This missive comes to us from Michael DeMarco, an old college friend and diehard Yankees fan but more relevantly the esteemed author of "Ain’t No Sense Worryin’: the Wisdom of Mick "the Quick" Rivers and "Dugout Days: Untold Tales and Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Career of Billy Martin". Mike, an authority on both business management and the Bombers, weighs in on the current vacancy in the Yankee dugout. Read it after the jump.
Don Mattingly. Joe Girardi. One of these two men most likely will take Joe Torre’s place in the Yankee dugout next year and seek to bring a World Series Championship back to the Bronx for the first time since 2000.
Most reporters believe Mattingly to be a slight favorite over Girardi with the Steinbrenner family, despite his lack of managerial experience. After all, he’s Donnie Ballgame, one of the most popular Yankees of all time, and he’s been groomed by Torre for several seasons now to eventually take his place. While Mattingly was a star of the highest calibre, he was also a gritty player and a worker, not unlike fellow Indiana native Larry Bird, who succeeded at the highest levels of his sport without any previous coaching experience. In addition to his apprenticeship with Torre, he can point to his playing days with the fiery Lou Piniella and the even more fiery Billy Martin to answer any questions about the proverbial fire in the belly, though I don’t think any Yankee fans really doubt Mattingly’s desire to succeed. Popular with the players and the fans, what’s not to like?
Furthermore, he may have some semi-recent Yankee history on his side. Remember Billy IV? Came between Billy III and Billy V, and as a matter of fact, coincides with Mattingly’s own MVP season of 1985. When George Steinbrenner sacked another Yankee icon in Yogi Berra and brought Billy Martin back to manage the club for the fourth time, one of his stated reasons for doing so was to groom Sweet Lou Piniella to take over in the dugout in the not-too-distant future. The very next season Lou did replace Billy — despite having no managerial experience at any level of professional baseball. Piniella did a very respectable job in ’86 and ’87, only to be replaced by — and then replace — Billy Martin for the 1988 season.
Was Piniella ready? In the following seasons he would win a World Championship in Cincinnati and turn the Mariners into perennial contenders before his ill-fated stint in Tampa. Having finished his first season with the Cubbies, he’s without a doubt one of the most successful managers of the last 20 years. Had George only had a little more patience with Lou — the kind he displayed with Joe Torre all these years — Piniella’s managerial star might have shone in the Bronx a heckuva lot longer than it did. Hank and Hal Steinbrenner were there. They no doubt know the story well. Don Mattingly was there too. Here’s guessing the new guard doesn’t want the same thing to happen to another even bigger Yankee icon.
Of course, Girardi has his own Yankee pedigree, though no one would argue that it ranks with Mattingly’s. On the other hand, he also has that great season leading the kids from Florida in 2005 on his resume, along with his Northwestern degree and his reputation as an extremely bright, tough, and organized baseball man. Then again, he clashed with his owners there, and who’s to say he won’t do the same in the Bronx. Reminds me of a similar story. In 1969, the first year of divisional play, the Minnesota Twins were led by a bright but brash rookie manager to a surprising first place finish, only to see him fired shortly after the season ended for clashing with the team owner. Like Girardi, he spent the next year doing some media work while waiting for a second crack at managing. That young manager went on to have a long, successful, and controversial career as a big league skipper. If you hadn’t guessed by now, his name was Billy Martin, and Hank and Hal Steinbrenner know all about Battlin’ Billy. I have no idea if these sorts of similarities work to Girardi’s advantage or disadvantage in his dealings with the new braintrust — that depends on Hank and Hal’s business and managerial philosophies.
Strong cases can no doubt be made for both Mattingly and Girardi, but here’s betting that Donnie Baseball gets the nod. Mattingly believes he’s ready, and so do I.