Archive for Monday, March 3, 2008

Commentary: Yankees manager feels at home

March 3, 2008

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— The office is his now, and so is the Yankees' blue leather chair.

Small, framed photos of his wife and kids line the shelves, and his face also appears in the team photos of three late '90s World Series winners that fill one wall.

Joe Girardi is back home.

Following a legend like Joe Torre as Yankees manager would have been a daunting challenge for the most accomplished of baseball men, and even more so for someone who got fired in his only previous crack at managing.

Yet, for a variety of reasons, Girardi appears perfectly comfortable in his new role.

"I feel good," Girardi says one afternoon as he reclines in what some might call the hottest seat in sports. "Lot of familiar faces. Players, management, coaches. Just everyone."

Here Girardi glances up from his desk and waves at the Hall of Famer passing by his office door.

"Good night, Reggie," he says.

The moment almost feels Waltons-esque.

That's not to say there haven't been times Girardi felt a tad strange in recent weeks. Of Torre's dozen years on the job, Girardi was with the team as either a player, coach or broadcaster for seven of them.

"When I walked in this room, he was the skipper, so it was a little different," Girardi says. "When I look up and see (certain things), I think of Joe. I think of Joe every day when I walk in this room."

The media horde that covers the Yankees on a daily basis can't help but have the same flashbacks, but even there Girardi is making progress. He has drawn private raves for the depth of his answers, as well as his patience and willingness to spend extra time "feeding the beast," as they say.

One night this week, Girardi and Yankees PR man Jason Zillo accepted an invitation to join nine beat writers for dinner at a fancy Tampa steakhouse. The gathering was off the record, but it was another example of a wiser, somewhat chastened Girardi in the aftermath of his messy Marlins departure.

"He's comfortable," Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman says. "He was a player for me as a GM. He was a coach for me as a GM. So he knows me and he knows the Yankees situation. He played through it, he's coached through it, so there's certainly going to be a comfort level in terms of knowing the ins and outs of how our operation works."

No longer must Girardi pepper discussions with management with phrases such as "When I was with the Yankees ..." or "The Yankees do it this way."

That's because he's back with the Yankees, a team he probably never should have left in the first place.

"It's just a great opportunity for him," third baseman Alex Rodriguez says. "It's the ultimate win-win for the Yankees and Joe Girardi. He brings new energy. He knows New York. He knows the organization. He knows the players. That makes it a lot smoother transition than just an outsider coming in that has to get to know you."

Even the new emphasis on running and early work has been met with acceptance as Girardi turns up the dial on discipline ever so slightly. There's even talk closer Mariano Rivera could make his first spring road trip in years, with Girardi pointing out all Yankees have been issued gray pants.

What will that be like for him?

"I don't know, but I'll share it with you when it's over," Girardi says, smiling.

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