Friday, June 25, 2010

Hey Joe: Breaking Down the Yankee Managers

As you may have heard, tonight's interleague opener between the Yankees and Dodgers doubles as a reunion between Joe Torre and the franchise he once helped lead to four World Series titles.


Nearly to a man, the praise of Torre has been effusive, with the notable exception of Alex Rodriguez, whose been conspicuously tight-lipped on the topic. (Translation: He no-like the guy.)

Joe Girardi took over in the Bronx after Yankee brass decided to part ways with Torre following the 2007 season. Girardi—who played under Torre from 1996-99—is now in his third year on the Yankees bench, while Torre is in his third year managing the Dodgers.

River & Sunset has fond feelings for both field managers. With the showdown at Chavez Ravine looming, we figured it was time to breakdown Joe v. Joe.

Résumé

Torre had already been fired three times before George Steinbrenner named him Yankees manager in 1996, a move that was quite unpopular at the time. (You may remember the now infamous "Clueless Joe" headline that ran in the Daily News).

Ironically enough, Torre was something of a lovable loser before he started winning titles in the Bronx. He rolled off four championships in his first five years with the Yankees and New York made the playoffs in all 12 seasons with Torre on the bench.

That said, he exited on the heels of seven straight years of postseason futility—including gonad-busting losses against Arizona (2001) and in The Series That Shall Not Be Named (The Year That Shall Not Be Named).

Girardi won praise and the NL Manager of the Year award for leading a babyface Marlins team to respectability in 2006. In 2008, he managed the first Yankee team that failed to qualify for the playoffs in 15 years. He saved face, and likely his job, by leading the Yankees to a World Series win in 2009.

Advantage: Torre

Management clashes

Torre basically had the run of the lot during the dynasty era, but his power slowly eroded as playoff failures piled up in the 2000s. It came to a head in 2007, when the Yankees decided to cut ties after the disappointing midge-and-Wang-induced ALDS loss to the Indians.

How pissed was Torre about being dumped? Well, he and his buddy, SI writer Tom Verducci, teamed up to write The Yankee Years, a 400-page FU letter to Yankee management. Well, that wasn't what the whole book was about, it just felt that way.

Girardi became the first manager to get fired after winning the Manager of the Year award. This generally happens when you reportedly tell your umpire-heckling owner to "sit down and shut the fuck up" in the middle of a game. Girardi hasn't had any run-ins with Steinbrenner, though that may have a lot to do with the fact that ol' George doesn't know where he is right now.

Advantage: Girardi

Hollywood crossover appeal

Torre's initial success in New York spawned a 1997 made-for-TV movie in which he was portrayed by Goodfellas star Paul Sorvino with pasta-swilling indifference.

Did I mention Tori Spelling's husband played David Cone and the homophobic black guy from Grey's Anatomy played Dwight Gooden? I mean, seriously, how is Joe Torre: Curveballs Along The Way not on DVD and Blu-Ray right now?

Additionally, Torre appeared as himself in Sesame Street, the 2002 Mafia comedy Analyze That, a bunch of awkward Subway ads with Willie Randolph ("This sub tastes like a home run!"), some show called Castle, and some other show called Gary Unmarried. How he didn't work himself into the George Costanza Yankee-arc of Seinfeld is baffling in retrospect.

Girardi has not appeared, or been portrayed in, any film or television production as of press time.

Advantage: Torre

Off-the-field heroism quotient

On the night the Yankees beat the Phillies to clinch their 27th championship, Girardi was driving home when he came upon a woman who had been in a car accident. He flagged down a passing police cruiser and offered assistance to the victim.

"The guy wins the World Series, what does he do? He stops to help," said Westchester County police officer Kathleen Cristiano. "It was totally surreal."

No stories have ever surfaced of Torre stopping to help someone in danger on the side of the road. I like to think he has the Ivan Drago "If he dies, he dies" mentality.

Advantage: Girardi

Look

Girardi has the "Asshole Cop" look down pat: white, physically fit, salt-and-pepper crew cut, square jaw, braces. Okay, the braces do kind of clash here, but apparently he got them for his daughter (which is weird in and of itself) so we'll overlook it here.

Torre, by contrast, gives off the appearance of the quiet grandfather who you don't want to piss off. He's always looked older than his age, with heavy bags under his eyes, heavier eyelids, and a nose out of central casting for the Godfather II flashback act.

Girardi is always on the top step, always intense, always looking like the next Jorge Posada passed ball will lead to his head actually exploding. Torre's look on the bench ranges from disinterested to dead.

Advantage: Even

A-Rod approach

Torre once batted Alex Rodriguez eighth in a playoff elimination game (2006 ALDS in Detroit), and in The Yankee Years, revealed that Rodriguez's own teammates called him "A-Fraud" behind his back. Kind of dick move, dude.

Girardi has treated A-Rod with kid baby prenatal gloves, standing behind his slugger during his 2009 PED admission, while steering clear of the various tabloid happenings that pop up each year.

I wouldn't be surprised if Girardi has never actually had a conversation with his third baseman. This may be a better strategy than you think.

Advantage: Girardi

More fun to chill with

I estimate that Torre has roughly 358,000 incredible baseball stories that he's never divulged to anyone but his closest friends.

I picture him to be a cigar and wine connoisseur who can put down two bottles of the best the house can offer without revealing a buzz.

I feel like Don Zimmer is liable to show up any time and tell some of the filthiest jokes you've ever heard. And let's not even get into all the incredible Italian restaurants that you'll eat at without spending a dime. Good times all around.

I imagine a wild night for Girardi involves a tonic water with an extra slice of lime. If he's feeling especially frisky, he may play the Karate Kid II soundtrack at a very low volume on his modest home stereo system. And forget about staying up late, General Joe has a date with his Chuck Norris' Total Gym® at 5 a.m.

Advantage: Torre

Bottom line

The transformation of the New York Yankees brand during Torre's tenure cannot be overstated. He took over at a time when the franchise was improving but still seen as a shadow of its former self. Torre would become the face of the Yankees in his 12 years, an era that included 12 postseason appearances, six pennants, and four World Series titles. Was his timing impeccable? Sure, but you can't argue with results.

Girardi is off to a fine start with the Yankees, and he certainly has the respect of his players and the media. Ownership is far more patient now than in the days of The Boss, which makes you think Girardi could have a tenure that approaches or exceeds his predecessor's. That said, he still has a long way to go to earn the reputation of Torre, who put the cache back into being the manager of the Yankees.

Torre became a New York sports icon in his time in the Bronx, and for that, he has to retain the edge over his successor. Don't tell Chuck Norris I said that though.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at dhanzus@gmail.com. Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus .