Within about one hour of the New York Yankees’ announcement on Oct. 26, 2017 that Joe Girardi had been fired, David Robertson turned to Twitter and publicly thanked the first manager who ever brought him in from the bullpen to pitch in a big-league game.
Take a guess, then, how Robertson is feeling about Monday’s introduction of the Phillies’ new manager.
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"I'm very excited," he said by phone last week. "I'm a very big Joe Girardi fan."
Robertson played for Girardi for 7 1/2 seasons over two stints with the Yankees. The veteran reliever is hoping to pitch for him with the Phillies, too, if he's able to complete the arduous recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery before the end of next season.
Regardless, Robertson is confident in saying that the club made a sound decision to hire Girardi, who is slated to be unveiled at a news conference in an outdoor beer garden adjacent to Citizens Bank Park. The 55-year-old former catcher is 988-794 with six playoff appearances and one World Series championship in 11 seasons as a major-league manager.
"We've spent a lot of time together, had some really good years, had a couple bad years," Robertson said. "But through it all, he's a great manager and a great guy. He's top-tier for me."
The reputation that precedes Girardi is of a straight-laced, sometimes humorless, hyper-focused leader who brings structure to the clubhouse, an understanding of analytics to help inform strategy and in-game decisions, and a meticulous attention to detail. Those qualities -- and likely his crew cut and devotion to physical fitness, too -- earned him the monikers of “G.I. Joe” and “Binder Joe” in the New York tabloids early in his managerial career.
If there’s a question about Girardi, it centers around whether he’s too intense. Depending on the perspective, the Yankees dismissed him either because his style began to wear on players, especially those who had been around for most of his decade-long run, or because he no longer connected as well with young players.
“I can’t comment on that because that wasn’t my decision,” Robertson said. “For me, personally, Joe’s just a great manager.”
If anything, Robertson paints Girardi as an open, honest communicator who instills confidence and engenders trust less with the warmth of his personality than by his devotion to putting players in position to be successful. And Girardi didn’t change, Robertson insists, from the time he broke into the big leagues in 2008 to the middle of the 2017 season when he was traded back to the Yankees after 2 1/2 seasons away.
For as disciplined as Girardi is (he reportedly eats the same breakfast every day: six egg whites, ham and dry toast), he “isn’t a big rules guy,” according to one former player. Although he’s been known to bench players for not hustling (see: Cano, Robinson), he also relies on veterans to police the clubhouse.
One of Girardi's biggest strengths: managing the bullpen, a point of scrutiny during deposed manager Gabe Kapler's two seasons at the Phillies helm.
Whereas Kapler resisted assigning specific roles to most relievers, Girardi is big on letting pitchers know when they will be used, according to Robertson. With the Yankees, he also rarely used relievers on back-to-back-to-back days in the middle of the season in order to keep them fresh for the stretch run. Kapler often had a difficult time balancing the game at hand with planning ahead.
“Joe was very good about knowing who was ready to go and who wasn’t, who was feeling good and who wasn’t,” Robertson said. “If you threw two days in a row, or happened to throw a third day in a row, you were guaranteed a day off because he wanted you rested up and ready to go when you took the ball the next time. He kept an eye on that and also not over-warming up guys.”
Girardi nevertheless used his Yankees bullpens aggressively -- and was every bit as fond as Kapler of relying on numbers to match up relievers with specific hitters. The Yankees, in fact, were at the forefront of the analytics revolution during Girardi’s tenure. But Robertson said he never sensed that Girardi was managing according to a data-driven formula.
"He went with his gut and with the numbers," Robertson said.
Girardi also hasn’t forgotten about the unquantifiable human element of the game. He did everything possible, then, to avoid surprising his Yankees players with how he deployed them. That included plotting out which relievers he intended to use, jotting it in his binder, and briefing individual players before every game.
“He would come and tell me, ‘Hey, I might need you earlier in this game,’ or, ‘I might need you for two innings today,’ ” Robertson said. "I’d be like, ‘OK, great. Very nice to know that.’ That way, I could get mentally ready and lock in and be ready to pitch in the sixth or seventh, or the eighth or ninth.