Girardi Finally Takes The Wheel

Shaun McGannContributor ISeptember 25, 2009

NEW YORK - JULY 19:  New York Yankee manager Joe Girardi is introduced during the teams 63rd Old Timers Day before the game against the Detroit Tigers on July 19, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)


The Yankees clinched a playoff spot this week after the great drought of 2008 that turned legions of their fans into panic-stricken piles of mush, screaming things towards the heavens like: "Why Us?" and "How Long Must We Wait?"

So now, after an impressive run, Joe Girardi's Yankees will spend the last weeks of the season trying to swat away the Red Sox from the pennant and getting themselves ready for their October debut.

The mandate of course is nothing less than a World Series title, and while the Yankees are a stacked team on paper that doesn't guarantee any kind of success. Names like Giambi, Mussina, Brown, Johnson, and as of right now Rodriguez have brought countless of their own unique nightmares to the Bronx, but zero titles.

And maybe this year will prove to be more of the same, maybe their winter spending sprees should produce 95+ win seasons but no real evidence of moving past the first round. Maybe Joe Girardi's job is as easy as filling out his lineup card and hoping his band of millionaires slap around the other team.

However, no matter how far the Yankees go this year, they have, if nothing else become Joe Girardi's team. Last season was essentially a year that justified Joe Torre. You could almost feel Torre's gaze from Los Angeles as he guided the Dodgers to October, saying: "See, it's not so easy is it?" So Girardi decided to loosen up a bit this year and the team quickly followed his lead.

Additions like Sabathia, Burnett and Swisher certainly do their part on the field, but the effect they have on the team's personality is what seems to be changing these Yankees from the steely-corporate machine it was during the Torre-era and while Girardi doesn't come off as the kind of guy who would smash a pie in your face, he's smart enough to let his players do it because that's their personality.

Aside from the fact that they actually seem to be having fun, some of the mainstays seem to be changing roles. Mark Texiara has become the most feared element in the Yankee lineup while A-Rod has dealt with an injury, Kate Hudson, and that pesky steroids issue. Derek Jeter, since catching Lou Gehrig's Yankee hit record, has officially crossed over from being the face of the team to an elder-statesman. His game, especially defensively, has picked up over last season, and while he is surely still the standard for the clubhouse, he, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite and their robotic intensity so closely identified with Torre's teams is no longer the defining characteristic of the New York Yankees. This is, finally, Girardi's team, and for now, they seem to be having fun.