11/18/09 3:05 PM EST
Girardi third in AL Manager of the Year race
Second year on job, Yanks' skipper gets four first-place votes
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
The second-year Yanks skipper did not win the American League Manager of the Year Award -- that honor, revealed Wednesday by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, went to Mike Scioscia of the Angels. But Girardi did finish third, and he did silence so many of his critics along the way.
There was the time in the AL Championship Series when he replaced David Robertson, who had pitched quite well in both the game and the series, with Alfredo Aceves with two outs and the bases empty in extra innings -- remember that? Crushed in the media after that decision, Girardi rebounded to guide the Yankees to the World Series anyway.
Then there was the controversial decision to use only three starters in the postseason. By the time Game 6 of the World Series rolled around, after A.J. Burnett was shelled on short rest in Game 5, Girardi had taken immense amounts of heat for his machinations. But the bats came alive, Andy Pettitte won Game 6 and Girardi's idea suddenly transformed into genius.
This was the same man who, two years ago, marched into his managerial interview with a stack of books and a clear idea of how he wanted to attack the position. Girardi was going to do things his way, whether or not it was popular.
And so he did. And he won -- first 103 regular-season games and then the World Series title.
That Girardi, with four first-place votes and 34 total points, finished third in AL Manager of the Year voting behind Scioscia (15 first-place votes, 106 points) and Ron Gardenhire of the Twins (six first-place votes, 72 points) ultimately meant little. It is exceedingly difficult for the manager of a high-payroll team to take home postseason hardware, and just as difficult for a 100-win manager to do it -- no one has done so since Lou Piniella with the Mariners in 2001.
When Girardi won the National League Manager of the Year Award in 2006 with the Marlins, his team finished fourth and won just 78 games. His job then was far different than his job now.
This year, Girardi's main preseason obstacles included integrating three high-priced free agents into an existing clubhouse culture and keeping an aging roster healthy. CC Sabathia helped him out with the first challenge, taking teammates out to Orlando Magic games during Spring Training and helping ease the transition for fellow free agents Burnett and Mark Teixeira.
The second issue was trickier. Once Alex Rodriguez returned from right hip surgery in May, Girardi not only had to keep his superstar slugger rested and healthy, but he had to flick aside any distractions left from Rodriguez's Spring Training admission to steroid use.
Moreover, Girardi had to make sure Hideki Matsui's knees, Johnny Damon's hamstrings and Jorge Posada's right shoulder all held up throughout the grind of a 162-game schedule, swapping those three and Rodriguez in and out of the lineup's designated-hitter slot.
In Matsui's case, Girardi forbade the 35-year-old from playing a single inning in the outfield, benching him for nine consecutive games during Interleague Play and then again for the three World Series games at Citizens Bank Park. The extra rest seemed to play well for Matsui, who went on a tear in late June before winning the World Series MVP Award in November.
Along the way, Girardi said constantly, he also grew as a person. No longer evasive around the media, Girardi began to better understand the challenges of managing in the country's biggest market. And so in a job in which standards are higher, Girardi began to thrive.
"I think you grow from all experiences, whether they're bad experiences or good experiences," he said during the World Series, referring to the criticism he took for guiding the Yankees to a third-place finish in 2008, the first time that they missed the playoffs since 1993. "I wouldn't necessarily consider last year a bad experience. It was an experience that I got a chance to be the Yankee manager and I learned a lot."
That means something in the eyes of voters. Perhaps it didn't mean as much as guiding a team past the death of a player, as Scioscia did, or as coaxing a playoff run out of a $65 million club, as Gardenhire did -- but it meant something nonetheless. Girardi survived the criticism, he crunched the numbers and he succeeded. Certainly, there's substance to that.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.