COMMENTARY | Even before the New York Yankees concluded a lackluster season that saw them fall short of competing for their 28th World Series title, speculation was heating up that their manager would be leaving town.
Joe Girardi has been a part of 4 of the Yankees' championship teams, 3 as a player (1996, '98, and '99) and 1 as manager (2009). So why would he move to a team that is notorious for its futility?
The answers lie somewhere between the still-drying tears of Mariano Rivera's final appearance and the still-drying ink on Alex Rodriquez's lawsuit against Major League Baseball. Girardi has experienced the pinnacle of his profession in New York, but there's an undercurrent of unease that could well carry him all the way to the shores of Lake Michigan.
Despite 85 wins, the Yankees finished tied for 3rd in the AL East, 12 games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox and 6.5 out of the wild-card race (led by another AL East team, the Tampa Bay Rays). And, now, whether due to free agency, retirement, or suspension, the Bronx Bombers face the possibility of losing Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki, and more.
Given the Yankees' deep pockets and the reported willingness of the Cubs to spare no expense on their manager of choice, it's safe to say that money will not be an issue in Girardi's decision. So what then are the factors that will tip the balance?
Let's examine a few:
They say you can't go home again, and that's often true. But a return to the Cubs, for whom Girardi played 7 seasons over 2 separate engagements, would be just that. He grew up in Peoria, Ill., and attended college just a few miles north of Wrigley Field at Northwestern University.
But while Girardi hails from Illinois, his family has grown comfortable in the New York City area over his six years there. While both cities are massive and diverse, the differences between the Big Apple and the Windy City are stark.
It's about the East Coast vs. the Midwest, Westchester vs. Winnetka. This decision could end up being less about where Girardi himself is more comfortable, but where he feels his family most wants to be.
When asked to provide an example of job security, "Cubs manager" isn't going to be anyone's first response. Perhaps the only group that feels comfortable with the recent rate of attrition of Cubs skippers is the ill-fated College of Coaches . The next hire will mark the 5th man to guide the team in 9 years.
But, as I wrote in an earlier piece regarding Dale Sveum's tenuous grasp on his job, the Cubs will be looking to hit a home run with this move. Still thought to be another two years or so from competing, Girardi would have a bit of leeway when it comes to losses.
As mentioned above, the Yankees aren't exactly a touchstone of security at this point. In fact, the turnover on its roster figures to resemble a subway turnstile this offseason. And on a team where playoff berths and world titles are considered birthrights, your job is never guaranteed.
Winning a World Series with the Yankees endears you to the fan base -- for a year or so. But with the ghosts of legends like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle, the team has nostalgia to spare. Unless he rattles off another two or three championships, Girardi has a long way to go before he's enshrined in Monument Park.
The Cubs have their legends, too, many of them flying proudly from the foul poles. But to find the most recent Yankees title, one need only look back to 2009. As Cubs fans know, and as opposing fans love to remind them, the North Siders' last title was in '08. 1908.
So is the draw of chasing No. 28 with the Yankees greater than snapping the longest title drought in professional sports? Were Girardi to hoist the Commissioner's Trophy in Chicago, he would instantly etch his name in the annals of history. Just look at Mike Ditka.
Win a title in New York and you get to stick around for another year or two, maybe even avoid being called a bum. Win a title with the Cubs, and you never have a pay for a meal in the city again.
I may be wrong about Joe Girardi. Lord knows I've been wrong before, though at least one of the predictions I made in an earlier article has proven correct already. But I believe he'll choose to spurn the Yankees.
Girardi will choose to walk away from the monolithic traditions of Yankee Stadium for the Friendly Confines. He'll leave because he'd rather rebuild than reload and because he wants the challenge of creating a legend instead of being just another name on a long list.
Am I insane for thinking that Girardi will leave the Yankees for the Cubs? Are there other factors to his decision? Comment below and let me know.
Evan spent his formative years on a farm and a sleepy town in Northwest Indiana in the days before Wrigley Field was illuminated. As a result, every summer afternoon was spent watching or listening to the Cubs on WGN, a practice that ingrained the team into his DNA. His kids are named after the team and years of frustration have made him a self-loathing, yet still unapologetic, Cubs apologist. And yes, he knows that that is contradictory.
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