Girardi Stands, and Jumps Up, for What’s Right
By TYLER KEPNER
Published: NYTimes August 19, 2013
If Joe Girardi detests cheating in baseball as much as he says, then some part of him must disapprove of his third baseman. Alex Rodriguez has a long rap sheet that would appear to read as the antithesis of the values Girardi stands for.
But as he is the manager of theYankees, it is not Girardi’s job to judge Rodriguez, or to share what he really thinks of him personally. It would make a great story to know, but Girardi has never cared much about filling notebooks with deep, raw insights. That is not his job.
The job of a manager can be summarized in one sentence: “Create an atmosphere where good players want to do the right thing.” That is how Terry Francona described it while winning two World Series with the Boston Red Sox. Girardi showed on Sunday just how well he understands that responsibility.
With all the acrimony surrounding Rodriguez and the Yankees’ front office, the open mistrust and the damning accusations, it might have seemed startling to see Girardi rushing to Rodriguez’s defense after Boston’s Ryan Dempster drilled him with a fastball at Fenway Park. Really, though, it was classic Girardi.
“He’s fair, he’s honest, he knows the game,” Don Zimmer, Girardi’s mentor, said by phone Monday. “And he will back his players to the hilt.”
Girardi supports his players because that is the essence of being part of a team. Rodriguez has the right to appeal his 211-game suspension, so he remains on the field. Girardi gains nothing by bringing morality into the mix, but he gains a lot by rallying his team together.
Rodriguez’s shenanigans were building toward a moment like Sunday’s. Most players now have no problem publicly expressing disdain for fellow union members — on other teams, anyway — who openly flout the league’s drug policy. Some Red Sox players said before the series that they did not think Rodriguez should be playing.
On Friday, a “60 Minutes” report accused Rodriguez of breaking another taboo. The report said Rodriguez’s side had leaked the names of some players tied to the notorious Biogenesis clinic. Rodriguez denied the charge, but among many players, his word is meaningless.
So there were clear motivations for someone to send a message to Rodriguez with a fastball. Dempster’s first pitch to Rodriguez, which zipped behind his legs and missed, did that. When he hit Rodriguez with a 3-0 pitch — prompting the umpire Brian O’Nora to warn both benches but not to eject Dempster — Girardi exploded.
Already perched on the top step, Girardi charged to the field, earning an ejection when he threw his cap. Flailing his arms and screaming, Girardi also admonished Dempster, calling him gutless in profane language.
For Girardi — who has used the term “red patootie” to describe his posterior during arguments — it was a revealing display of unvarnished emotions. It was also the proper reading of the situation.
Dempster is a pitcher, not a vigilante, and O’Nora should have known — from the first pitch and the obvious rancor toward Rodriguez — that Dempster hit him on purpose. At the very least, O’Nora should have warned Dempster after the pitch behind Rodriguez, and then ejected him if he defied the warning and drilled him.
“Lives have changed by getting hit by pitches,” Girardi told reporters in his office after the game. “Whether I agree with everything that’s going on, you do not throw at people. You don’t take the law into your own hands. You don’t do that.”
He added, “You’d have to be really unaware or not paying attention to not know that he threw at him on purpose.”
Watching from home in Seminole, Fla., Zimmer said he lost all respect for O’Nora and understood the actions of Girardi, whom he managed with the Chicago Cubs and coached with Colorado and the Yankees.
“I don’t care whether you like A-Rod or not,” Zimmer said. “What I saw was a pitiful thing, and the umpire was terrible in the way he handled it. It was a disgrace to Major League Baseball what Dempster did. Whether he likes A-Rod or not, it’s still not right, and the umpire was brutal.”
Girardi said he hoped Dempster would be suspended — “It has to cost him something,” he said — and Major League Baseball was reviewing the incident on Monday. A decision on discipline would fall under the jurisdiction of Joe Torre, M.L.B.’s executive vice president for baseball operations and Girardi’s predecessor as manager of the Yankees.
Zimmer, naturally, said he agreed with Girardi. He added that if Torre, his close friend, fined Girardi but took no action against Dempster, he would be very disappointed.
“That would be a real joke, and I would tell that to Joe,” Zimmer said.
Major League Baseball, of course, is locked in a bitter standoff with Rodriguez, who has mocked its drug policy for years. In these fleeting weeks of summer, when M.L.B. has the major pro sports stage to itself, Rodriguez has succeeded in making the sport’s top story line all about him. Forever a diva, that A-Rod.
In this case, though, baseball needs to follow Girardi’s example and make this about baseball, not the shady character in the middle of it. Rodriguez is breaking no rules by continuing to play while appealing his punishment. His lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, is trying hard to prove that Rodriguez’s case demands a thorough review. Fair enough.
As a player still technically in good standing, Rodriguez deserves the same protection as anyone else. This means Dempster should be suspended, although he would almost certainly appeal, because he claimed — comically — that he was just trying to pitch inside.
By now, you wish the major players in this story would just own their roles. Rodriguez, at least, seems to be thriving off his latest persona as a pro wrestling-style heel, preening to the crowd, reveling in the wrath of the enemy fans. He scorched the ball all weekend.
Me-against-the-world is a common motivational tool for athletes, and often, it really does work. Girardi must keep Rodriguez locked in to that mind-set, which seems to be helping the team win. For a manager, Girardi knows, that is all that truly matters.