Girardi following in famed footsteps

Girardi following in famed footsteps

NEW YORK -- When Joe Girardi fills out his first lineup card on Opening Day 2008, he will become just the third manager the Yankees have employed in 17 seasons -- a remarkable feat considering the turnover that once plagued that post.

During George Steinbrenner's run as principal owner, "The Boss" was never shy about hiring and firing -- and often re-hiring, in Billy Martin's case -- managers at will.

Calmer times have prevailed of late, and with Girardi officially accepting the position on Tuesday -- agreeing to a three-year contract that locks him up through 2010 -- he follows Buck Showalter and Joe Torre as the only men to manage the Yankees since 1992.

Over that span the Yankees have enjoyed remarkable highs and relatively few lows, winning four World Series titles, securing six American League pennants and appearing in 13 consecutive postseasons. That string -- and its accompanying expectations -- will be inherited by Girardi and loom large over his first season at the helm.

Though senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner has spoken of having "patience" with his new manager, stating that he is not inheriting what he called the ready-to-win 1996 Yankees, the organizational goal of the club -- October or bust -- remains intact.

Girardi is the 32nd manager in the organization's rich history and the 17th ex-Yankee to manage the club, preceded by assemblages of players who have secured 26 World Series championships and 39 AL pennants.

The annals of the franchise's past provide large shoes to fill. Of the 31 previous managers, a select five -- Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, Ralph Houk and Torre -- led the Yankees to more than one World Series title. McCarthy and Stengel hold the club high, with seven rings each.

Huggins, a sure-handed infielder for Cincinnati and St. Louis, was the first manager to win a World Series for the Yankees, guiding them to the 1923 title over the New York Giants after being hired away from the Cardinals by principal owner Jacob Ruppert.

Nicknamed "Mighty Mite," Huggins had fortunate timing -- his Yankees, assembled by general manager Ed Barrow, featured sluggers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, Earle Combs and Tony Lazzeri on their way to six pennants and three World Series titles. The 1927 club is debated to be one of the finest teams ever. Huggins managed the Yankees until his death in September 1929, finishing his career with 1,067 victories and a .597 winning percentage.

McCarthy is the winningest manager in team history, piloting the club to 1,460 victories and a .627 winning percentage from 1931 through 1946, when the Yankees won eight pennants and seven World Series titles.

Hired a year after Huggins' passing, McCarthy helped solidify the team with a low-key management style that would later be compared with Torre's, keeping such star players as Ruth in check and productive on the field. During McCarthy's run, the Yankees also endured Gehrig's illness and death.

Stengel took over the club in 1949, a surprising choice to some given his previous reputation as a not-so-serious-minded outfielder with a number of teams and in different cities.

But "The Ol' Perfessor" made his most lasting mark in New York, presiding over Joe DiMaggio's final games and ushering a new era in which rosters featuring Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Phil Rizzuto and others brought 10 pennants and seven World Series titles to the city.

Owning the third-winningest tenure of any Yankees manager, compiling a .623 winning percentage, Stengel's 1,149 victories stood as second-best in franchise history until Torre finally edged him in 2007.

Houk, a backup catcher over those championship years, took over for Stengel on a full-time basis after the Bombers fell to the Pirates in the 1960 Fall Classic -- Bill Mazeroski's home run soaring over Berra's head at Forbes Field and effectively ending Stengel's run.

Houk assumed a club that was powered in 1961 by the epic chase involving Mantle and Roger Maris, both in pursuit of Ruth's single-season home run record of 60. Houk's Yankees rolled over the Reds in five games for the title, then outlasted the 1962 Giants in a thrilling seven-game Series, which ended when Willie McCovey lined out to second baseman Bobby Richardson.

The Yankees made it back to the World Series in 1963 but fell to the Dodgers, and the popular Houk moved on to the front office to oversee stints by Berra and Johnny Keane. Houk would be back in the dugout by 1966, but the Yankees couldn't regain their once-dominant touch, ushering in a darker era of fortunes as dynasty players aged.

In the more recent view -- and, not coincidentally, concurrent with the senior Steinbrenner's rule after the 1973 purchase from CBS -- the managerial position has been even more of a turbulent one.

Television audiences were re-introduced to the raucous nature of Martin's first run with the Yankees through the ESPN miniseries "The Bronx is Burning" this summer, a tenure so fiery that when the Yankees repeated in 1978 by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games, Martin had already departed his post, as the soothing Bob Lemon coaxed the Yankees on to victory.

That wouldn't be the last New York saw of Martin, whose love-hate relationship with Steinbrenner often simmered to the surface and provided reams of copy to appreciative sportswriters. Martin returned in 1979 but was soon dismissed again after fighting a marshmallow salesman in Minneapolis.

Dick Howser guided the Yankees to 103 wins in 1980. The Yankees won the division but were swept by Kansas City in the playoffs, and Howser was let go.

Martin reappeared for the 1983, 1985 and 1988 campaigns but never lasted more than one full season. His hot-tempered style couldn't stave off a dark period, one the Yankees will certainly make every effort to avoid.

Smitten by big-name free agents and often plagued by underwhelming on-field play, the Yankees saw their emphasis on player development wane as the club fell into a dry period, allowing such candidates as one-game playoff hero Bucky Dent (36-53 in 1989-90), Dallas Green (56-65 in 1989), Clyde King (29-33 in 1982) and Stump Merrill (120-155 in 1990-91) to fill out lineup cards.

Even the franchise's most lovable character, Berra, was dismissed 16 games into the 1985 career. Holding a grudge, Berra vowed never to return to Yankee Stadium, a long chill that would not thaw until the late 1990s.

Such turmoil was one of the major reasons that team captain Don Mattingly waited out a 14-year career in pinstripes before making his first and only postseason appearance. Aided by the introduction of the Wild Card, Mattingly finally had the opportunity to play on an October stage, but his Yankees, piloted by Showalter, fell to the Seattle Mariners in the 1995 AL Division Series.

Torre's well-chronicled run of success began the next season, and though he entered to initial skepticism -- the New York Daily News headline "Clueless Joe" has become club lore -- he proved to have the right touch for a team ready to compete.

The Yankees won four World Series in Torre's first five seasons and reached the Fall Classic twice over his next seven years, only needing to use the Wild Card in 2007 after overcoming an early 21-29 start that placed Torre's job security in immediate question.

The next man to assume the office at the end of the long, dark runway leading to the dugout will have to deal with those situations as well, provided with a roster that figures to see some transition over the next few seasons.

Mixing in younger talent in midseason, Torre was able to at least get the Yankees to the dance, though his four-game loss at the hands of the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series essentially sealed his exit.

Torre would later remark that he had never expected to remain in the manager's seat for as long as he did, enjoying a 12-year run that will be smiled upon as fondly as any of his predecessors.

Managing the Yankees, to Torre, was never a right but a privilege -- one that could, and in a way, would, eventually be taken away at any time.

The mission statement is clear. Now it will be Girardi's turn to show what he can do.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.