We don’t much like to admit it, but during Joe Torre’s long, successful tenure as the Yankees’ manager, most of us developed a deep respect for him. He was calm amid the typical Yankee typhoons of drama, deflected nonsense from his players consistently and gracefully, and rarely let the media hype around a moment change his style. At first, I grudgingly tipped my cap to him only because he drove Old Man Steinbrenner crazy — Torre was like a wise old cat snoozing in a sunbeam, just out of reach of the tied-up mongrel in a frothing, purple-tongued rage, and it was reliably hilarious. I was disappointed Steinbrenner never gave in to his worst impulses and tore down everything Torre and Gene Michael and Brian Cashman built, but if I had to endure the Yankees ruling the baseball world, at least they had a decent man in charge, who made their owner look petty and foolish so often.
Honestly, it’s like that with an annoying number of the Yankees — I find them irritatingly hard to loathe as players and people, and so have to hate them as proxies for their legions of braying, self-entitled fans. As human beings, it’s difficult to hate Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher. Except for the uniform and what they do while wearing it, it’s hard to even dislike them. OK, there’s A-Rod — but A-Rod is such a narcissistic child that mostly we just point and laugh.
But then there’s Joe Girardi. To steal an old joke, Will Rogers never met Joe Girardi.
First there’s the frantic overmanaging, which could embarrass Tony La Russa. Did Girardi really need to use seven pitchers tonight — including Mariano Rivera with the game not in serious jeopardy? And if you’re using pitchers like Lotto cards, with the Yanks up 4-1 with one out in the eighth, why use Boone Logan to bunt? Logan was coming out of the game anyway (Chris Dickerson took over his spot in the batting order), so why not send a real hitter to the plate and refuse to give up an out? I’m open to an answer beyond “it gave Girardi a chance to be DOING SOMETHING!!!!”
Then there’s the choice of uniform numbers. Girardi taking 27 as a statement of his fiery desire to win that hungered-for 27th World Championship was unctuous enough — the baseball equivalent of the new middle manager who shows up at a weekend corporate retreat in war paint, high-fiving everyone so hard that their palms sting for hours and relentlessly sketching human pyramids on cocktail napkins while only having mineral water. But then, having proved himself, Girardi showed up for the next spring training wearing 28. What part of “Dude, calm the fuck down already” does this man not understand?
It’s not an easy gig being Yankees manager — totally get that. And Girardi has an impossible act to follow in Torre — the Yankees could clone a chimera of John McGraw and Casey Stengel and even he probably wouldn’t win six pennants in 10 years. Totally get that too. Joe Girardi isn’t Joe Torre, and that isn’t his fault. But since we all know this, can’t he stop seeking out every opportunity to leg-hump management, wear out a perfectly good ballclub and otherwise call attention to himself? He’s won the highest-profile job in baseball and earned a World Series ring while in office; a little dignity would go nicely with those things.
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What’s that? The game?
Well, much like Joe Girardi, it was relentlessly irritating. The Mets hit and fielded in just enough bad luck, made just enough mistakes and were just overanxious enough to come up short. Jon Niese looked too amped in the first, Angel Pagan looked too amped with the bases loaded and the game possibly in the balance, and Jose Reyes looked too amped trying to grab third with Carlos Beltran coming up behind him. Though how about Jerry Layne being a little more amped so that he’s not out of position on that call, falling for an admittedly good sales job on a phantom tag by A-Rod? (And that pitch on the outside corner to righties shouldn’t fluctuate randomly between “ball” and “strike.”)
While we’re at it, a couple of weeks ago I was grimly certain that Jeter would return for this series and collect his 3,000th hit in front of us, after which the Wilpons would stop the game to give him first base as a memento. That didn’t happen, but Eduardo Nunez sure reminded me to be careful what you wish for.
There’s nothing disastrous about dropping a game to Justin Verlander and the Tigers and then coming up short against the Yankees; the Mets continue to put together good at-bats, make adjustments and play hard for every out, which should yield positive results more often than not. But yeah, it sucks when the letdown comes with a record crowd in the seats and the Yankees in the other dugout. Particularly that guy wearing whatever number it is next.