When the NY Yankees were searching for a replacement for Joe Torre after the 2007 season, the choice was ultimately between Don Mattingly and Joe Girardi. It's probable that there was never really a field of candidates any larger than the two mentioned, however in the end Mattingly and Girardi were the two most talked about and truly viable candidates.
Fast forward several years and it turns out that both of these men are managing at the big-league level, Mattingly having taken over for Joe Torre in Los Angeles and Girardi, of course, managing in New York with the 2009 title already in hand.
While it is impossible to know what the Yankees would have accomplished with Mattingly at the helm, it can be said with certainty that each of these managers have earned a modicum of respect within the sport. Girardi, with his 2009 ring, three postseason appearances and two division titles, has essentially accomplished what was expected of him when he took over the reigns, though it should be noted that it's hard to underachieve when you manage a team with All-Stars at many positions and at least two first-ballot Hall-of-Famers on your squad. Its even harder if you're Joe Girardi, the type of manager that is likely never further than a sunflower-seed discharge away from his stat book.
Mattingly, for his part, did a lot with a little in his first full season as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, especially considering that every player on that team knew very well that the organization wouldn't be doing anything to improve itself over the course of the year due to the bitter battle going on in the owners' box. Though the team did lose its division by over 11 games, it was just 7.5 games off the Wild Card pace, a result that was not anticipated heading into the season.
For different reasons, then, and in different ways, it appears that the New York Yankees would have been well-served regardless of which candidate they went with in the end. Both are respected for their wisdom, their individual work ethic and their integrity as men. With that said, however, the next Yankee manager needs to be Tino Martinez.
Now, it's understandable if you're asking yourself just how we got to the point of even discussing the next Yankee manager when the current Yankee manager is under contract and not in any way in jeopardy of losing his job. Let's just say, then, that it never hurts to plan ahead.
Additionally, there is in truth legitimate reason to call into question Joe Girardi's decision-making as a manager. The fact is that many of his choices towards the end of the 2011 regular season and into the playoffs can be justifiably questioned, and also directly linked to the failure of the Yankees to make it past the first round.
Specifically, how is that it is now an acceptable practice to essentially sit your entire regular lineup for the majority of the final series of the year, against a division rival trying to gain entry into the postseason, no less?
Additionally, when your team is struggling to score runs consistently in the playoffs, is it not the manager's direct responsibility to make adjustments to his lineup to compensate?
Perhaps most glaring, how is that the decision was not made to pinch hit for Russell Martin with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning, bases loaded and a righty pitcher on the mound in the deciding game of the ALDS?
That last example might seem a bit too specific, however what is a manager paid to do if not make critical, in-game match-up choices that could ultimately decide the fate of the season? The opportunity to hit for Martin was there, and several options existed. Had the Yankees tied the game or gone ahead they would have had Montero to step in to catch, not the optimal choice by any means but a far better circumstance than going home before round two.
Regarding the decision to sit much of his lineup for the final few games of the regular season, as pointed out in an earlier article in this space (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/870782-yankees-take-early-vacation-in-tampa-go-north-losers-of-four-straight) Girardi's choice to do so resulted in the club losing three straight to Tampa and four overall heading into the postseason.
It is forgotten now, of course; however, it should be pointed out that the Yankees were winners of six of seven prior to Girardi sending the regulars on vacation for those final games. Despite nagging injuries to key players, the Yankees should have fielded a representative lineup for those last few games, and there is no justification whatsoever for Alex Rodriguez sitting the final game altogether considering he had just 68 AB's since returning from his knee injury. If he was going to play in the postseason he could have survived a regular turn in the lineup over those final four games. As it was, Rodriguez played in just two of the final four games and saw just eight at-bats overall.
Tactically, in addition to the decision not to pinch-hit for Martin in Game 5, Girardi was exposed during the Detroit series in a number of ways. Whereas Jim Leyland saw his team's offensive struggles as an opportunity to adjust, Girardi stuck with a lineup that had tremendous holes in it from the cleanup through sixth slots.
This is not to suggest that Girardi should have sat Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira, the cleanup and five hitters respectively, but does logic dictate that he should have stayed with Nick Swisher as his sixth hitter throughout the series? Swisher's troubles in the postseason are well-documented, of course, and with Posada on a tear for the entire series would it not have made sense to swap the two in the lineup?
Additionally, would the world have stopped spinning if Rodriguez, for instance, was moved ahead of Robinson Cano in the lineup? Cano was on fire, he was and is the team's best hitter, and with him as protection for Rodriguez perhaps the Yankee third baseman sees a higher quality pitch on occasion. Teixeira, hitting behind Rodriguez for the playoffs, had been all but impotent as a lefty hitter for much of the season and so there was never any reason for Detroit to challenge Rodriguez. The move of Cano to the third slot effectively neutered Rodriguez, and it's a manager's job to be able to recognize and react to such a reality.
In the end, Yankee observers are more than likely split on the merits of Girardi, of course. He is not the genius he was made out to be nor is he a bumbling fool making a mockery of his profession. He is, in the end, a modern-day manager who relies perhaps too heavily at times on situational research and who does not distinguish himself from his peers in any significant manner.
Tino Martinez, meanwhile, currently holds the title of Special Assistant to the General Manager, and Yankee fans should only hope that the actual duties associated with the job are as lofty as the title itself suggests. If Martinez is indeed in the pipeline for more responsibility internally, and not merely window dressing to honor the teams of the 1990's, then the Yankee organization has quietly made a shrewd investment in their collective future.
It is shrewd because, above all other players, it was Tino Martinez that ran those Yankee teams in the mid-to-late late 1990's. Paul O'Neill was the fiery one, and a major influencer in his own right, but Martinez was the shop steward, foreman, confessor and drill sergeant all rolled into one. Additionally, it is no small coincidence that Derek Jeter was named Captain of the team in 2003, two years after Martinez had departed.
If you're ever curious as to just how influential Tino Martinez was during his stay with the Yankees, a story relayed by Derek Jeter years ago should put things into clear perspective.
Jeter, in discussing the structure and identity of those Yankee teams, made it clear that, upon returning to the dugout after making a mental error, the one person he feared making eye contact with most was Tino Martinez. Not Joe Torre, Don Zimmer, Mel Stottlemeyer, Bernie Williams, Player Representative David Cone, borderline-'psychotic Roger Clemens or the aforementioned, exceedingly passionate O'Neill. It was Tino Martinez who held those players accountable, who made sure they stayed sharp and respected the game.
It's difficult to say with certainty what kind of tactician Tino Martinez would make as a manager, of course, and there are no guarantees, really, that he would even be interested in the job to begin with. With that said, though, it's perhaps more difficult imagining that Tino Martinez would be anything less than stellar at anything he endeavored to try.
Martinez is the guy you want on your side, whether you're sitting in a dugout or a foxhole, really. He made the best Yankee teams of the past 40 years better just by glancing at his teammates a certain way, and that's a quality that cannot be taught nor, for that matter, found in any statistical analysis, no matter how sophisticated the numbers game has become.
If you're the New York Yankees you have to be thinking about the conditions under which Tino Martinez becomes your next manager. It may not be this year or next, or even the year after that, but it has to happen at some point. Some things just feel right, and Martinez as manager feels more right than Joe Girardi as manager ever did, even more right than Don Mattingly as manager ever did as well.
Some things just feel right; so right that you don't even need a second look.