The first pitch
Thanks for following me over from the Chicago Tribune, if you are one who did, and hello to those who just stumbled into the room.
The Yankees recently announced that Joe Girardi has left the building, as far as Wrigley Field is concerned, and that means the Cubs will have to head seriously in another direction in their managerial search. As for where they’re heading, we’ll get to that in a moment. But know that despite all the talk – a little of which I may have generated – it is not a surprise that Girardi has opted to take a four-year deal to stay with the Yankees.
The surprise would have been if a sitting manager with the Yankees, well regarded by his ownership and front office, had packed up his office at the house next to what’s left of the House that Ruth built and signed up to manage the Cubs, no matter whether he graduated from Northwestern or Slippery Rock (alma mater of the Cardinals’ Matt Adams, one of my new favorite players). You just don’t leave the Yankees to take over the Cubs, someone explained to me a few weeks ago, and that person was spot on the money.
Girardi did the smart thing by sticking with the Yankees for the full ride, wherever it leaves him from the nightmare that was this season. He only gets to use the go-home-to-Chicago card once, and there might be a team he needs it. This wasn’t it.
Now as to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, they can exhale and get serious about finding the guy to replace Dale Sveum. They may already have found him – Manny Acta is a very respected guy, despite that 372-518 record as manager of the Nationals and Indians – but it’s likely that the Rays’ Davey Martinez, Sandy Alomar Jr. and some others will get interviews before we get from here.
One thing I know/strongly suspect: The new guy will be bi-cultural – that is, comfortable speaking Spanish when called upon (mostly in getting into the ears and heads of guys like Starlin Castro, Javy Baez, Albertico Almora, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, Rubi Silva and others) and English around us gringos. Acta crosses those bridges extremely well. On the other hand, he didn’t get results in Cleveland, with the performance of Ubaldo Jimenez and Asdrubal Cabrera not exactly suggesting that he’s the guy to turn around Castro. He does have experience, which you can’t say about guys like Rick Renteria, Martinez and Alomar.
How ’bout Ozzie Guillen? If Epstein and Hoyer were bold enough to do that after watching him and Ken Williams knock heads for the last two or three years of Guillen’s generally successful run with the White Sox, well, I’d be surprised. Shocked, stunned, blown away. But it might be a great move too. Guillen is a good baseball man, and far too young to be a wasted resource for the game. If he could be re-trained to talk only about his players, and not himself, he could do just fine.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Chicago, here are two words to help get you through the week: Micah Johnson. The left-handed-hitting second baseman is a joy to watch, as I saw with a trip to Birmingham during the Southern League playoffs. He led the minor leagues with 84 stolen bases, and he just swiped three in the Arizona Fall League opener. Johnson, a ninth-round pick in the 2012 draft from Indiana University, was hitting second for Glendale, between the Twins’ Byron Buxton and the Marlins’ Colin Moran, both of whom are studs.
Consider his performance in six plate appearances:1) Walks, steal second and scores. 2) Reaches on an error, steals second and third, scores. 3) Grounds out. 4) Doubles, scores. 5) Strikes out. 6) Reaches on infield single.I’ll stick with what I wrote for the Chicago Tribune last month. The kid’s like gravel in a pitcher’s spike. He’s impossible to ignore. I loved what he told me about hoping to get to U.S. Cellular in the near future. “I think if I can focus, be consistent day in and day out, I’ll get to Chicago,’’ Johnson said. “I want to get there as fast as I can, before these legs get old.”