Girardi dissected as Yankees try for Series title
When Joe Girardi left the dugout every few minutes to switch relievers against the Angels, some wondered whether he was getting paid per pitching change. When he left slumping Nick Swisher in the lineup, he was criticized. When he put in a pinch runner for Alex Rodriguez, his judgment was questioned. Now, his decision to go with a three-man rotation in the World Series is hotly debated. In a sport filled with second-guessing, no one is analyzed more than the manager of the New York Yankees. Especially the manager who succeeded Joe Torre. "Anything involving the Yankees is going to be scrutinized, is going to be looked upon, is going to be dissected," team president Randy Levine said Wednesday. "In any position such as that, it takes time to really feel comfortable. And it took Joe very little time." From his very first day in spring training last year, it was clear Girardi's Yankees would be different from Torre's, the shift not only in generations but in style. Instead of holding a cup of green tea, Girardi gripped a banana. Instead of a Daily Racing Form on his desk, there was a silver Blackberry, a black ThinkPad laptop, sunflower seeds and a health drink. His crew cut gave him a no-nonsense appearance, and he kept to a schedule with the precise punctuality of the German train system. And yet there was some letting loose, too. He threw a little batting practice - to 8-year-old daughter Serena, who followed with a cartwheel, and 6-year-old Dante, who then put on the catcher's gear. Lena Girardi, then just 17 months old, toddled around in a blue batting helmet. There were growing pains for dad throughout 2008, especially as the Yankees faded from contention and their streak of consecutive playoff appearances ended at 13. Reporters felt he withheld information, especially about injuries. Torre became a beloved figure when he managed the Yankees to four World Series titles from 1996-00, deflecting criticism with his stories of Bob Gibson and the good ol' days. Even though he failed to win another championship during his final seven seasons, Torre left a huge shadow that Girardi stepped into. "I think it would have been somewhat difficult for any manager to do, because he was here for so long - the relationships that he had with the players, the media, with everyone involved. Obviously, I understood that going in," Girardi said when spring training began this year. "It wasn't going to be easy to replace him. I never tried to replace him. I just tried to be myself." As they ran wind sprints on hot Florida mornings, players quickly noticed the shift. "He's going to be a little tougher on us than we got it in the past," catcher Jorge Posada said. Girardi was voted NL Manager of the Year in 2006, receiving the honor after the Florida Marlins fired him following his only season. Despite keeping a team with 22 rookies in contention until September, he didn't get along with owner Jeffrey Loria. "You learn a lot about people. You learn a lot about how to wear different hats, what relationships mean and the importance of doing everything in your willpower to get the most out of your players, no matter what it really takes," Girardi said. A catcher who won three titles with Torre's Yankees from 1996-99, Girardi beat out Don Mattingly to become Torre's successor two years ago. Unlike Torre, he doesn't face daily criticism from owner George Steinbrenner, whose role has diminished in recent years as his health has declined. "How I would have handled the pressure, I can't tell you, because I was never in his shoes," Girardi said. "I think for me, pressures always came from within, because I want it really bad. I want it for the organization, I want it for Mr. Steinbrenner and his family, and I want it for the guys in that room." And in the playoffs, the glare has intensified, especially following losses to the Angels and Phillies. "YOU BETTER BE RIGHT," the back page headline of the Daily News read Wednesday, referring to his three-man rotation. "That pretty much happens a lot here in New York during the regular season, as well, so you get kind of used to it," he said before Game 6. "The interesting thing about what people were calling second guessing that I've always thought is curious is they don't know if their idea would have worked." In at least one way, Girardi admits the Philadelphia Phillies have his number. When he became manager, Girardi took uniform No. 27, putting the quest for the Yankees' 27th title right on his back. He had worn No. 25 as a player with the Yankees and manager of the Marlins, and No. 52 as a New York coach (Jason Giambi had No. 25 at the time). If the Yankees win the World Series, will he switch over the No. 28, last used by Shelley Duncan late in the season? "I really haven't thought a whole lot about that. I'm sure my kids would have recommendations what my uniform number should be," Girardi said. "I don't like to think too far ahead." There has been some sadness along the path. His father Jerry was diagnosed with Alzheimer's more than a decade ago and the two, who shared clubhouse celebrations in Joe's playing days, haven't really been able to celebrate together his achievements thus far as the successor of Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel. He's not sure his dad is even aware he's managing in the World Series. "I got a few words out of him," Joe Girardi said. "There's a glimmer of hope."