Phillies manager search: Buck Showalter vs. Joe Girardi, through the eyes of former slugger Mark Teixeira
How do Phillies managerial finalists Buck Showalter and Joe Girardi stack up? We asked former slugger Mark Teixeira, who played for both skippers.
Buck Showalter was the first manager to jot Mark Teixeira’s name on the lineup card for a big-league game. Thirteen years later, Joe Girardi was the last.
Surely, then, Teixeira has unique perspective on the Showalter vs. Girardi debate taking place this week at 1 Citizens Bank Way as the Phillies home in on hiring the 55th manager in franchise history.
“They both have great resumes, and there’s a reason that they’ve managed for a long time,” Teixeira said by phone. “I think from Philly’s perspective, they would do well hiring either of those guys.”
Showalter was in town Friday for a second interview. The Phillies met for a second time with Girardi on Monday. Dusty Baker, the only other candidate for the job, also has had two interviews. One will almost certainly be the next Phillies manager, with Girardi emerging as perhaps a slight favorite. An announcement could come as early as Thursday, the first day off during the World Series.
Teixeira, an analyst for ESPN, played four years for Showalter with the Texas Rangers (2003-06) and eight seasons for Girardi with the New York Yankees (2009-16). They were his primary managers during a career in which he slugged 409 home runs. As much as anyone, he has seen their relative strengths and weaknesses play out on the field and in the clubhouse.
In describing the qualities that have made Showalter and Girardi successful, Teixeira noted their meticulous preparation. Showalter’s attention to detail is legendary, and Girardi was mocked early in his tenure in New York for his reliance on a binder that was chockablock with data to help guide his every move.
But while Teixeira is bullish on both Showalter and Girardi, his outline of their best attributes also revealed differences that the Phillies might be weighing as they decide which would be the better fit.
As a first-round draft pick and a top prospect who broke into the majors in 2003 at age 22, Teixeira appreciated Showalter’s ability to nurture young players. He believes it’s one of the reasons that Showalter turned around the Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks in the ’90s and later the Rangers and Baltimore Orioles.
“The one thing he always told us young guys was, ‘I know how hard it is to play at this level because I never got there,’ ” Teixeira said. “If you’re looking for a guy that can shepherd young guys, I think he just does an incredible job of making sure that they’re put in a position to succeed. I couldn’t think of having a better manager as a young player.”
It’s possible the Phillies will take that into consideration. They had the third-youngest group of position players and the eighth-youngest pitching staff in the National League this season at 27.6 and 28.4 years old, respectively, according to Baseball-Reference.com. And most of their impressionable players, except utilityman Scott Kingery, either stagnated or regressed under deposed manager Gabe Kapler.
Could Showalter help Rhys Hoskins or Zach Eflin take steps forward? Would he unlock enigmatic right-hander Vince Velasquez or maximize center fielder Adam Haseley’s potential?
“Every team he managed with the Orioles overperformed until the end, until they just had no talent left,” Teixeira said. “That just gives you an idea of what Buck can do with any amount of talent.”
Girardi’s decade-long stint at the helm of the Yankees was marked by what Teixeira portrayed as the manager’s extreme intensity. Although it likely was Girardi’s undoing at the end, the Yankees mostly benefited from his personality because it matched or exceeded the heightened expectations of playing in New York.
At a time when the Phillies are trying to transition from a long rebuilding effort into a period of sustained contention, they might like a manager who sets the tone with laser-like focus.
“Joe’s not going to back down to any situation," Teixeira said. "Every team that he’s on, he expects to win a World Series, even in our toughest years where we had half our roster injured. Particularly for the Philly job, he’d be a good fit in that regard. It’s the city of Rocky Balboa, right? You want somebody who’s out there fighting for you.”
Phillies managing partner John Middleton has devoted millions of dollars to building a robust analytics department. Having worked for a Yankees organization that was at the forefront of that movement, Girardi is well-versed in blending big data with managing from his gut. Showalter has been more dismissive of analytics, although he seemed to embrace it more as his Orioles tenure drew to a close.
"With the onslaught of analytics, if you give [Showalter] a roster that has talent and give him the numbers, he'll figure out how to get the most out of that team," Teixeira said. "Buck's just one of those guys that has never seen a situation that he can't figure out how to get the upper hand. There's not a sharper baseball mind that I've come across in my entire career."
Two years ago, when the Yankees and Red Sox were looking for new managers, Teixeira believed they were right to bring in first-time skippers Aaron Boone and Alex Cora because both teams had established a winning culture. But when he thinks about the Phillies, who haven’t made the playoffs or had a winning season since 2011, he sees a team that would benefit from an experienced skipper.
Teixeira noted what he termed a “leadership void” after left fielder Andrew McCutchen got injured in June. He pointed to $330 million superstar Bryce Harper, who leads more by on-field example than by being a galvanizing clubhouse presence, and cited Showalter and Girardi for their handling of Alex Rodriguez in Texas and New York, respectively.
“Looking at the Philly roster, you have a lot of talent; you have a polarizing figure in Bryce Harper,” Teixeira said. “I think it might be good to have a manager that has a little bit stronger hand and that’s been through the wringer a few times.”
It seems the Phillies are determined to hire one, regardless of which finalist they choose.