September 4, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi (28) comes out of the dugout to talk with umpire Tony Randazzo (11) after the top of the fourth inning ended against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
Joe Girardi replaced a legend, in Joe Torre, who had gone from Clueless Joe to possible Hall of Famer in his dozen years as manager of the New York Yankees. While Torre's team never missed the playoffs, Girardi broke the string of 13 consecutive years of postseason play for the Yankees in his first season. And with the recent swoon going on with his team, they might miss out once again. If they do become this year's version of the 2011 Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves, completing a meltdown of epic proportions, should Girardi be the fall guy?
Yes, Girardi led his team to a World Series title in his second season, something Torre himself couldn't do in his final seven seasons with the Bombers, but has he ever really gotten the most out of his players, gotten them to overachieve? We don't know yet how this season will play out, but in his first four years as Yankee manager three of them have ended in disappointment. We know Girardi is powerless to get Robinson Cano to make it look like he's at least pretending to try, and the team has been riddled with injuries, but it's not many teams that can plug in a Rafael Soriano as a closer or an Eric Chavez, Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez as replacements in the starting lineup. And this is when a manager should make a difference, pull his team together and come up bigger than the individual names in the lineup -- don't wait for the cavalry to show up because it may be too late by then.
While it's good that the Yankees have consistently stated that they won't panic, their slide has been going on for a quarter of the season now. Since July 18, when they had a 10-game lead, they've gone 19-25. And Nick Swisher is running out of material -- "If you told me in spring training, we'd have a three-game lead in the beginning of September, I'd sign up for that"; "If you told me in spring training, we'd have a two-game lead in the beginning of September, I'd sign up for that"; "If you told me in spring training, we'd have a one-game lead in the beginning of September, I'd sign up for that."
The Yankees don't have the wild card to fall back on either. Well, they do, but it's a one-game-and-you're-out scenario now, which no team wants to find themselves in. The Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland A's are all neck-and-neck with the Yankees. And at least one of those teams will be sitting on the sidelines in October.
If the Yankees melt down, choke or whatever you want to call it, who should take the blame? Girardi? His in-game decision-making isn't exactly Billy Martin-like, and he's an adamant believer in his infamous binder, but his ability to push the right buttons for his team has been missing the past few months. Or should Brian Cashman take the brunt of the criticism? There should be no excuses with a $200 million payroll. Of course, the players are the ones on the field, so we can point to them as well.
Hal Steinbrenner is a lot more patient and level-headed than his father, so the odds are Girardi will be back next season no matter what the outcome. But George Steinbrenner was not averse to panicking. He would most likely have already replaced Girardi with Bob Lemon -- if they both weren't dead.