Is the Bronx Zoo back? Before Tuesday’s pivotal game three, Joe Girardi (perhaps with an assist from Brian Cashman?) decided to bench Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher, two players who have been stalwarts for him throughout his tenure as Yankee manager. The moves, which were controversial before the game, have become even more so following another loss in which the team could barely scratch out a run.
With the Yankees now facing certain elimination after going down 3 games to 0 in the ALCS, at least some attention now shifts to whether or not the Yankees’ offensive woes will have ramifications beyond October. Whether or not there was a sound basis for his decision, Girardi’s abandonment of two established veterans could have a ripple effect that lasts until next year. Just ask the Red Sox what clubhouse discontent at the end of one season can mean for the next. The brooms will be out in Detroit, but the Yankees won’t be able to use them to sweep the lingering controversy under the rug.
Nick Swisher’s days in pinstripes were probably numbered anyway. With the outfielder approaching free agency, the newly cost conscious Yankees were unlikely to meet his reported demands. The fact that he turned in his fourth consecutive horrendous postseason was icing on the cake. If there would have been any fan backlash over letting a popular player go, Swisher’s October disappearing act all but ensured he’ll leave town quietly. For that reason, Girardi’s handling of the outfielder has no long-term consequence. That same can’t be said for his treatment of Alex Rodriguez.
By benching Arod twice, pinch hitting for him on multiple occasions, and, perhaps worse, not using him despite potential favorable match-ups, Girardi has made the future Hall of Famer the team’s scapegoat. Is that fair? At this point, it doesn’t really matter. Although both men have said all the right things, it’s hard not to imagine a growing rift between them. And, if one exists, it will be hard to prevent it from spreading throughout the clubhouse.
Barring something unforeseen (although trade whispers have already started to emerge), Arod, Cashman, and Girardi will all be back next year, so the Yankees’ first priority in the offseason must be ensuring that any hard feelings fermented during the postseason do not linger. With the organization already facing a winter that could bring significant upheaval, the last thing it needs is a split within the ranks, especially considering the potential absences of clubhouse leaders like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera because of their respective injuries.
Is the Bronx Zoo really back? Although this postseason has felt like a soap opera, it doesn’t even compare to the teams of Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, et al., which actually seemed to thrive amid chaos. However, that doesn’t mean the potential for rising tension should be ignored. When the ALCS is over, Girardi, Cashman, and Rodriguez will need to clear the air because, otherwise, the stench won’t go away. The Yankees could be at fork in the road. Hopefully Yogi Berra isn’t holding the map.
There is one other way for the Yankees to erase the hard feelings brought about by their soft performance in the ALCS: win the next four games. Once again, the team can look to their rivals for a blueprint. When the Red Sox went down 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS, the predictions for the future were dire. No one remembers that now. Winning is the best form of amnesia, and the Yankees sure could use a case.