By the end, Joe Girardi may have delivered his best season as Yankees manager, eclipsing the 2009 World Series crown — a title they were supposed to win — by getting to Game 7 of the ALCS, a feat that no one possibly could have anticipated.
Along the way, Girardi even cracked the door a tiny bit in showing a more emotional side, dispensing the boilerplate responses for what could pass for sincere feelings, occasionally tearing up during his final week, perhaps sensing what awaited him upon elimination.
There had been a noticeable difference in Girardi this season. He was slightly more engaging, and there was an improved connection with those used to dealing with him on a daily basis. In others, the glimmer hardly would have been recognized. For Girardi, though, the effort was calculable.
But here’s the thing: It evidently was too little, too late. After 10 years, the Yankees arrived at the window they were looking for with Girardi’s contract due to expire at the end of this month, and they made the determination that this was the ceiling for him. At 53, Girardi is who he is, and that apparently wasn’t going to fit the Yankees’ new vision, a future powered by the next wave of young players, and they preferred that any generation gap not grow wider.
This was always a potential outcome involving Girardi’s relationship with the Yankees, just not one that we figured on. It seemed more likely that Girardi, feeling burned out, might choose to walk away on his own. Or that negotiations for a contract extension would collapse when he sought an increase from his $4-million salary.
There was, of course, a third option. That’s what went down Thursday morning, when Girardi, in an email, flat-out said the Yankees “decided not to bring me back” — despite his desire to return — with Brian Cashman following up an hour later with a statement that basically confirmed it.
“I want to thank Joe for his 10 years of hard work and service to this organization,” Cashman said. “Everything this organization does is done with careful and thorough consideration, and we’ve decided to pursue alternatives for the managerial position.”
Every manager and coach, no matter how successful, has an expiration date. These are not Supreme Court appointees. Still, we believed that Girardi had another three, possibly four years left in the Bronx, certainly sufficient time to get the Yankees to title No. 28, and maybe a few more.
Girardi didn’t have the grandfatherly touch of Joe Torre, but we felt maintaining the line between player and manager, a cool detachment that makes sure things don’t get too cozy in the clubhouse, had been working.
Did Girardi get along with his players? Enough, and some more than others. Being known for a quick hook is not going to endear a manager to members of his rotation, that’s for sure. And interaction on a personal level seemed to be in short supply.
Toward the end of the regular season, I asked a few players what they liked about Girardi as a manager, expecting the usual stuff about having their backs, or trust, or fostering a winning attitude.
To my surprise, there was none of that. The most enthusiastic response came from someone who respected Girardi “as a family guy” and appreciated that he allowed players’ kids in the clubhouse. It also was worth noting that Todd Frazier, who had been a Yankee for only 2 1⁄2 months, was Girardi’s strongest supporter after the managerial debacle that was Game 2 of the ALDS, saying after they ousted the Indians, “This one’s for Joe.” None of the other Yankees pushed that narrative, and in retrospect, that now seems telling.
Whatever his faults, we can’t just strip Girardi of any credit for what the Yankees accomplished during his decade-long tenure, right through this final year. Girardi finished with a .562 winning percentage, and his 910 regular-season wins rank sixth in franchise history.
But this wasn’t about Girardi’s resume, or even his competence as one of the smartest, most prepared managers in the game. This is a landmark moment for the franchise, with a potentially new Core Four in place — Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Luis Severino — plus even more stud prospects on the horizon. Along with this continuing reboot, Cashman saw the opportunity for a fresh voice to help nurture this prized group, a character trait the Yankees didn’t see in Girardi.
After 10 years, the Yankees knew what they had in him, and that wasn’t going to be what they wanted. Not anymore.