With the end of the season fast approaching and the Dusty Era (hopefully) coming to a close, Cub fans far and wide have been looking toward next season. One big question on everyone's mind is, "who will the Cubs' manager be in 2007"? Fredi Gonzalez' name has bandied about quite a bit recently (and, actually, since the last time
the Cubs were looking for a skipper), and he's Arizona Phil's odds-on choice.
But strange things are afoot in south Florida. Last month saw a strange series
take place between Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and manager (and Peoria native, Northwestern grad, ex-Cub) Joe Girardi, leading lots of Cubs fans to get excited about the possibility of Girardi coming to Chicago next year. In order to give us some idea what kind of manager he is for the Marlins and might be for the Cubs, we asked one of the best professional baseball writers out there, Miami Herald
/ESPN columnist Dan LeBatard, to answer a few questions about Joe:
TCR: I don't think many Cubs fans have a clear sense of what kind of manager Girardi is -- except for the occasional "what a great job they're doing on $15M" article, the national press hasn't covered the team much before this week. So what kind of manager is he, in broad strokes? Fiery like Piniella? Avuncular like Leyland? Crazy like Bowa? Stoic like Torre?
Relentlessly optimistic and positive. The next controversial word he says will be the first. Polished. Professional. Disciplined. Big on the basics. More old school than new school. No on Piniella and Bowa. Closer to Torre, I suppose. Like that he wasn't afraid to grab the jersey of Scott Olsen when Olsen went on a temper tantrum. Wasn't John Gibbons-like. Players seemed to respect it because it was him, and it was unusual but necessary.
TCR: What press the team has gotten has talked about Girardi from the leadership side, but how is he as an in-game manager? On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is where I think Dusty Baker belongs and 10 is where Tony LaRussa thinks he belongs, where would you put him? What does he do too much, or not enough?
Closer to Baker than LaRussa, not that I think much of that stuff matters all that much. Girardi bunts way too much. Gives up outs in the first inning with Dan Uggla, one of his best hitters, against pitchers with an ERA of 6.00. Doesn't make sense. It's awful and frequent, but it isn't like it matters much because you can win in spite of it, as the Marlins have shown. Wednesday night, he bunted with runners on first and second and no outs in a 2-0 game he was winning with the eighth spot and a pitcher throwing a no-hitter. So he moved runners over for Anibel Sanchez, who is hitting .091. Exasperating.
TCR: Girardi mentioned earlier this year that he had to spend a lot of time "teaching," especially at the beginning of the year. Do you have any insight on what that entailed? Did the team take extra practice? Was it Girardi out there hitting grounders or was it more behind-the-scenes stuff regarding situational baseball and how to act like a "major leaguer?"
All of it. Jogging with players. Talking to them. Getting on the ground and blocking balls. It was teaching and talking. Getting in their ears, letting his coaches (like the exceptional Perry Hill) drill the smallest things.
TCR: Girardi brought over the strict Yankees clubhouse rules with him regarding facial hair, etc., right? Do the players seem to mind?
They're too young and grateful to mind. They don't like, it but whatever. They're in the big leagues at a time when meal money is still something exciting. They're not going to bitch about that silly stuff, even though it is silly.
TCR: What adjective(s) would you use to describe Girardi's relationship with and approach towards the media? Does he keep them at arm's length, is he chummy, defensive, confrontational, etc.?
I haven't dealt with him all that much but I'd go with "professional."
TCR: Does the recent dust-up between Girardi and Loria really mean anything? Does it say something about Girardi, his ability to get along with higher-ups, etc., or is just much ado about nothing?
It isn't much ado about nothing because it'll probably cost him his job, no matter how well he does this year. Management here can be clumsy and the details on that particular fight are immature and, evidently, lasting. But the front office is more important than he is, and more powerful. The front office is the reason this team is winning, not Girardi. And there have been whispers that Girardi wanted some unconventional things (Cabrera at first, Uggla in left, olivo not playing) that makes you wonder what he was thinking.
TCR: Girardi seems to have done a great job of leading a team without much experience. Do you think he would have the same sort of success on a team with more veterans, or is his personality one which younger players can get along with better?
I think he is having success because his starting staff is one of the best in the league. I think that has very little to do with him, just as Detroit's no. 1 pitching staff has very little to do with Jim Leyland, though we love to give these guys the credit with our love of coach worship. It's intellectually lazy. Team wins. We don't have explanation. so we credit the coach because we love the idea of the skipper on the top step of the dugout, elbow on knee, guiding the ship. It's the arms.
TCR: And since I've been dancing around the real question for the last two, here it is directly: how do you think he would do as a manager of the Cubs, as they're constituted now? And, what do you think the chances are it will happen this off-season?
It may be simplistic, but wasn't everyone excited about Dusty once? He was great when Prior and Wood were healthy, and he stunk when they weren't. He was great with Barry Bonds, not so great with Juan Pierre. That's how it works with these guys. Girardi will be excellent if his arms and offense are, and he will stink if they aren't. I believe a great manager can help push a team from great to excellent but not bad to good or even mediocre. Look at what happened with Piniella in Tampa, Leyland in Colorado, Art Howe with the Mets.
I take exception to his statements that everyone was excited about Dusty once, or that he was "great" when Prior and Wood were healthy, but putting that aside he paints a picture of a guy who seems to do things the "right" way (except for the bunting thing, but we're used to that, unfortunately).
Would that make a difference in Chicago? Le Batard is skeptical -- he says it boils down to the talent on the field, and he's probably right about that. Having a healthy team, and a good pitching staff, will make a manager look good, independent of whatever intangibles he might bring to the team himself.
Still, I think that if Girardi does hit the open market (as Le Batard thinks he will), Jim Hendry ought to do whatever he can to try to get him back into a Cubs uniform. After the early highs and recent lows of the Dusty Baker era, bringing in a well-respected young manager with a Chicago connection would give Cubs fans something to be excited about, at least until we turn on him, too.