We’ve been able to tell for some time that Joe Girardi knew he was going to again manage in the Major Leagues next season.
You could sense it from his cryptic responses regarding his future during his time as an analyst; always smiling, his relaxed and light-hearted tone exuding self-confidence. He knew his time was coming soon. He was telling us without telling us.
And when he resigned as manager of USA Baseball, the team that will attempt to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan, a job he had coveted, the conjecture was all but over.
The only thing we didn’t know was where he’d end up, maybe the Mets, perhaps the Cubs. Then on Tuesday we found out for sure. He’s the new manager of the Phillies. Not Buck Showalter or Dusty Baker.
Some fans think the Phillies hit a home run by signing Bryce Harper. From a public relations and marketing standpoint, that was certainly the case. Their fans were Phanatical about him. But from a purely baseball point of view? Not so much.
Nobody in the game is more overpaid than Harper and if the Phillies win a World Series or two before Harper’s deal ends in 12 years, it will be because they were able to build a team around him – not specifically because of him.
But the hiring of Girardi is much different. He is a difference-maker.
These days, Major League teams seem more intent finding needles in a haystack, young savants with more promise than experience, willing to be molded by the front office rather than independently driven.
This was not the kind of manager the Phillies needed after two years under Gabe Kapler. The Phillies needed a veteran with a track record of success, a guy accustomed to handling veterans, adept at dealing with young players, in tune with how to run a bullpen.
And now the Phillies have their guy, military crew cut and all.
“I’m well aware of the passion for the great game of baseball here,” said Girardi. “I’ve lived it as a player and as a manager. I know the importance of winning here. I had a chance to compete against a great team with Charlie Manuel here in 2009 (in the World Series) and it was a great place to come watch a game. The passionate fans of the Phillies were great – they were not easy to play against – and I want it to be that way for many years to come.”
Some say players can be inspired by playing for certain teams, that their level or production is higher in a Yankees or Dodgers uniform because of their history and track record for greatness.
The same can be said for playing for a great manager. In a clutch situation, during times of crisis, who rather would you rather have making out the lineup card or dealing with the daily media interrogation? Kapler or Girardi?
“One way to establish respect, obviously, is your credibility, your track record,” said Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins. “He has one of the best out there, and we’re excited to be a part of that.”
Girardi comes to New York after managing the Yankees for 10 years after taking over for Joe Torre following the 2007 season. Under Girardi, the Yankees won their 27th world championship in 2009 by beating the Phillies.
They also won 910 games, the sixth-most wins by a manager in team history. Girardi won at least 84 each season in New York with four seasons at 95 or more. He led the Yankees to three American League East titles and six postseason appearances.
“Having had 10 years in a big market in New York like Joe did with a World Series and six playoff appearances, his résumé really speaks for itself,” said general manager Matt Klentak. “But beyond that, I can tell you when we talk to people about Joe, people that he’s known in his career, people that he’s worked with, the players that have played for him, to a man or a person, every one of them would begin that conversation talking about what a good person.
“I think when you’re making a hire like this, it’s a pretty good move to bet on a quality individual, and I really think we’re getting one of the best.”
Before he managed the Yankees, he spent one season (2006) leading the Marlins to a 78-84 record, an accomplishment so profound he was selected National League manager of the year. No one else has ever won that award with a losing team. But he left the organization in a huff because of conflicts with the front office and ownership.
Since winning their fifth straight NL East title in 2011, the Phillies have not had a winning season. They have moved from Manuel to Ryne Sandberg to Pete Mackanin to Kapler. Nothing has worked.
Now comes Girardi. Know this about him: He can be a dependent on analytics as anyone else in the game. If you watched him when he managed the Yankees, you constantly saw his nose buried in prepared notes, no doubt highlighted in different colored markers.
But what makes him different, what will eventually work to the Phillies benefit, is he’s been around the game for so long he instinctively will know how to mesh the math with his instincts. And the players will trust that judgment.
“A lot of people say I’m extremely intense. Yeah, that might be right. I’m focused. I’m focused on the job always at hand,” said Girardi.
When the Phillies signed Harper they hoped they could win. By hiring Girardi, they have guaranteed it’s now possible.