Commentary

At current rate, Joe won't outlast Jeter

Think The Captain's in decline? Barring change, his skipper could be first out the door

Updated: October 28, 2010, 1:58 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- At this pace, Joe Girardi is not going to make it. He is not going to be the manager of the New York Yankees long enough to do to a declining Derek Jeter what Casey Stengel did to a declining Joe DiMaggio.

This truth was lost Monday under the wave of questions Girardi fielded about his aging icons, and how he planned to handle their inevitable demotions.

"It's something when I took this job I knew I'd have to deal with down the road," Girardi said at his Yankee Stadium news conference.

But if Girardi doesn't change his approach next season, guess what? He won't have to worry about telling Jeter he's not good enough anymore to fill his everyday role.

That awkward task will be assigned to Girardi's successor.

[+] EnlargeJoe Girardi & Derek Jeter
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireSomeone, someday, will have to bench an aging Derek Jeter. Unless his skipper shapes up, it won't be Joe Girardi.

Yes, Yankees GM Brian Cashman is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Girardi's agent, Steve Mandell, and yes, by winning it all last year Girardi has earned a new deal.

Only that deal should be for two years, not three. This isn't about the mistakes Girardi made all across the American League Championship Series, mistakes against the Texas Rangers that had nothing to do with Andy Pettitte being hurt. This isn't about the fact Ron Washington looked as good against Girardi as Cliff Lee looked against Girardi's lineup.

This is about Girardi's personality relapse, and the need for the manager to prove he can change his day-to-day demeanor for keeps. If the real Girardi is the tense and distant figure he was in 2008 and 2010, and not the more embraceable figure with the right human touch in 2009, then the next big October firing in the Bronx won't involve the pitching coach.

Dave was the first man voted off the Eiland, and if next year's Yankees get "manhandled" -- Cashman's word -- in the postseason, Girardi will be wishing his hometown Cubs still had an opening.

Especially if he continues ignoring and/or defying Cashman's mandate to stop making a tough job even tougher.

First, the requisite rundown of the Girardi backstory. He proved in 2008 he had learned little from his firing in Florida, following up the avuncular and serene Joe Torre with a Captain Queeg act that turned off the players and the press. Girardi was one big, bulging vein ready to explode. He treated every May game against Baltimore as Game 7 of the World Series, and he found himself tangled in his own web of unnecessary lies about sprained ankles and bad backs.

In front of his stunned players in Detroit, Girardi ran around a clubhouse table at Road Runner speed to show them how to hustle, and half the room thought he was losing it. Cashman gave him a magazine piece on Tom Coughlin's transformation to a kinder, gentler leader and its role in the Giants' championship season, and the general manager (with an assist from PR man Jason Zillo) stayed on Girardi until he finally agreed to adopt a more relaxed style in 2009.

The Yanks skipped practice for a billiards tournament the way Coughlin's Giants went bowling, Girardi developed a more caring and candid public side, and the franchise won title No. 27. No, the $341 million invested in CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira didn't hurt.

But with the World Series ring granting him some job security, with the wolves no longer at his door, Girardi traded his outer Jekyll for his inner Hyde. The pressure of defending his title inspired the reappearance of a terse and irritable man.

This isn't a media issue, not when the players constantly measure their manager's body language and study his every news conference word. And not after they didn't play hard for him when it mattered most.

"The buttons that I pushed," Girardi said, "the end result is that they didn't work because we're not still playing."

Girardi promised to evaluate his performance in the offseason, just as he'd done in the past. He talked about "situations that come up during the course of the season that maybe you've never handled before." Girardi didn't identify those situations, just said he would grow from them.

"But I think the bottom line is getting the most out of the players," the manager said, "and I think that starts with relationships."

Girardi needs to improve himself in order to improve those relationships. For starters, he needs to remember that he has the very best job in sports. He repeated Monday that he loves his job, a claim that begs the questions:

Why not act like it? Why not treat every day as manager of the world's most famous ball team as something other than a grim and stressful chore?

Cashman wouldn't comment on whether he'll ask Girardi the same things when they meet, conceding only that GM and manager both need to spend the winter working on their weaknesses. But understand this: Cashman wants to see the 2009 Girardi make a comeback, and a permanent one at that.

Toward that end, Girardi spent his Monday getting off to a decent start. Asked if he would watch the World Series play on without him, Girardi ripped off a good line about the Fox-Cablevision war making it a bit difficult. He also said this of his pending free agency: "On Halloween, I believe my contract is up, and we'll see if I'm a pumpkin or not."

Girardi has earned his bag of treats, but not a full bag. The terms of his next contract with the Yankees should involve two more years and one more warning:

Change, or we'll hire someone else to bench The Captain.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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