By Terry Cushman – @AVIDBOS_PODCAST
When Terry Francona got fired, it was the worst sports day of my life from a fan’s perespective. All I felt was intense agony that morning that damp autumn morning. The Red Sox had just unraveled in the worst September collapse in regular season history. The firing of Francona in and of itself was much worse than the actual defeat which sent us home following game 162. But in hindsight, it was the second year in a row the Red Sox missed the playoffs, and they were swept by the Angels in the 2009 ALDS. So I get it. There was enough failure to justify it.
I cannot find any justification in the Yankees not bringing back Joe Girardi. He guided his team to a World Series win over the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009. Through mostly the fault of Brian Cashman and the Steinbenners, the Yankee’s on-field success began to wane over the next several seasons mostly due to the fact they were saddled down with aging players and gargantuan contracts. Despite the non-ideal circumstances, Girardi never finished worse than 84 wins.
In Boston, we clamored for three years for John Farrell to lose his job before he finally got his walking papers. One of Farrell’s biggest ineptitudes as a manager was his inability to help his young players maximize their potential. Whether it was platooning Andrew Benintendi against lefty pitchers in favor for a struggling veteran, or Rafael Devers not getting a crucial start despite his .400 average against lefties, he never ceased to lack confidence in them. I have always said that Jackie Bradley Jr would have thrived under Francona’s leadership had his career in Boston managed on. Bradley spent the first few years of his career bouncing back between Boston and Pawtucket.
Girardi was the Anti-Farrell. When Didi Grigorius arrived in New York as Derek Jeter’s “replacement,” I laughed and thought to myself, “Good luck with that!” Little did we know, Gigorious turned out to be a far superior player than Xander Bogaerts. In 2016 we saw the emergence of Gary Sanchez, who hit 20 home runs after his August call up. Aaron Judge wasn’t expected to make the major league roster, but hit 52 bombs enroute to a rookie record, and possibly a pending MVP award. Imagine how many Judge might have hit if he opted out of the All Star Home Run Derby? Luis Severino reached pretty close to his full potential with an ace-like season. Most impressively was his bounce back from nightmare start in the one game wildcard game, to absolutely being electric in his latter playoff starts. Unlike John Farrell, Girardi showed unwavering faith in all of his players, to which they in turn had confidence in themselves.
What is brutally unfair is that this Yankees team had finally started winning. Girardi’s patience continued to persist. They got to game seven of the ALCS when virtually everyone around the league didn’t think New York would make the playoffs. In 2016 when the Yankees front office had given up on the season, Girardi BEGGED them not to trade Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman. Refusing to quit, he felt they still had a chance. That’s what I mean by unwaivering faith.
In 2018 a new manager will be writing out the Yankees lineup cards. Their job will be undeservingly far less difficult due to the hard work and dedication of Girardi. People would frequently say throughout this past season as the Yankees exceeded expectations: “They’re such a likable team for a change.” As a Red Sox fan I could not in my heart of hearts agree, but I understood what they meant. After witnessing terrible leadership from Red Sox management the last several years, it was impossible to not have a healthy degree of respect for Girardi and his success.
Someone pointed out to me earlier that Girardi was very possibly the 2017 A.L. Manager of the Year. No manager with a candidacy that strong ever deserves to lose his job. But we lived in a fucked up world.
If new Red Sox Manager Alex Cora has 75% of Girardi’s managing/leadership ability, I will be absolutely thrilled. I despise the Yankees much more now than I did 24 hours ago.
ICYMI: EPISODE 24 OF THE AVIDBOSTON PODCAST: THE WINTER MEETINGS! WHAT’LL THE RED SOX DO?
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