Lou Piniella's announcement of his retirement yesterday has, inevitably, led to what will surely be a long and winding discussion on who should replace him. Generally, at this very early juncture, there are three names on most people's minds:
- Ryne Sandberg,
- Joe Girardi, and
- Bob Brenly
Of course, there are likely a number of other candidates — including the rather sadly overlooked Alan Trammell and ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine (who, quite frankly, strikes me as slightly unstable and possibly the least exciting prospect of any yet mentioned).
But let's focus on Joe Girardi — and what it might take to bring him to Chicago. The answer might surprise us.
On second thought, let's first consider Ryne Sandberg. Right now, it feels like Ryno has the inside track on the 2011 Cubs manager job. He applied for the gig in 2006 and wanted enough to accept the team’s initial rebuff and go out and pay his dues, sacrificing family life and creature comforts to grind out several rigorous seasons in the minor leagues. Sandberg has incredible name and face recognition here in Chicago and, let's face it, his return to the (big league) Cubs would be a great story.
And yet ... his inexperience worries me. The conservative, cautious (and quite well-dressed) gentleman inside me is apprehensive of handing over the keys to the team to a guy who's never managed in a major league dugout — much less the high-speed pressure cooker that is Wrigley Field.
Sure, you could say Ryno has been in the Wrigley dugout before, and surely he knows what to expect when it comes to the Chicago media. But can he handle it? Can he hold it together — especially as the team enters a period of great and potentially contentious transition? Would it be more judicious to bring Ryno up as a bench coach (or first or third base coach) and ease him into the top spot?
Questions like these bring me back to Joe Girardi. He’s a guy who brings the ex-Cub “he gets it” factor as well as big league managerial experience. Assuming he finishes out this season as the Yankees skipper, Girardi will have four full seasons under his belt — and at least one World Series ring. He’ll presumably have two straight years of postseason experience as well.
It’s here that, quite understandably, most fans and pundits would say, “Yeah, Dave, we’re aware of Girardi’s current employment status. Why would he want to leave the New York Yankees, who are currently on pace for another 100-win season, to take on the Cubs almost 102-year-old championship drought?”
Well, I honestly don’t know that he would. Nor would I particularly blame him if he didn’t. But let’s throw a hypothetical out there. (“I don’t deal in hypotheticals,” says Girardi. I know, Joe, humor me.) What if the Yankees repeat as Word Series champions this season? It’s certainly possible — even probable. As of this writing, the Yanks have a 84.2% of making the playoffs, according to coolstandings.com.
So let’s fast-forward to late October/early November and say the Bronx Bombers do it again. ARod stays healthy, CC dominates and Mariano closes things out. The Yankees become the first team to win back-to-back World Series since, well, the Yankees themselves pulled off their three-peat to close out the 1990s.
What more could Girardi do? I know, I know: He could go for three. But is the rapidly aging Yankees lineup really capable of mimicking that late-1990s-era club? Girardi could leave on the ultimate high note, return to the team of his childhood and get in on the ground floor of an organization in transition — an organization that, if handled properly, could quickly put itself in constant contention for the relatively weak NL Central.
For this reason, if you want Joe Girardi to be your next Cubs manager, I’d like to suggest something crazy: Root for the Yankees. Root for them to stay atop the AL East, cruise through the playoffs and crush whatever National League team is unfortunate enough to have to face them in the World Series. Because, then, as counterintuitive as it might seem, Joe Girardi may seize the opportunity to take his two Word Series rings, cash out of the high-stakes poker game known as New York baseball and come home to Chicago.
And, yes, we could still have Ryne Sandberg on the coaching staff.