The Yankees introduced Joe Girardi as the new Yankee manager at a press conference at the Stadium yesterday afternoon and, later that evening, the Dodgers announced that they had signed Joe Torre to a three-year deal worth $13 million. Between the Yankees' press conference, which provided opportunities the YES crew to interview Brian Cashman and Yankees COO Lonn Trost among others, and Mike and the Mad-Dog's 20th anniversary show, which featured interviews with Girardi, Torre, and Derek Jeter (as well as Bernie Williams, Darryl Strawberry, and many more of the biggest New Yorks sports stars from the past 20 years), we have plenty of information to put the Yankees' managerial saga to bed and shift our focus to the team's pending player transactions, which will begin today with the decision on Bobby Abreu's $16-million club option and continue with next week's general manager meetings in Orlando, Florida.
The most important information to come out of the day was the identity of Girardi's coaches. Pete Abraham, who's been doing incredible work on this story, be it by simply posting the audio of the team's various conference calls and press conferences over the past week, or by getting the tremendous Torre-to-L.A. story scoop, got the scoop on the coaching staff as well back on Tuesday. I updated the sidebar here accordingly, but have been reserving comment until the staff was officially announced. That didn't happen today because some of those coaches still have to sign their contracts, but Brian Cashman did confirm that the staff Abraham posted is indeed the one he's trying to assemble. Here's the breakdown.
Bench Coach: Rob Thomson
Not to be confused with former Giants second baseman Robby Thompson, Rob Thomson was a catcher/third baseman in the Tigers system from 1985-1988. After playing just two games in 1988, he became a minor league coach for the Tigers at the tender age of 24. The Ontario-born Thomson has been in the Yankee organization since 1990. From 1990 to 1997 he was a minor league coach and manager, his one season as a manager coming at the helm of the Oneonta Yankees in the short-season New York-Penn League in 1995. Since 1998 he's been a roving coach and instructor (officially a "Field Coordinator" or "Special Assignment Instructor"), which is technically a front-office position. Thomson was promoted to Director of Player Development in 2000 and again to Vice President of Minor League Development in 2003. He has been the hidden member of the major league coaching staff since 2004 as the Major League Field Instructor, most visibly filling in as a third base coach for Luis Sojo when Sojo was on bereavement leave in 2004.
Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi wanted Don Mattingly to stay on as the bench coach, but Mattingly, at least according to his public statements, didn't think it would be fair to Girardi to have another managerial candidate in the dugout with him as it would prompt "Fire Joe, Hire Donnie" articles at the first sign of trouble. Girardi didn't think that would be an issue. Mattingly, who is leaving the organization on good terms with both Cashman and Girardi, will most likely serve as Joe Torre's bench coach in L.A. Thomson is an excellent second choice given his 18 years in the organization and 20 years of coaching and front office experience.
Pitching Coach: Dave Eiland
Eiland was drafted out of college by the Yankees in the seventh-round in 1987. A righty starter, Eiland burned his way through the Yankees minor league system and made his major league debut in 1988. In 1990 he was the International League's pitcher of the year, but disappointing major league performances derailed what looked like a promising career and the Yankees released him after the 1991 season sending him on a nine-year journey through six organizations, including a return stint with the Yankees for four games in 1995 that went no better than the first. Eiland's best major league season was his second-to-last. In 1999, he set career highs in almost every category as a swing man for the Devil Rays, going 4-8 with a 4.97 ERA in 21 games (15 starts). Curiously, Eiland's playing career as a dominant right-handed minor league control pitcher who never made it in the majors is one of the data points that argues against Tyler Clippard's now-faded prospect status.
Eiland has been a pitching coach in the Yankees' system since 2003 working his way up through the organization, first with the Gulf-Coast Yankees in 2003, then low-A Staten Island in 2004, double-A Trenton in 2005 and 2006, and finally with triple-A Scranton this past season. The obvious advantage of having Eiland as the major league pitching coach is that he worked with many of the organization's young hurlers in the minors. Here's a quick breakdown of who he worked with, where, and for how long:
Joba Chamberlain for three games with Scranton this past year
Ian Kennedy for six games this year
Phil Hughes for five games this year and 21 with Trenton in 2006
Tyler Clippard for 14 games this year, a full 28 in 2006, and 11 in the Gulf Coast League in 2003
Jeff Karstens for six games this year and 39 games with Trenton in 2004 and 2005 combined
Matt DeSalvo for 20 games this year and 41 the two previous seasons
Chase Wright for 15 games this year and one in 2004
Steven White for 16 games this year and 22 over two years in Trenton
J.B. Cox for 41 games in 2006
Sean Henn for 16 games this year, four in 2005, and two in 2003
T.J. Beam for 29 games this year, 18 in 2006, and 12 as a starter with Staten Island in 2004
All of the team's bubble relievers in Scranton last year, including Ross Ohlendorf, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Brian Bruney, Chris Britton, and Colter Bean, as well as starters Kei Igawa and Steven Jackson
Eiland has not worked with last year's break-out double-A starters Allan Horne and Jeff Marquez, but did have Chien-Ming Wang for a single three-inning start in the Gulf Coast League in 2003.
Hitting Coach: Kevin Long
Long was the Yankees' hitting coach last year as the Bombers led the majors in runs scored by nearly a half-run over the Phillies. He was the Columbus Clippers' hitting coach for the three years prior to that, which encompassed all of Robinson Cano's and Melky Cabrera's time spent at the triple-A level, as well as two monster seasons by Andy Phillips.
An All-American at the University of Arizona, Long spent eight seasons as a minor league outfielder in the Royals' organization and hit .264/.343/.352 for his career. He began coaching in the Royals' system in 1997 at the age of 30 and was named co-Manager of the Year as the skipper of the Royals' low-A Northwest League club in 1999. He's been a hitting coach every year since, serving in that position for the Royals' double-A club in 2000 and 2001, their triple-A club in 2002 and 2003, and in the Yankees organization in the four years since.
First-base Coach: Tony Peña
Last year's coaching staff had 29 combined All-Star appearances as players and 37 seasons of major league managerial experience. This year's staff has six combined All-Star appearances as players and five seasons of major league managerial experience, all but one of each by Tony Peña. In addition to being the most accomplished member of the staff, Peña is also the senior member at age 50, and the only member not to have played college ball.
Peña's 18-year career as one of the most highly regarded backstops in the game came to an end in 1997. In 1998 he was the White Sox coordinator of Dominican operations and led the Aguilas Dominican team to the Carribean Series championship. He managed in triple-A for the next three years and was Jimy Williams bench coach in Houston for a month and a half in 2002 before being named the Royals' manager. He was the 2003 AL Manager of the Year after leading the Royals to an improbable winning season, but resigned in 2005 after a dismal 8-25 start. He has been the Yankees' first-base coach and catching instructor since 2006.
Peña would have been a solid choice as manager, but it seems as though my fears about him being included only to satisfy baseball's minority hiring requirements were accurate. The Yankees are very fortunate that Peña, a jovial fellow who has done wonders for Jorge Posada's defense and has a great report with the team's young Latin American players, was willing to return as a coach.
Third-base Coach: Bobby Meacham
I have to say, having Meacham return to the Yankees as a coach is much stranger than having failed pitching prospect Eiland emerge as one of the organization's top pitching gurus. Meacham was drafted out of San Diego State (where he played with Tony Gwynn and Bud Black) by the Cardinals with the eighth-overall pick of the 1981 draft and came to the Yankees following the 1982 season in a surprisingly innocuous trade that brought Meacham and Stan Javier in exchange for three players who never reached the majors. Meacham was jumped straight from A-ball to triple-A and made his major league debut in his first season in the Yankee organization beginning a frustrating six-year career with the Yankees that saw him make countless trips between triple-A and the majors on what was then known as the Columbus Shuttle.
The most famous incident came after the fourth game of the 1984 season in which Meacham was inserted in the eight-inning of a tie-game as a defensive replacement and committed a two-out error that allowed the winning run to score. Following the game, George Steinbrenner ordered Meacham demoted all the way to double-A. The team fell out of the race quickly, even without Meacham, and thus Bobby was recalled to become the teams' starting shortstop in June and held the position in 1985 despite being flat out dreadful both in the field and at the plate (though a dislocated tendon in his left hand, which was never made public by the Yankees, was responsible for many of his struggles in the latter season). Bill Madden and Moss Klein sum up Meacham's Yankee career perfectly in their classic account of the dreadful 1980s Yankees, Damn Yankees:
While so many Columbus shuttlers have had experiences they'd never want to tell their grandchildren about, no "war story" is more rife with disappointments and setbacks than Bobby Meacham's. For six years, from 1983 until his trade to Texas in December 1988, Meacham was the embodiment of all the turmoil and torment that have befallen all those bright-eyed Yankee prospects. During those six seasons, Meacham did it all--or rather had it all done to him. He was a Columbus-New York frequent flyer in 1983, being called up four times, twice for a one-day stay; he was exiled in 1984, dropped all the way to AA ball for making an error in the fourth game of the season; he went from being the Yankees' regular shortstop in 1985 (playing the final two months with a hand injury at the Yankees' request) to a utility infielder at Columbus in less than a year.
Willie Randolph was outspoken about the way Meacham was treated: "What they're doing to Meacham is downright criminal," he said in late 1986. "Why don't they just trade him so he can have a chance."
When he didn't make the team out of camp in 1987, Meacham finally snapped:
Meacham sat in front of his locker in Fort Lauderdale, his eyes red and near tears. Pitcher Dennis Rasmussen, his closest friend on the team, sat next to him, consoling him while motioning the writers away.
Upon regaining his composure, Meacham said: "I'm shocked this time. I played well enough to make the team. It seems obvious they just don't want me around. They're messing with my mind now."
Meacham volleyed back and forth again in 1987. In 1988 he made the team as a backup only to suffer a pinched nerve in his neck. Meacham was ready to come off the DL in August of that year when he found out he'd been placed on the 60-day DL while watching a game on TV at home. "I was absolutely stunned. I was just about ready to come back. I had seen a chiropractor, and he gave me the go-ahead. The Yankees knew that. And then they knock me out for the whole season."
He was finally traded following the 1988 season, but failed to make the Rangers out of camp and spent two more disappointing seasons in triple-A with the Pirates and Royals organizations before retiring.
Meacham began his post-playing career in 1992 as a single-A manager in the Royals' system. He coached in triple-A for the Rockies in their debut season of 1993. Managed the Pirates' double-A team to a championship in 1994. He spent the next five years in the Pirates organization as a manager, base running coach, and infield instructor. He then spent 2002-2004 managing the Angels' single-A California League team in Rancho Cucamonga. In 2005 he became the Rockies' roving infield instructor. In 2006 he was Joe Girardi's third-base coach in Florida, and this past year he was the Padres first-base coach under his old SD State teammate Bud Black.
Bullpen Coach: Mike Harkey
The Cubs drafted Mike Harkey out of Cal State Fullerton with the fourth-overall pick in 1987. Like Eiland, he burned through the Cubs minor league system and made his major league debut in 1988. Harkey then missed most of the 1989 season due to shoulder and knee injuries. He had a strong rookie season for the Cubs in 1990 despite a low strikeout rate, but his shoulder blew out after four starts in 1991 costing him the rest of that season and most of 1992. He was never the same after that and drifted through five organizations over the next four seasons and retired after the 1997 season.
Harkey, who was a teammate of Girardi's with the cubs from 1990 to 1992 and in 1994 with the Rockies, was a pitching coach in the Padres' organization from 2001 to 2005, Girardi's bullpen coach in 2006, and the Cubs' triple-A pitching coach this past season.
* * *
As for Girardi, who will wear number 27, the only substantial thing he said about the 2008 Yankees is that it's entirely possible that Hughes, Chamberlain, and Kennedy could all wind up in the starting rotation. Girardi said that in his interview with Francesa and Russo, but implied that that wouldn't happen if Pettitte returned (the assumption being that Mike Mussina will be given a chance to lose his rotation spot again and that with Wang and Pettitte as well that would only leave room for two of the three kids). It also appears that Girardi, Cashman, and Hank Steinbrenner would be inclined to make Joba Chamberlain the closer if Mariano Rivera doesn't return. All the more reason to hope Mo comes back.
Finally, Derek Jeter told Mike and Chris that he believes that Hank Steinbrenner is a man of his word and if he's said that the Yankees won't pursue Alex Rodriguez now that he's opted out, then Jeter doesn't expect Rodriguez to be back in the Bronx. Maybe he'll sign with the Mud Hens.