Gotta call bullshit on Joel Sherman’s suggestion that Joe Girardi could consider the soon-to-be-vacant Cubs managerial position upon Lou Piniella’s retirement at the end of this season:
Joe Girardi’s free agency be came a little more interesting yesterday when Lou Piniella announced his retirement as Cubs manager, effective at the conclusion of the season.
It had been assumed for a while that this would be Piniella’s final season as Cubs manager, especially because this year has gone so horribly wrong for the team. But now it is definitive that Chicago will be looking for a new manager, and there is little doubt Girardi would be near the top of any dream list. In fact, he might be the front-runner.
However, like the Yankees’ other prominent free agents — Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera — the assumption has been that the Yanks will want Girardi back, and what the Yanks want they almost always get.
But Cliff Lee did slip from their grasp, and it should be remembered that Girardi still has strong ties to both Chicago and the Cubs; the team is now owned by the Ricketts family, and word around baseball is that the new ownership is planning to spend big on the team, including on a manager if necessary; and don’t forget that Girardi described the Yankees as his “dream” job after the 2007 season, but kept negotiating with the Dodgers even after the Yanks made an offer, as a way to gain a better contract.
Translation: The Cubs will at least give Girardi leverage if he wants.
At NYMag.com, Will Leitch notes that Girardi has ties to the city and the franchise:
First off, there’s the obvious: Girardi grew up in Peoria, Illinois, went to Northwestern, met his wife there, and still has ties to the community of Evanston. The north side of Chicago is Girardi’s home turf, essentially, and the Cubs are to the north side of Chicago what the Yankees are to New York City as a whole: the company in a company town. You can be assured that at get-togethers among the extended family, he’s been having the “When you gonna come manage the Cubbies?” conversation for years.
He also has history with the Cubs franchise. He played for the Cubs on two separate occasions: The first time he actually played in the 1989 National League Championship series loss to the Giants, and the second time, at the end of his career, was marked mostly by announcing to the Wrigley Field crowd that the day’s Cardinals-Cubs game would be canceled because of “a death in the Cardinals family.” (It was the day Darryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room.) He even has broadcasting history with the team: He was on the ESPN Radio microphone the night of the Steve Bartman game.
Leitch also argues that Girardi’s quality of life would likely to improve upon returning to the midwest, and that he could be a hero if he were able to pilot the Cubs to their first World Series since 1908. Hasn’t that siren call lured managers such as Piniella and Dusty Baker to their doom?
As intentionally provocative as all of this may be, the real problem I have with accepting this boils down to one thing: there’s no recent precedent for a Yankees manager voluntarily leaving his post for another job. Joe Torre? No, he was lowballed in a contract deal, and then the Dodgers pounced upon him instead of Girardi, their initial choice. Buck Showalter? Fired. Stump Merrill? Fired. Bucky Dent, Dallas Green, Piniella, Billy Marin, Yogi Berra, Bob Lemon, Gene Michael, Dick Howser, Clyde King, Bill Virdon… all fired.
The closest precedent would appear to be Ralph Houk, who resigned at the end of the 1973 season due to the constant booing of Yankee fans (who hadn’t seen a winner since 1964) and conflicts with George Steinbrenner, who had purchased the team earlier in the year. He had piloted the team to an 80-82 record — many of the aforementioned were whacked for worse — and then resurfaced the next spring as the Tigers manager, taking over a team that had finished in third place with an 85-77 record and piloting them all the way to 72-90 the following year.
Even there, the parallel breaks down. Houk was departing a team that hadn’t finished in first place since 1964, the year Yogi Berra managed the Yankees to the pennant, only to be canned when the Yankees lost a thrilling seven-game World Series; the hatchet man on that hit was Houk himself, who had moved up to the team’s GM position the year before. Before that, the closest parallel is Joe McCarthy, who after 15 full seasons, eight pennants and seven world championships walked away early in the 1946 season rather than work with Larry MacPhail, who was a few loose lugnuts short of a tire change; McCarthy’s own drinking was said to be a factor as well. In any event, he didn’t resurface until 1948 with the Red Sox. (Thanks to Steve Goldman for a lively recap of the Yankees’ mid-century managerial follies.)
Girardi could end up as the Cubs manager next year, but the only scenario via which that’s likely to happen is if the Yankees fire him or decide they don’t want him to return, and there’s nothing right now to suggest that the manager who helped break their championship drought and who thus far this year has piloted them to the majors’ best record is in any danger of that happening. That’s without even considering the fact that the Cubs are in disarray right now, hamstrung by bad contracts and a weak farm system, having not won a World Series in 102 years. So no, I’m not buying it. Move along, nothing to see here, folks…