To manage the New York Yankees isn't just about filling out a lineup card or knowing when to change the pitcher. That stuff shouldn't be underestimated, because Yankees managers who screw up that stuff will last about 12 seconds.
But the usual stuff is only a small part of the challenge of managing the most famous and successful sports franchise on earth. It's the rest of the job that a lot of guys can't hack.
Frankly, managing the Yankees isn't for everyone.Those of us who've covered the game awhile have seen what the pressure of managing the Yankees has done to a few men.
Some of them came close to cracking as they were bombarded from all sides. First, there was George Steinbrenner, arguably the most demanding owner in the history of professional sports. He would threaten. He would cajole. He would demand changes. Sometimes, he'd even telephone the dugout with his, uh, suggestions.
Lou Piniella once sat in his office in the wee hours after he'd been rehired and spoke optimistically.
"George has given me his word it's going to be different this time," Piniella said. "He's not going to interfere."
Lou, please. Were you born yesterday? Within weeks, Piniella's optimism had gone away, and pretty soon so had he.
And then in 1996, Steinbrenner hired a man named Joe Torre. He was a retread manager, having been shown the door by the Mets, Braves and Cardinals. No one, and I mean no one, thought Torre would become one of the great Yankees managers of all time.
Torre would be the first to point out that all those great players were the biggest reason he won four World Series championships. He would be flat wrong about this, because Torre did something almost no other Yankees manager had done during the Steinbrenner years.
He managed the owner as much as he managed the players. He took Steinbrenner's calls. He calmed him down. He dealt with the bluster and stood his ground. His real contribution was normalizing the atmosphere around the club.
He kept the noise out of the clubhouse, the noise of the active media and the noise of the active owner and all the rest. He simply allowed the players to be players. People now will say that the job became easier as Steinbrenner faded from view.
That's true to an extent, but the bottom line is that managing the Yankees is unlike any other job in sports. It's still about keeping the noise out in the hallway. It's about keeping your cool even when each day brings a barrage of questions and second-guessing and all the rest. It's about taking a group of players from all backgrounds, players with huge egos and many of them with huge paychecks, and getting them to focus on a singular goal.
Six years ago, Joe Girardi was the perfect choice to replace Torre. To successfully manage the Yankees, one has to be consistent and honest and at times blunt in dealing with players. Girardi has succeeded brilliantly.
Meanwhile, there's managing the media. Girardi has yet to utter a single memorable quote, and that's a good thing. He's accessible and polite and upbeat. He allows reporters to see only the public face of a man who believes in his players, a man who deals with the particular pleasures and pains of working on baseball's biggest stage.
Girardi is as prepared as any manager in the game. Fans sometimes criticize him for constantly consulting The Binder, but that's ridiculous criticism. Girardi's use of The Binder simply means he has a reason for doing what he does. Rather than go with a hunch, he consults the available data and makes a decision.
As a baseball executive said the other day, "When NASA is launching a rocket, does it go with hunches? Or does it make decisions based on the best available data?"
He added that baseball teams are now billion-dollar businesses, and billion-dollar businesses should not tolerate leadership that thinks gathering information is a bad thing.
One of Girardi's strengths is being open to all the information provided for him. His other strength is his consistency and honesty in dealing with players. He appears not to have a buddy-buddy relationship with them, but that's not important. Rather, he treats them with respect. He tells them that every decision he makes is what he believes is in the best interest of the New York Yankees.
General manager Brian Cashman has a lot of work to do this offseason with the Yankees, but his re-signing of his manager takes care of the biggest thing on his check list. In Girardi, the Yankees have one of baseball's best on the job, and the 2013 season might have been his finest hour as a manager.
He kept an undermanned club in contention until the final days of the regular season. He kept his club pointed in the right direction despite the distraction that was Alex Rodriguez and an astonishingly long injury list.
With Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte retiring and with Derek Jeter's future uncertain, the Yankees haven't had so many holes in over a decade. But the manager's job is filled nicely by Joe Girardi. No team in baseball has a better one. To sign him for four more seasons might be the smartest move Cashman makes this offseason.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less