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The Turncoat Wed Sep 01 2010

The Turncoat: Joe Girardi? Really? Him?

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After previously announcing that 2010 would be his final year as a Major League baseball manager, and subsequently his last year on the Cubs, Lou Piniella decided to take a well deserved early exit from the crumbling confines of Wrigley Field to take care of his mother. It was not a surprising move, nor was it a decision that had much consequence on the 2010 Chicago Cubs. Their season ended in the visitor's bullpen at U.S. Cellular Field on June 11th when Carlos Zambrano smashed his way through his team and some Gatorade coolers because Derrek Lee gave up that home run. The look on Lou's face during that incident said it all: "Please god, I am but an old, tired but accomplished man. Please get me the hell away from this train-wreck. I'll even go back to Tampa. What? They're good now? Well, sh*t!"

And so the Cubs' Piniella era came to an end. He was the first manager to bring the Northsiders to two consecutive playoff appearances since 1908, the last time they did that other thing. He brought the promise of intensity in a post-Dusty town. He was the Lovable Losers' lovable old codger. After a Cubs win, he was snappy and affable, drawing laughs from the media. After a Cubs loss, he was surly and quick to anger. He was the most memorable manager the Cubs had in ages and he is now gone, off to the Florida sunset so he can take care of his family and meander around his house in his old Reds jersey.

The interim skipper, Mike Quade, will most likely not be the Cubs manager in 2011. Since fans and media alike got a whiff of Lou's lame-duck future earlier this season, speculations as to who will take over the helm of futility have run their course. Some said it will be Joe Torre, continuing the tradition of elderly and previously accomplished leaders coming to Wrigley to spend their twilight years with history's most maddening hobby. Others pondered the unexciting prospect of Alan Trammell, who would no doubt begin a 1990s like trend of rapid managerial turnover and a string of losing seasons. A current favorite, of course, is Ryne Sandberg, who has been seemingly groomed to take over the Cubs the second he started his gig in Iowa. Last, and certainly the least likely, is current Yankees skipper, Joe Girardi, whose current contract expires at the end of the season.

As someone who was on the Girardi bandwagon in '06, I certainly see why fans would want him here. The questions is, why would he want to come here in 2011? Despite general manager Jim Hendry's love of setting massive piles of money on fire and the new owners' habit of selling off assets around Wrigley, the Cubs, even with their massive national fan base, will not win a bidding war against the New York Yankees. The Yankees have spent the last half century proving that they get who they want when they want them by giving away contracts that give the Scott Borases of the world massive money boners. If the Yankees want to keep their manager around, and given his success in the Big Apple they will, there is no way monetary compensation will be a motivating force for Girardi coming home to Chicago. The Lovable Losers can't outspend the Evil Empire.

One thing that I have heard all too often, is that Chicago offers Joe a chance to be "The One." There is no such thing as magic or curses, and that means mathematically, on a long enough timeline, the Cubs will have to break their streak someday. And whether that day comes next year or next century, whoever is managing the club at the time will be lauded among Cubs Nation the single greatest human being since Adolphus Busch. Cubs fans have been waiting a long, horrible time to see it happen and they are thirsty for a hero. Religions will be formed around such a figure. He will be a deity. The problem is, this is the exact same thing everyone said about Lou, and Dusty before him. Both of those men left town as mere mortals. One of them left under a barrage of racial slurs from fans. Why would Girardi's future be any different?

Money and fame aside, look at the club Girardi would be leaving. Now look at the one he would be joining. In New York he has a lineup overstuffed with all stars. Meanwhile the Cubs are on the verge of another rebuilding year all while still mired down in the immovable heavyweight contracts of under-performing players Carlos Zambrano, Kosuke Fukudome and the man whose Major League contract best mirrors the career of a Supreme Court Justice (hired until he dies), Alfonso Soriano. Their three contracts alone account for $50 million of the Cubs budget next season. Joe would have to be very patient indeed to wait out that storm ...or he could just stay on the Yankees and win more championships.

This isn't to say that Girardi coming to the Cubs is a strict impossibility. If you had told me a few years ago that both Manny Ramirez and I would be wearing White Sox regalia in 2010, I would have laughed in your face. Anything is possible. It just seems as though the odds are so stacked against it actually happening I can't fathom why so many people talk about it with so much enthusiasm. But at Wrigley, optimism is a renewable resource.

 
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