HOUSTON — The surprising end of Joe Girardi’s 10-year run at the Yankees’ helm raised questions about how a manager who finishes one win short of a second World Series berth could be dismissed with such clarity by general manager Brian Cashman.
Girardi is a good manager. He compiled a career .562 winning percentage with the Yankees and secured their 27th world championship, so there’s no disputing that. But there were parts of the job that the Yankees felt he could be better at. Those deficiencies mostly involved his dealings with the clubhouse, especially the heralded Baby Bombers — those already here and others on the way.
With Girardi’s contract up, changing managers gives Cashman the opportunity to upgrade in that area, to look for a more personable candidate who can help foster a winning cooperation with the front office. But what is the correct balance between clubhouse disciplinarian and supportive father figure?
To gain some perspective, we pitched the question to the two World Series managers, the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts and the Astros’ A.J. Hinch, both of whom were hired within the last three years and are considered among the top of their profession. Roberts’ team won 104 games during the regular season and Hinch’s crew won 101, and despite a wide disparity in payrolls — the Dodgers cost $242 million this year, the Astros $124 million — the principles are similar.
Relating to players in today’s game might be more important now than it’s ever been, and Girardi’s detachment, or lack of emphasis in that department, seems to have hastened his exit. The Yankees need this next generation of talented youngsters to be expertly handled through their maturation, both on and off the field.
“I think the thing I learned about that was from Clint Hurdle,” Roberts said, referring to the current Pirates manager. “He said that the three things players want to know is, can they trust you, do you care about them and can you make them better. If you can strive for those three things, then you have a chance to get a player — to make them better.”
Like Roberts, and Girardi for that matter, Hinch is a former major-league player, so he has experienced this relationship from both sides. The Astros rely heavily on analytics in their baseball operations, as do the Dodgers and Yankees, so being able to incorporate that data into his own decisions is critical for Hinch, who described his role as the “human touch” at the on-field end of that organizational command chain.
“My job is to tie it all together and make it work,” Hinch said. “Obviously, we all have a role in this, but again, what I’ve witnessed in this organization from behind the scenes is how much passion the front office has in what they believe in and what they’re doing. And we’re combining [the front office’s passion] to have one message, one synergy that goes from front office to the manager, the coaching staff, to the players. It’s all driven out of the will to win.”
Charlie Morton, who will start Saturday’s Game 4 for the Astros, recalled how Hinch took him out for breakfast the day after the righthander signed his two-year, $14-million contract last November. Morton was new to Houston, coming over from the Phillies, so what seems like a little thing actually can leave a lasting impression.
“That was really awesome for me,” Morton said. “I didn’t expect that. I never really experienced anything like that. It was nice. He’s trying to make everybody feel like they’re part of the club.”
The personal stuff comes easier for some managers, and it appears the Yankees may value that more this time around. Trying to find the right balance, however, is the challenge.
“Sometimes I encourage, sometimes I can be pretty critical on what they need to do to get better, but I’ll always be me,” Hinch said. “And I’ll always be consistent and I’ll always have their back. And that’s the relationship I expect. It’s the relationship we have.
“The players have to buy into what I’m saying in order for it to work. And I’ve been proud of the relationships I’ve built. They’re not going to be perfect, but they’re going to be real.”
That’s something the Yankees will be aiming for in their next manager.