WOULD the New York Yankees be any better off this season if Joe Torre were still in charge?
We’ll never know the answer to that question. But it’s one that is sure to be asked if they miss out on October baseball.
Five games out in the wild card race, it’s going to take a superhuman effort by A-Rod and Co. to maintain the Yankees’ proud record of making the play-offs every year since 1993.
With 38 games to go, the Yanks are a disappointing 66-58. They finally managed to win a series against the last-placed Kansas City Royals.
Usually, two out of three ain’t bad. But in their current predicament, the Yanks really needed a sweep.
The pressure they’ve been playing under has been etched on the face of Joe Girardi.
At times, Girardi has looked as though he is carrying the weight of the whole world on his shoulders. And it’s hard to believe his obvious frustration and vexation is not being transmitted to the players.
Now I’m not for one moment suggesting that Torre was leaning on his bat, cracking jokes in the dugout. I could actually see him age during the course of last season.
New Yankees boss prepared to give youth a chance
But one of his big strengths was carrying the burden on his own back and thus deflecting the pressure away from the players.
I doubt whether Girardi is quite as good at that. Nor should we expect him to be in his first season in charge of the 26-time world champions.
Managers can occasionally influence the outcome of games by their decisions, notably through pitching match-ups, pinch hitters and pinch runners.
But in the end, it all comes down to the players, and too many have of them been below average this year.
Torre always relied on the old guard. Girardi has been more willing to give younger players such as Brett Gardner and Justin Christian a chance.
To a certain extent, his hand has been forced by a ridiculous number of injuries. But his decision to play Christian and Richie Sexson ahead of Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi in Minnesota last week defied all logic. Yes, the Yanks were up against a left-handed pitcher, but he had a better ERA against righties.
The jury is still out on Girardi’s management style. We won’t be able to make a fair judgment on the strength of his hand until he has full deck of cards to play with.
But the fact remains that in Joe Torre’s 12 seasons as manager, the Yankees always made the play-offs. If they do miss out this year, Girardi will have plenty to prove in 2009.