Joe Girardi Channels His Inner Billy Martin

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Joe Girardi turned into Billy Martin, but he did it at the wrong time and in the wrong way.

Girardi was said to have blown up at Joel Sherman of the New York Post after his post-game press conference. It’s unknown whether the catalyst was a misunderstanding that Sherman couldn’t hear Girardi’s response as to whether CC Sabathia is healthy or not; if Sherman was intentionally antagonizing Girardi; or if it was simply a matter of frustration boiling over in the midst of an unexpected pennant race and increasingly dire circumstances. Perhaps it was all three.

Details of what was said in Girardi’s office between him and Sherman are unknown. The media circled the wagons around Sherman and, en masse, attacked Girardi.

Unless Sherman or Girardi say what happened, no one can know how much truth there is to the likes of Andrew Marchand saying they were “nose-to-nose”. As disturbing as that image is in and of itself, I seriously doubt that Girardi pulled Marchand aside and said, “Listen Andrew, Joel and I were nose-to-nose.” So the Marchand side of the story is coming from Sherman and Sherman’s not exactly credible when it comes to his supposed dogged reporter tough-guy persona. I think Lara Logan of 60 Minutes could beat him up.

As for the Yankees, here are the facts:

Mark Teixeira was safe

Teixeira was safe in the play at first. It was an atrocious call. But the Yankees can’t complain about a blown call ending a game when part of their historic lore—against the Orioles no less—is that in the 1996 ALCS, a young fan named Jeffrey Maier reached over the fence and snatched a Derek Jeter long fly ball away from right fielder Tony Tarasco.

The Yankees eventually won that game, that series and the World Series, and it’s seen as a seminal moment of their dynasty.

Is there a connection?

No one play wins or loses a game and you can’t have it both ways. There’s no celebrating one play when it goes your way and lamenting a call when it doesn’t.

Umpire Jerry Meals blew the call, but that wasn’t why the Yankees lost.

Should Girardi have argued the call?

He had gotten thrown out of a game in Tampa partially because he thought the pitch in question was not a strike; partially because he was looking to spark his team; and partially because he had a problem with the umpire Tony Randazzo going back to August.

Did it work?

The Yankees are still in a sleepwalk and they lost the game in which he got ejected. Last night’s game was over, so if he’d gone over and started a screaming session with Meals, he’d have gotten kicked out after the game was over, maybe gotten suspended, or the umpires would’ve simply walked away after letting him have his say. As Girardi implied after the game, what good would it have done?

The idea that Girardi is melting down in the pressure of the pennant race would’ve been bolstered by another screaming session with an umpire. As it turned out, that perception was bolstered by his confrontation with Sherman, but he couldn’t have known that was coming at the time of the Teixeira call.

There’s a difference between a manager imploding and acting out and getting ejected to help the team. Lou Piniella, his face the color of an eggplant, wasn’t always that angry when arguing a call. As managers and coaches sometimes need to be, Piniella is an actor. Many times a made-for-TV Piniella base-tossing show was done to loosen up his team, get them laughing in the dugout at what a raving lunatic he is, and possibly relax them to play better.

Then there’s the Billy Martin-style nervous breakdown type argument. A recent example of a manager coming undone with his team in contention in two consecutive years is Ned Yost with the 2007-2008 Brewers. In both seasons, Yost was so tight as the season wound down that a guitar could’ve been strummed on his chest. In 2007, he was ejected from 3 games in six days as the Brewers fell out of contention. In 2008, the team was staggering to the finish and blowing a playoff spot after trading for CC Sabathia at mid-season. Yost was fired with 12 games left and the Brewers did the right thing in pulling the trigger.

The confrontation with Sherman

As of this writing this morning, the aforementioned Sherman had been called into Girardi’s office in Baltimore. Presumably they’re going to come to a détente to end lingering bad blood and stop the story from festering.

Sherman had a right to ask the question. Girardi had reason to be annoyed and, given the scrutiny he’s under, was probably going to snap at anyone who asked what he felt was a loaded question designed to get a rise from him. This wasn’t Martin threatening to toss Henry Hecht of the Post into the team whirlpool in 1983. The idea that Girardi and Sherman had to be “separated” is ludicrous. The security personnel probably heard the yelling and stopped Girardi before he got angry enough to hit Sherman, which he 99.9% wouldn’t have done anyway.

The final analysis

The Yankees are not playing well. They’re old. They’re beaten up. They’re collapsing.

These are facts.

Can they save the season? Absolutely. Will they? Not if they keep playing—and especially pitching—like this. It’s not Jerry Meals’s fault; it’s not Joel Sherman’s fault; it’s really not Girardi’s fault. They’re not very good right now. And unless they get any better, they’ll have a mess to clean up on and off the field. As the Mets and Red Sox have proven, it’s not so easy to repair the damage from a collapse. If this continues, the Yankees will learn soon enough.

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2012 National League Central Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Cincinnati Reds 91 71
2. Milwaukee Brewers 87 75 4
3. St. Louis Cardinals 77 85 14
4. Pittsburgh Pirates 77 85 14
5. Chicago Cubs 73 89 18
6. Houston Astros 60 102 31

Cincinnati Reds

Dusty Baker’s teams have a tendency to win when his job is on the line or his contract is coming to a conclusion—and this is the final year of his contract.

GM Walt Jocketty made a bold move in trading a large portion of the Reds’ farm system to get an ace-quality starter in Mat Latos and bolstered his bullpen by signing Ryan Madson and trading for Sean Marshall.

Offensively, the Reds have some question marks but were second in the National League in runs scored last season and first in 2010. Scott Rolen’s injuries are an issue and shortstop is likely to be manned by a talented rookie Zack Cozart.

But with a deep starting rotation; a very good bullpen; Joey Votto in the middle of the lineup; the emerging Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs; and the additions from the winter, the Reds are a championship threat.

Milwaukee Brewers

If Mat Gamel hits and Aramis Ramirez posts his normal numbers, they’ll have enough offense without Prince Fielder. Alex Gonzalez is a good pickup offensively and defensively to replace the limited Yuniesky Betancourt; Zack Greinke is sure to have a big year heading towards free agency; and the bullpen is superlative with Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford.

The questions surrounding the Ryan Braun failed drug test and technical knockout of his 50-game suspension are not going to go away.

Braun has to hit from the beginning of the season to the end and he’s still going to be hounded with a press contingent waiting for a reasonable answer as to how he failed the test in the first place. A slow start will be the death knell to his season and probably the Brewers’ playoff hopes.

And don’t forget how much vitriol their arrogance engendered throughout baseball last season. When the world-at-large was pulling for a Tony LaRussa –led team, you know their oppenents were despised.

There’s a 2006 Mets feeling about the Brewers that they missed their chance and we know what happened to the Mets in the aftermath of their upset loss to the Cardinals.

St. Louis Cardinals

It’s idiotic to base one’s hopes for a repeat championship on the idea that losing the generation’s best manager (Tony LaRussa); hitter (Albert Pujols); and a magician of a pitching coach (Dave Duncan) are going to be easily covered with Mike Matheny (never managed before—ever); signing Carlos Beltran and shifting Lance Berkman to first base (they’re older players); and Derek Lilliquist (um…).

You cannot dismiss the contributions of those three men—all of whom are Hall of Famers.

As respected and well-liked as Matheny is, there’s a learning curve to manage.

The Cardinals have starting pitching, but their bullpen is still a question mark and Matheny’s handling of said bullpen is going to be an issue.

Beltran and Berkman will make up for Pujols’s production to a degree, but if you’re banking your hopes on David Freese being the same star he was in the playoffs and Rafael Furcal, Jon Jay and Skip Schumaker, you’re dreaming.

This team is rife for a big fall and major turmoil.

Pittsburgh Pirates

We’ll never know what the Pirates’ 2011 season would’ve become had they not been so horribly robbed in that play at the plate and egregious call by Jerry Meals in the 19-inning game against the Braves in late July. Those who think that an entire season can’t hinge on one game are wrong.

The Pirates did many good things mostly as a result of manager Clint Hurdle’s simple mandate of discipline and not taking crap.

They’ve locked up key players Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata and acquired cheap, high-ceiling veteran starters A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard.

They’re not ready to contend, but they’re getting better and if things go well, they have a shot at third place.

Chicago Cubs

Those expecting a Theo Epstein arrival/revival and immediate rise to championship-level status as happened when he took over the Red Sox need to take a step back.

The Red Sox had a lot of talent and money to spend when Epstein took over in 2003; the Cubs are trying to clear onerous contracts of declining veterans like Alfonso Soriano and already got rid of Carlos Zambrano (and are paying him to pitch for the Marlins).

A large part of my analysis isn’t simply based on what a team has when the season starts, but what’s going to happen as the season moves along. The Cubs are going to be ready to deal with Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster and Marlon Byrd possibly on the move.

It’s not going to be a quick fix to repair this organization.

Houston Astros

There’s a perception that simply because they hired a stat-savvy GM in Jeff Luhnow and he’s at work rebuilding the system that the Astros are “guaranteed” to have success in the near future.

Are you aware of what happened to similar thinking baseball people like Paul DePodesta and Jack Zduriencik?

The Astros neglected their minor league system for so long that they’re tantamount to an expansion team. Luhnow brought in high-end talent like Fernando Martinez cheaply; he’s scouring the scrapheap with Livan Hernandez for big league competence while he cleans up the mess; and he’s hired like-minded people to help him.

But it’s not a guarantee and his “success” with the Cardinals minor league system is based on perception depending on your own beliefs and/or biases on how to run a club rather than bottom-line reality.

Here’s what we can agree on: in 2012, they’re going to be terrible.

Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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The Pirates Take Advantage of the Yankees

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The way a team like the Pirates has to function is by taking advantage of the big market clubs in the opposite fashion to the way those big market clubs take advantage of them. That’s what they did in getting A.J. Burnett—a talented and enigmatic arm—for just about nothing.

By design, by luck or both the Pirates aren’t the desolate wasteland they’ve been for most of the past 20 years.

That’s not to suggest they’re contenders, but they’ve taken some steps to create a viable big league club rather than a punching bag and target for looting by the bullies at the trading deadline.

We’ll never know what would’ve happened had the Pirates won the 19-inning game against the Braves on July 26th in which home plate ump Jerry Meals made one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen in my life by declaring Julio Lugo safe on a play at the plate where he was clearly out by a mile.

At the time, the Pirates were one of the pleasant surprises in all of baseball with a record of 53-47 and tied for first place in the NL Central.

They lost the next game in 10 innings, won the finale of the Braves series then proceeded to lose 10 in a row and 14 out of 16.

Can one game affect an entire season if it’s sufficiently draining, emotional and so egregious an error on the part of an outside force?

I say it can.

Naturally as the Pirates came undone, the “experts” made their snide comments to the tune of, “Remember when the Pirates were ‘contenders’?” as if they knew what was going to happen.

Well, they didn’t know. They were validating their preseason analysis of the Pirates where they’d lose close to 100 games. It was ego, not contextualized understanding. It’s similar to taking credit for the Cardinals winning the World Series when almost the whole roster was turned over at mid-season. The team that was analyzed in the preseason wasn’t the team that won the World Series, so how do you take credit for it?

The Cardinals were essentially finished by August 31st, 8 1/2 games behind in the NL Central and the Wild Card. Helped along by the Braves collapse and their own hot streak, they made the playoffs and wound up winning the World Series.

It’s post-event gloating to say one was “right” about something when there was nothing to be right about.

No, the Pirates didn’t have the personnel to hang with the upper echelon teams in the National League, but maybe with that win against the Braves, they could’ve finished at 82-80 rather than 72-90. How would that have looked on the resume of manager Clint Hurdle and in the scope of their rebuilding process? It certainly would’ve helped their young players to be part of a winning team and for available free agents to stop seeing the Pirates as a last ditch destination and instead a place where they could go to possibly be part of a renaissance for what was once a great baseball town.

The Pirates wound up at 72-90, but Hurdle’s clubhouse discipline (his biggest attribute is that he doesn’t take crap) did help the team look and play better. That doesn’t show up in any numerical formula and until someone comes up with a Not Taking Crap metric, we won’t be able to judge it.

Now the Pirates have traded for Burnett, gotten the Yankees to take two very low-level prospects and pay a massive chunk ($20 million) of Burnett’s salary.

Out of necessity, they’re signing oft-injured and talented arms like Erik Bedard and trading for Burnett. But in the best-case scenario, they’ll get good work from the veteran pitchers and show improvement in the standings. Middle-case, they’ve got players to trade at the deadline for a better return that what they gave up to get them.

They’re probably not going to get the great bullpen work they did last season; they haven’t upgraded the offense and are relying on improvement from Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata, plus the continued rise of Andrew McCutchen; but their rotation with Burnett, Bedard, James McDonald, Kevin Correia and Charlie Morton is okay and Joel Hanrahan is a top closer.

The NL Central is vulnerable. The Cardinals are in serious flux; the Brewers are waiting out the news whether they’ll be without Ryan Braun for 50 games; the Reds are good, but short in depth.

If everything goes well, the Pirates could finish in third place and over .500.

Considering their circumstances, that’s very, very good and it’s refreshing that they used the Yankees’ desperation to get rid of Burnett to their own benefit.

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Viewer Mail 8.1.2011

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Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Colby Rasmus, Tony Rasmus, Tony LaRussa and Mark McGwire:

The main problem was Colby’s daddy was telling him to flat out IGNORE McGwire, TLR and staff… to be insubordinate. I remember dads like him, from little league. The bane of everyone if I recall.

I’m not surprised. We’ve all seen the little league dads with varying results. I try to be positive in situations like this and think it could’ve been smoothed over and a consensus reached, but maybe it couldn’t. I’m getting the impression that the Cardinals veteran baseball men—LaRussa, et al.—weren’t all that impressed with Colby when they unwrapped the package and saw what he was; with the aggravation on top of that, it was best to part ways.

Joe (DaGodfather on Twitter) writes RE the Phillies:

Did you hear the rumor about the Phillies and Pirates? Pirates send us McCutchen and we send them our overflow of fans.

Which McCutchen? Andrew McCutchen or Daniel McCutchen? Andrew’s my new man-crush; Daniel, not so much.

Gabriel writes RE the Blue Jays:

One thing’s clear: Anthopoulous gets what he wants. I’m sad to see Rzep go, I liked him a lot, and Anthopoulous seems sad to see him go.

Alex Anthopoulos walked into a bit of disarray when he took the Blue Jays job, but had a clear plan and is showing a resolute fearlessness which bodes well. He wanted Rasmus, he got Rasmus. I like Marc Rzepczynski, but he wasn’t someone to hold out of a desired trade for a 25-year-old bat.

Franklin Rabon writes RE Jerry Meals and the blown call in the Braves-Pirates game:

My biggest problem with Meals was that he made multiple awful ball/strike calls the entire night and was highly arrogant about it. At least Joyce admitted his mistake, Meals basically sounded like “I guess it might have been wrong, but it’s my god given right to make whatever call I damn well feel like” without using those exact words.

We’ve come a long way from the umpires flat out refusing to admit a mistake as a form of machismo or reluctance to show weakness, so Meals saying he probably blew it is a step forward. There are good umps and bad umps. We lose sight of the number of accurate calls they make in a game when they blow one. I’d say the umpiring overall is quite good considering that volume.

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Challenges Are The Way To Go With Expanded Replay

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In case you missed it, last night’s Pirates-Braves game ended on a controversial call by umpire Jerry Meals in which Julio Lugo was deemed safe when—by all angles—he appeared out.

You can see the clips and different angles below.

It was a horrible gaffe, but to suggest any malfeasance on the part of Meals is nonsense. Much like the reactionary idiocy surrounding Jim Joyce’s courageous (and wrong) call on the final out of Armando Galarraga‘s imperfect-perfect game, it was a mistake pure and simple.

Even the worst umpires don’t make it to the big league level with any essence of possible chicanery in their history. In short, Meals didn’t say Lugo was safe because it was the 19th inning and he wanted to leave. Like Joyce, the easier thing for Meals to do would’ve been to call the runner out.

As for the resurgence of demands for expanded instant replay, here’s my solution: the managers get one challenge per game. Independent of what’s already in place for reviewable calls for home runs, one challenge to be used at any time for the managers to protest.

That’s it.

No more than one.

Expanding replay to the degree that some are suggesting would take far too much time and—much like governmental intervention into too many aspects of our lives—where does it end?

One challenge. If Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had such an option, he could’ve used it in last night’s game. He didn’t, so now MLB is dealing with this debate again.

This is the simplest and most logical solution.

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