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Yankees Manager Joe Girardi is playing it cool

The guy who succeeded Joe Torre in New York relaxed his regimented style, and the Yankees are now the first team in either league to clinch a playoff berth.

September 23, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN

Joe Girardi was not calling to ask whether he should take the job. He already had decided he would take it.

He was not calling for advice. He knew what the job entailed, or at least he thought he did.

He was simply calling out of courtesy. The nasty divorce between Joe Torre and the New York Yankees finally had played itself out -- irreconcilable differences, to be sure -- and the Yankees had invited Girardi to succeed Torre as their manager.

Girardi played for Torre in New York, with three World Series rings to show for it. He coached for Torre. And now, as Girardi told his old boss on the telephone, he would replace Torre.

"In a way, I almost wanted his blessing," Girardi said. "It's like what you'd want from your father."

Like father, like son: Girardi and the Yankees celebrated Tuesday, becoming the first team in either league to clinch a playoff berth.

"I'm very proud of what he's done," Torre said. "I feel very close to him, and I'm very pleased for him."

Baseball works in mysterious ways.

The Dodgers wanted to hire Girardi two years ago, so desperately that they offered him the job before they got around to excusing Grady Little.

Girardi turned down the Dodgers, then beat out Don Mattingly for the Yankees' job. The Dodgers audibled to Torre, who brought Mattingly with him to L.A.

Torre had managed the Yankees for 12 years, with playoffs every year. Frank McCourt tossed a disgraced and subsidized Manny Ramirez into the clubhouse of a .500 team last year, and Torre got the Dodgers to the playoffs too.

This did not go unnoticed in New York. Girardi did not get the Yankees into the playoffs -- an accomplishment too many New Yorkers consider an unalienable right -- and the reviews were not kind.

"In New York, it's so easy to get off the track when you're considering someone else's opinion all the time," Torre said. "So you really have to have some self-worth to fight your way through that stuff. Joey is that guy."

You have to have even more self-worth to take some of the criticism to heart rather than fight all of it, especially after you pointedly chose to wear No. 27 to signify the Yankees' next championship.

Torre had no greater strength than his remarkable patience and flexibility in dealing with his players and the media.

Girardi wore a crew cut, and the accompanying stereotype fit.

"I'm a very regimented guy," he said. "I like everything planned out. I realized I couldn't do that.

"You can do all the budgeting you want, but there's always something unexpected."

In spring training, when media relations director Jason Zillo stopped by the manager's office with suggestions on how to better handle the media, Girardi pulled a legal pad out of a desk drawer. He had prepared his own list over the winter.

Girardi also got a better handle on which players need a regular day off, which ones respond to an encouraging word, which ones ought to be left alone. He canceled spring drills one day and sent the players to a pool hall, to laugh and bond and develop trust in one another.

He had to develop that trust too.

"He's backed off a little bit from being quite so hands-on," pitcher Andy Pettitte said. "He's letting the coaches do a little more, and he's a little more relaxed."

You would be too, if your bosses spent $180 million on Mark Teixeira and $161 million on CC Sabathia.

"I thought Joe was great last year," outfielder Johnny Damon said. "We definitely have a much better team. That's No. 1."

Yet, five weeks into the season, the Yankees were two games under .500 and 6 1/2 games out of first place. If there were much more of that, there might not have been much more of Girardi.

"It would have been devastating for him," Torre said, "especially with the pieces that they added."

Alex Rodriguez came off the disabled list, Teixeira started to rock, the Yankees started to roll.

The Dodgers are rolling once again. Mattingly, who might otherwise have replaced Girardi in New York, might now replace Torre in L.A.

Not just yet. The Dodgers could get to the World Series. The Angels? That would be fun. The Red Sox? That would be too little baseball, too much of a morality play about Ramirez.

The Yankees? Bring on the blessed.


Times staff writer Dylan Hernandez contributed to this report from Washington.

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