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Theo aimed high, but forces conspired to keep Girardi away

San Diego Padres v Chicago Cubs

San Diego Padres v Chicago Cubs

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Updated: October 10, 2013 11:19AM



Joe Girardi did the wise thing and signed a contract to stay with the Yankees, but let’s not dive back into the Cubs’ managerial search just yet. There will be plenty of time to analyze whether Manny Acta has the requisite ability to roll his eyes back in his head or whether A.J. Hinch’s mechanics are sound as he trudges to the mound to pull a pitcher in the third inning.

We first need to pause and contemplate what happened with Girardi. Cubs fans like to rank their pain. Less intense than Leon Durham’s error in 1984 but more unpleasant than the 14 losses to open the 1997 season? It’s a ritual around here.

More than anything, it’s a learning experience for Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, and any other people on his staff fairly new to the unique “challenges” of this organization. The outlanders come here with big ideas, noble ideas, oblivious to the history of the place. They walk around with thought bubbles that read, “Of course, Joe Girardi would want to come here! Why wouldn’t he?’’

They eventually find out that the Cubs’ history has its own heft. They find out that it’s real and that we locals aren’t depressives by choice. Their thought bubbles get popped.

It’s important to note that the big-name manager who turned down the job Wednesday played seven seasons with the Cubs, five of which were losing seasons, including 95- and 97-loss years. In other words, he went through most, if not all, of Dante’s circles of hell. I think the losing played a subconscious role in Girardi’s decision to stay in New York, though I’m not sure that he would say it did or even that he fully understands how it affected him.

The bigger factor, though, besides the money and whatever loyalty Girardi had to the Yankees, should have been the fact he wasn’t going to win any time soon as the Cubs’ manager.

It’s why I thought he would have been out of his mind to take the job. The siren song of being the first manager in 105-plus years to win a World Series is a powerful drug indeed. But it’s a self-evident truth that a team that lost a combined 197 games the last two seasons is going to lose a lot of games in 2014. And even though Epstein is stocking the farm system with what appear to be talented young players, there are no guarantees they will turn into successful big-leaguers.

Girardi can be sure that the Yankees always will be among the top spenders in baseball.

Epstein aimed high, a good thing. But it’s also a good thing that he failed, for no other reason than his continuing education in the challenges of his job. It’s not just dealing with budgetary problems or Starlin Castro. It’s confronting the enormity of trying to make a winner out of a franchise that seems allergic to winning.

That’s no small thing. Epstein can talk all he wants about how the word around the big leagues is that the Cubs are coming on strong — i.e., as opposed to the constant gloom-and-doom talk in Chicago — but he’s up against powerful forces. He might have noticed it when a pitching coach, the Rangers’ Mike Maddux, turned down the Cubs’ managerial job two years ago.

It might sound like I’m dealing in metaphysical things here. Probably because I am.

Epstein now will go after whoever is Plan B. Make no mistake about it: Girardi was and should have been his first choice. If you’re trying to set a tone of excellence, he was the right manager to pursue. It doesn’t mean that Epstein has to settle for leftovers now. It does mean he has to make up for his hiring of Dale Sveum — not because Sveum did a poor job but because by firing him, Epstein was admitting his own failure.

Girardi signed a four-year extension reportedly worth $4 million per year. He said that family considerations played a big role in his decision.

Who knows, in four years he might be ready to come back to the North Side. His children would be older. There’s a decent chance he’ll have added to his one World Series ring by the time the contract expires.

Four years might seem like a long time, but when a franchise has been waiting since 1908 to taste victory again, it’s more like a four-day weekend. At the dentist’s office.



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