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Thursday, October 26, 2017

OPINION:

That sound you hear coming from South Capitol Street is the Lerner family gasping for air from Joe Girardi’s foot on their collective throats.

The news broke Thursday that the Yankees would not bring back Girardi, who has a 910-710 record over 10 years as the manager in New York, with one World Series championship in 2009.


And the search for the Washington Nationals’ new manager, in the wake of Dusty Baker being dismissed, got a lot more interesting and complicated.

To put it simply — the Lerner family, the Nationals owners who would seemingly let the stadium burn to the ground rather than pay a manager — may have to use the ax they keep hidden in their vault to break the glass to pay Joe Girardi. With the now-former Yankee manager on the market, Dave Martinez — the Chicago Cubs bench coach who was considered a strong candidate for the Nationals’ managing job — just won’t cut it with the fan base.

Martinez is the Lerners’ kind of manager — likely to come cheap.

Girardi? He is coming off a four-year, $16 million deal with the Yankees. That’s more than what the Lerners have paid managers over the past eight seasons — including carrying Matt Williams’ second year on the books last season. A $4 million a year manager? There has been one in Washington — Davey Johnson in 2013, and the Lerners only agreed to pay Johnson that much for one year if he agreed to step down at the end of the season.


AUDIO: Former Major League Baseball player Jerry Hairston Jr. with Thom Loverro


They are going to have to pay now if they want Girardi.

And even $4 million may not work.

For a guy out of work, Girardi has tremendous leverage, thanks to the Nationals screwing up the Dusty Baker decision. Washington should not even be looking for a manager. Baker, coming off two straight National League East Division titles and nearly 200 career wins in Washington, was not retained by the Lerners — over team president and general manager Mike Rizzo’s wishes — and have been universally ridiculed in the baseball industry.

With a bad reputation now in tatters, perhaps the only salvation for the Lerners is hiring Girardi — who you can be sure is well aware of the credibility he would bring to the table for the Nationals owners. That would be his foot on the Lerners’ throats.

But what if any deal isn’t good enough for Girardi to take the job? The Philadelphia Phillies job is open as well, and, despite five straight losing seasons, they are considered a young team on the way up, with a stable ownership that understands the business of the game — everything the Lerners are not. And Girardi could decide to sit out a year and see what other jobs open up. He could easily step into the television studio to bide his time.

As one industry insider who knows Girardi well told me, “No way Joe takes Nats job.”

Besides, there are questions about Girardi, as well. The 2017 postseason was not his finest hour. The Yankees were embarrassed by failing to call for a replay on Cleveland Indians outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall’s phantom hit-by-pitch call in Game 2 of the American League Division Series. That play set the stage for Francisco Lindor’s sixth-inning grand slam. Despite the Yankees winning the game, Girardi came under fire not only for failing to challenge, but also failing to take responsibility for it later. He, like Baker, had some pitching moves called into question, including pulling starters too early from games.

Also, the Yankees were reportedly unhappy with Girardi’s distant relationship with players. That would make him the anti-Dusty Baker, who was beloved by Nationals players and who brought a damaged clubhouse together after Matt Williams was fired in 2015.

It would serve the Lerners right to have to pay through the nose to hire Girardi, since they had the right guy in place in Baker for the price — $2 million a year — that fit their pocketbook.

In fact, a former Major League Baseball veteran who played for Girardi, Buck Showalter and many other managers over his career said Baker was the best of them all.

“I think I have the best view of any player who has played for Dusty Baker because I played everywhere,” 16-year MLB veteran Jerry Hairston Jr., told me in a conversation on my “Cigars & Curveball” podcast, available here on The Washington Times website. “I played in New York. I played in Los Angeles. I played in Chicago. I played I think for 12 or 13 managers, different voices. Everybody has their strengths and everybody has their weaknesses. There is no one perfect manager

“Dusty was the best out of all of them,” said Hairston, who broke in with the Baltimore Orioles in 1998 and who played for Baker in Cincinnati in 2009. “He was one of the most prepared guys, I mean he had game plans for the entire week. Now sometimes you have to deviate your game plan because injuries happen, guys get sick and guys get hurt. But he always had a game plan. He was always thinking ahead a week 10 days in advance. I was so impressed by Dusty Baker.

“In the clubhouse he was one of the best leaders,” said Hairston, who played in Washington in 2011. “He understood that you let your players lead. You need to have your veteran guys lead. Players respected that. That’s why guys like (Jayson) Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, those veteran guys in the clubhouse, love Dusty Baker.”

Hairston, who is an analyst on the Dodgers pre and post-game telecasts — and who comes from one of the legendary baseball families, with his grandfather, father, uncle and brother all playing Major League Baseball — suggested at some point, the players have to perform. “Make no mistake about it, for players to become legends they have to do legendary things in the postseason,” he said “You have to have players perform. Dusty can’t hit for you. Dusty can’t pitch for you. The Nationals players I’m sure are heartbroken because they need to swing the bat. They didn’t hit the way they are capable of hitting.”

Joe Girardi, presumably, can make the players perform. But you’ll have to pay for it — and then convince him to take your money.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.


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