his manager and teammates know better in appreciating the job he does in calling a game, guiding his pitching staff, and most of all for putting his body in the line of fire when blocking errant, but necessary, balls thrown intentionally in the dirt.
As he proved last season, Sanchez is the guy who can carry the Yankees on his back. Now would the perfect time to do it again.