For only the second time in two decades, the New York Yankees need a new manager. It’s a prestigious position, though not without its challanges. The expectation of success, the ever-encroaching press, the intense interdivisional competition; in short, it’s a pressure cooker. Last time they needed to replace a longtime manager, the Yankees looked inward, to a past contributor of one of their many titles in Joe Girardi. They should do it again, this time with Alex Rodriguez.
Alex Rodriguez has not lived a normal life, even for a sports superstar. But that's fine, because the Yankees managerial job is not a normal job, even in the world of Major League Baseball —- they're made for each other. A-Rod’s entire life has been lived in some variously sized fishbowl. From his phenom days in Miami to being first overall draftee by the Mariners to becoming a superstar by the age of 20, his foray to the Rangers, his massive contract, and then all the way to New York City, his every step has been analyzed, commented on and dissected. I don’t think I can name any other girlfriend or wife of any major league player besides Alex. But him? I could probably identify six just off the top of the head. Somehow he was as present on gossip magazines as he was on Sports Illustrated. For that alone, he has shown he can handle the media, particularly a New York media he knows intimately.
New York reporters spent more than a decade shredding his postseason struggles and building his legend, interviewing him, profiling him, studying his every move on the field and off it. He knows that fishbowl as much as the one he’s lived in for his whole life. And that is key. One of the great attributes of Joe Torre, a man in the running with Casey Stengel and Joe McCarthy for the title of greatest Yankee manager, was his ability to deflect attention from his players. Joe Girardi had a similar ability in his own right.
Alex brings this trait as well, though in a different way. It is a vital attribute, allowing the players to play the game while the manager plays matador with the press. While Torre and Girardi were generally viewed by the media as curmudgeonly leaders who simply took the blame, Rodriguez is gregarious, a huge personality, perfect for the Big Apple and perfect to suck the attention toward him instead of a struggling reliever or slumping hitter. He already dominates as a media personality with his work on MLB on FOX, why wouldn’t his several years on the other side of the line help him in managing the press? Plus it helps that Mike Francesa is retiring, since nobody in New York can excoriate a manager and whip up a frenzy like The Sports Pope. It also puts that weird interview that left some bad blood between the two in the annals of history. Francesa retirement alone would make Alex’s transition a cakewalk
The time we’ve seen Alex on TV has been a revelation, too. He’s charismatic, interesting, inquisitive and brilliant when he starts getting into the details and mechanics of the game. He has a steel trap of a mind and seems to know everything about baseball - the history , what smart moves to make, how to pitch guys, and from reports, he seems to have a strong grasp of the modern game. Hell, he’s lived the modern game.
ARod has seen what works and isn’t some old fart with ideas stuck twenty years in the past. He knows better than anyone how to handle aging sluggers, guys coming back from injury, and the capabilities of youngsters when it comes to who to rest and when to play guys; it has not been that long since he wore those shoes! And he literally knows the specific players his team would face. One knock on Girardi was always that he went too much with the numbers, but Alex is a data-driven analyst who can reconcile the psychological game within the game. He likely would be comfortable riding a hot bat and knowing that when a guy is in the zone, maybe that’s the better move than going with a platoon. Managers manage personalities as well as the game. Streaks end suddenly, and hot bats go cold, but that nice combination of a guy who isn’t too far removed from his playing days, knows and understands those things which are hard to quantify. That’s the sweet spot .
Rodriguez is a brilliant mind for baseball, as wise as any baseball lifer. There’s a reason he was brought on as “Special Advisor” this past spring. Surely the Yankees value something he brings to the table. To be quite frank though, it probably doesn’t matter who the next manager of the Yankees is, because other than that “handling the media” stuff, the manager has little sway in the outcome of a game unless he makes a concerted effort to actively ruin the season. The players make or break everything, not the guy filling out the lineup cards.
Just this postseason, we had a first-year manager in Torey Lovullo and two second-year managers in Paul Molitor (who won Manager of the Year after almost getting fired) and Dave Roberts. The guy managing opposite Roberts in the World Series, AJ Hinch, has about three and a half years experience in the dugout. In the past two years, the only guy I can remember really mismanaging the postseason is Joe Maddon’s mismanaged bullpen last year, Aroldis Chapman in particular. That, or Dusty Baker and that odd calling Scherzer from the bullpen move this year. The younger guys and relative newbies looked like old sages this October.
Molitor in particular encapsulates my point. In 2016 the Twins were dreadful, worst in the league. This year they won 85 games and made the postseason. It seems absurd to think he did anything demonstratively different. He just had better, healthier players and a more forward thinking front office that made key off-season moves. The general manager (or President of Baseball Ops, as the case may be) is the star now, he’s the brain behind the roster. It’s been so since Billy Beane hired Jonah Hill. From Dave Dombrowski to Andrew Friedman, Theo Epstein and Rick Hahn, it’s these names fanbases and writers venerate and verbally dismantle as the ones to save or break a franchise. The only thing a manager can really do is screw it all up. Considering the personnel in the Bronx, is it really a stretch to think Rodridguez, or any man with a pulse, couldn’t skipper a 90+ win team in 2018?
It would be fun to see that big number 13 back in pinstripes, wouldn’t it? It’s not like it would be some crazy move or anything. Craig Counsell is a manager with no past experience and seems to be doing pretty well in Milwaukee. John Farrell and Dusty Baker are quite experienced, Farrell even has a World Series on his resume and both finished in first place in their division this year and they got fired. Heck, Carlos Beltran is barely a month past playing in his last game, and he’s being considered for the position.
Guys like Terry Francona or Joe Maddon are outliers, and only because they changed with the times. Buck Showalter is another conversation altogether. But Alex Rodriguez as Yankees manager basically has to happen. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. The old guard has pretty much all moved on. Maybe the dynamic would be a little weird with all the young guys he played for a year or two still there. Didn’t we all hear what a great mentor he was though? He’s a big name that would pop in the media - always a great thing for the Big Apple. He knows what he’s doing. He’s a media darling, in a weird albeit successful way anyway. It may sound a little ridiculous, but wouldn’t this be the norm for Alex?
Merritt Rohlfing writes about baseball here at Beyond the Box Score, covers the Tribe at Let’s Go Tribe, and might still have a podcast. Check with him, ask about it on Twitter @merrittrohlfing and follow his incredible new Instagram, too.