When Joe Girardi became Yankees manager last year, he had the reputation of something of a militant coach, and not just because of his crew cut. He was going to be the manager to whip the team into shape and make sure they were well conditioned in April, something that had become a problem at the end of the Joe Torre era. Then, coincidentally or not, the Yankees went on to miss the playoffs for the first time in fourteen years. So this spring, he’s trying something different. At practice yesterday, instead of working on pitchers’ fielding drills, Girardi got talked into holding an impromptu putting contest in the infield, at the suggestion of A.J. Burnett. Had someone suggested this last spring, they’d probably still be running sprints between the foul poles. But not this year.
And a couple of weeks ago, it was Girardi’s idea to cancel practice and take the entire team to a pool hall for a billiards tournament, all in the name of team bonding. At the time, you could have considered the outing a one-time thing — a nice gesture before getting back to work. But it appears that Girardi is taking a page right out of the Tom Coughlin playbook. Yes, Coughlin organized a bowling outing not unlike Girardi’s billiards trip. But the comparison now appears to go deeper than that. The Giants coach’s job was on the line going into the 2007 season when he lightened up, actively seeking the advice of his veteran players. Whether or not the two are connected, he won the Super Bowl that same season.
Coughlin is now considered a genius for all sorts of reasons, even if it’s just a matter of perception. But he’ll forever get credit for winning over his team during the Super Bowl season, whatever that really means. Girardi’s job is probably on the line this year, too. He knows this as well as anyone, which is why he’s willing to give anything a shot. Even listening when A.J. Burnett suggests it’s time for a putting tournament.