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What do Joe Girardi and Francisco Lindor have in common?
Both are guilty, during this 2021 baseball season, of an identical transgression: overcomplicating things.
Lindor, faced with the reality that he experienced some sort of disagreement with his Mets double-play partner Jeff McNeil on May 7, fabricated an inane story — about the teammates arguing over whether they witnessed a rat or a raccoon in the tunnel connecting Citi Field’s home dugout with its home clubhouse — rather than acknowledging the obvious in a tactful manner. To be fair, the tale might represent Lindor’s most memorable contribution to his new team so far.
Girardi, living the proof that a leopard can’t change its spots, offered this dandy on Monday about sitting the Phillies’ clearly hurting Bryce Harper: “You know, I went to bed last night, woke up this morning and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to give him another day.’ And that’s the reason.” The next day, when Philadelphia placed Harper on the injured list with a left forearm contusion, Girardi summoned Gabbo from “The Simpsons” (“I’m a bad widdle boy!”) by admitting he lied in order to deceive his opponent, the Marlins, into thinking that Harper might be available to pinch hit.
Both accomplished baseball men win Silly Awards for taking something easy and making it difficult. In Girardi’s case, though, maybe we can turn his terrible messaging into something good for the game.
With gambling now such a vital revenue stream, shouldn’t Major League Baseball generate a daily injury report for better transparency?
First, though, some thoughts on Girardi: The former Yankees manager, catcher and bench coach has been on quite a roll lately, even for him. First came a May 16 dugout skirmish with his second baseman, Jean Segura, which led to a testy postgame news conference in which he repeatedly declined to engage on the matter in any way. Then came the Harper nonsense, which very much qualified as nonsense because everyone in the world knew that Harper hadn’t been the same since he was hit on April 28 by a fastball from the Cardinals’ Genesis Cabrera that connected with both the outfielder’s face and his left hand — and because, as multiple Philadelphia reporters pointed out, Harper didn’t even bother to wear a jersey in the dugout.
Then, on Thursday, when asked about using Segura only as a pinch-hitter against his old pal Derek Jeter’s team, Girardi said: “Just so you guys know, we’re going to approach this different. I’ve talked to people in our organization. Just a manager’s decision and I’m not going to share anything — who’s available, who’s not available — because I think it’s somewhat unfair to us.”
His point isn’t terrible in the general sense. No skipper wants to give up any competitive advantage. Far better ways exist, however, to thread the needle, to dance around a player’s availability on a specific night without resorting to outright untruths or the hostile, Jimy Williams-esque “Manager’s decision.” That challenge increases in this era of Zoom calls, with audiences of 30 or so media types rather than, say, the handful of reporters who would’ve been with Girardi in person for a game in Miami during non-pandemic times. It nevertheless remains attainable.
What’s amazing is how Girardi still struggles with the “spokesman” part of the job, in his 13th year at this. After his maiden voyage with the Yankees in 2008, his employers told Girardi the area in which he needed the most work was media relations, and he did improve en route to winning the 2009 World Series.
While he can be affable on a day-to-day basis, though, he still hasn’t figured out how to display sufficient grace under pressure during moments of adversity. His preparation and seriousness of purpose appear inextricably linked to his irritability (and consequently questionable press-conference choices) in tough times. It’s a package deal.
Yet what if Girardi faced no choice in the matter? What if MLB compelled all of its clubs, in the name of wagering intake, to disclose all injury information like the NFL and the NBA? As per the NBA’s official injury report, “NBA teams must report information concerning player injuries, illnesses and rest for all NBA games. … [T]eams must designate a participation status and identify a specific injury, illness or potential instance of a healthy player resting for any player whose participation in the game may be affected by such injury, illness or rest.”
Surely Girardi and his fellow managers still would search for competitive edges within such a framework. However, this would largely eliminate questions about why Player A isn’t starting and so on. It probably would grease the skids for more gambling, which in turn should help everyone’s earning power, including the managers.
To date, MLB has not seriously contemplated such an initiative. Like many such endeavors — wouldn’t it be cool if the umpiring crew chief announced replay rulings on the field like an NFL referee explains penalties to the crowd? — it got sidetracked by the pandemic. As we return to some level of normalcy, here’s hoping that baseball gets around to this sooner than later. If nothing else, it could add years to Girardi’s life.
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