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Girardi the right choice for Yankees

Girardi the right choice for Yankees

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So Alex Rodriguez opts out, Joe Girardi opts in.

That's what happens if you're the Red Sox and your World Series triumphs go from curse-busting to routine. It becomes secondary news.

And the Yankees are left praying that their seven-year World Series title drought doesn't mushroom into their own hex, as in the Curse of Don Mattingly.

The Yankees certainly didn't let the Sox's Rolling Rally parade pass them by, formally appointing Girardi as their new manager on Tuesday afternoon.

Such announcements used to be routine in the Bronx, where once managers changed as often as guards in front of Buckingham Palace, but this latest move is a bit more weighty.

The transition from Joe Torre was slightly awkward, but now the Yankees have someone to lead them across the street into new Yankee Stadium in 2009 and back into the October spotlight, maybe sooner.

With his sharp mind and piercing eyes and very recent playing experiences, Girardi is the perfect composite of a 21st century manager. He won't be big on dugout-fireside chats, a Torre specialty. But Girardi will stoke fires in all the right places.

The A-Rod saga will now play out slowly, but the Yankees' search for their next manager has turned into a predictably short story.

Girardi was officially offered the job only Monday morning, and accepted hours later, but he essentially has had it for more than a year. He ostensibly had it last offseason, when he rejected offers following his dismissal by the Marlins, and he certainly had it last summer when he turned down the Orioles' overtures to replace Sam Perlozzo.

Instead, he put his 2006 National League Manager of the Year trophy on the mantle, and put himself in escrow. He spent the year as an analyst for YES and FOX, doing postseason duties for the latter and maintaining the best poker face on television, better than what you see on any of those actual poker shows.

As they say around the felt table, Girardi got the flop: another American League Division Series flop, at least nudging Torre closer to the exit, which he opened on his own in response to an unsatisfactory offer from the Yankees.

Essentially, Torre and A-Rod were both driven away by the same thing, that "never enough" element woven into New York's fabric that manifested itself in different ways for the two men. For Rodriguez, constant reminders that he didn't have a ring. For Torre, contract incentives he considered insulting.

So enter Girardi. Iron-Jawed Joe.

This is a terrific, yet intriguing, hire which sends all the right messages to Yankees fans. Most prominent among them: We care more about winning games than scoring promotional points; performance over pomp.

The choice of Mattingly would have been popular, and also daring. Probably too daring, a risk ultimately no one in the transitional ownership suite wanted to make.

You couldn't swing a fungo bat in Yankee Stadium this season without clipping a former Major League manager. There was one in every drawer of Torre's kitchen cabinet. His coaching staff included Tony Pena, Larry Bowa, even Joe Kerrigan -- and looking down from the YES broadcast booth was Girardi.

That's 1,541 games' and 11 1/2 seasons' worth of experience, and three Manager of the Year Awards' worth of confirmation.

Sidestepping all that and going with a managerial novice would have handed critics a free rein. And it would not have been a big favor to Donnie Baseball, who would have gone to work under intense scrutiny and with a short leash.

Who knows what would have been the reaction if the 2008 Yankees started off, say, 21-29 or 11-19 (the slow starts of 2007 and '05, respectively, from which Torre rescued them)?

Instead, the onus falls on Girardi, only four years after his own playing career ended with the Cardinals. Although Girardi's last season in pinstripes was in 1999, he will skipper perhaps four former teammates -- Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and, if they're re-signed, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.

The presence of such veterans introduces the X factor about the challenge that Girardi has accepted.

In Florida, he was applauded, and ultimately honored, for his ability to encourage, nurture and inspire a young bunch. Within two months of having hired Girardi, you'll recall, the Marlins purged their roster of Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca.

Girardi was left with an Opening Day roster that included 11 rookies, which he molded it into a late-season contender.

His milieu in the Bronx will be dramatically different. The Yankees will reload, hoping to get better. But they certainly won't get greener or younger. It will be a veteran crew not as responsive to what worked for Girardi in Miami, where he had hungry players "fighting every day. That's how you get better."

Girardi will also have his players' utmost respect, as can only someone who has walked in their shoes and very recently.

As for receiving the exalted status of his predecessor ... that will obviously take time. Torre is a good man, perhaps even a great man, whose celebrity and reputation were quickly spread by media grateful for, and astounded by, his unending patience and graciousness.

That's not going to come easy for Girardi, whose shell is as tough as his jaw. Even as a player, he considered reporters as necessary evils. More evil than necessary, probably.

But the Yankees didn't hire him to be Jerry Seinfeld. They don't need an entertainer, they need a winner. By all indications, that's what they got.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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