Hands off works well for winning managers
David LennonDavid Lennon
David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since
The Yankees believe they know what Joe Girardi is worth. The Cubs probably have a good idea, too. But determining the value of a manager to a franchise often depends on where you're sitting -- either on the dugout bench or behind a desk upstairs in the front office.
Even guys who appear to do the job well speak in nebulous terms about the impact they have. Regardless of what they say, perception tends to be reality: A playoff berth makes you a good manager; a losing record means you're a lousy one.
"That's always an interesting question,'' the Rays' Joe Maddon said during Thursday's workout at Fenway Park. "It's a great argument and discussion.''
Maddon is widely considered one of the best managers for squeezing every penny's worth of performance from tiny-market Tampa Bay, an attendance-starved team that annually ranks at the bottom in payroll. But it wouldn't be possible without a brilliant front office, led by general manager Andrew Friedman, that thrives on bucking the big-money trends and feeds into Maddon's counterculture vibe.
"For me, my main objective is to help to organize the day,'' Maddon said, "and then -- I mean this sincerely -- stay out of the way during the game as much as I can.''
During that same conversation, Maddon explained his pitching moves from the previous night's wild-card win over the Indians and referred to those changes as "interfering'' with starter Alex Cobb and the relievers who followed him.
We doubt that Girardi views mound visits in quite the same fashion as does Maddon. In the end, it's all about the plan with Girardi. But Maddon did touch on one important aspect in which the two managers are similar: bringing an element of stability to an ever-changing game.
Just as the Rays are constantly pressed into rotating their higher-priced budding stars for the next generation of cheap talent -- the most recent example being James Shields for Wil Myers last offseason -- Girardi was forced to integrate 56 players into what ultimately turned out to be a failed playoff push.
As the Yankees evolve into the post-Core Four era, Girardi's presence will become even more critical, and that's something Maddon understands.
"I tell myself to be consistent,'' Maddon said. "Be consistent. Be consistent. When I walk in the door, I don't want my players to have any surprises about me and my comportment on a daily basis. I think it's an organized mind. I think it's a consistent mind that players glom on to. They like the consistency.''
So does the front office, which is why the Yankees seem willing to do everything but hand Girardi a blank check to get him to return. Brian Cashman wasted no time sitting down with Girardi the day after the team returned from Houston and then had lunch with his agent, Steve Mandell, on Wednesday in hopes of expediting the process.
Girardi is a known quantity, one who has succeeded in the Bronx as a player and manager. That is a very rare commodity -- not easily replaced.
Look at what happened with the Red Sox from the end of the 2011 season. They dumped two-time World Series winner Terry Francona and replaced him with the volatile Bobby Valentine, who presided over a 93-loss season that Jon Lester described Thursday as "horrendous all the way around.''
Enter John Farrell, the former Red Sox pitching coach who was welcomed back to Fenway like a conquering hero after a .475 winning percentage (154-170) during his two seasons as the Blue Jays' manager. In what felt like overnight, Boston suddenly was transformed into a 97-win club.
As Farrell emphasized, there were significant roster upgrades, courtesy of GM Ben Cherington. But being the anti-Valentine seems to have worked for Farrell, whose best attribute might be just staying out of the way.
"What we set out to do was to make the game every night the focal point,'' Farrell said. "I know that's a very simplistic approach. But if our energies and our focus was geared toward that, I felt like everything else would fall into place.''
Kind of what Girardi has done in the Bronx, the only baseball workplace as turbulent as Yawkey Way.
Some may try to downplay the manager as a difference-maker. But there is a tendency to not fully appreciate someone until he's gone.