Archive for October 27th, 2010

According to numerous published reports, Joe Girardi and the Yankees are in the process of finalizing a three-year contract extension worth around $9.5 million. The wisdom behind retaining Girardi is certainly debatable, especially after a postseason that featured so many questionable decisions, but what is clear is the Yankees have adopted a philosophy of managerial stability.

Joe Torre's departure cast a shadow, but Joe Girardi managed to step out from under it (Photo: Reuters).

Being the man who replaces “the man” is always an unenviable task, so the fact that Girardi survived his initial three year deal is accomplishment enough. After 12 successful years under Joe Torre, it wasn’t difficult to imagine a scenario in which Girardi failed under the weight of the comparison, especially after the team did not make the playoffs in his first season. Instead, Girardi rebounded and now appears on his way to another three seasons behind the manager’s desk at Yankee Stadium.

Even if Girardi only serves one day of his new contract, he will surpass the tenures of the three other men who were called upon to replace legendary figures in the team’s history. Ralph Houk only lasted three years after replacing Casey Stengel (Houk would return for an eight year tenure starting in 1967), who like Torre was “pushed out” after serving as manager for 12 seasons. Miller Huggins also lasted 12 years at the Yankees’ helm, but his replacement, Bob Shawkey, only survived one. Finally, no one left a bigger imprint in the manager’s chair than Joe McCarthy, whose 16 seasons as skipper is a franchise record. Bucky Harris followed McCarthy, but was gone after two seasons.

No one lasted longer as Yankees’ skipper than Joe McCarthy, whose 16 year tenure as manager is a franchise record.

Incredibly, the Yankees have only had one instance in which the tenures of two consecutive managers lasted at least four years: an honor held by Buck Showalter (1992-1995) and Joe Torre (1996-2007). If Girardi survives the term of his contract, he would not only squeeze his way into that grouping, but also become only the sixth Yankees’ manager to serve in the role for six consecutive (full) seasons.

From 1973 to 1991, the Yankees had 12 different men serve as manager over a span that included 19 different regime changes. By comparison, the recent era of stability (three managers in 19 seasons) is dramatic, although it does pale next to the span from 1918 to 1960 in which the team had only five skippers (aside from interims required by Huggins’ and McCarthy’s deaths).

Being Yankee manager did not provide much job security under George Steinbrenner's early days as owner.

It remains to be seen just how long Joe Girardi will last at the Yankees’ helm, but if he remains successful, the climb up the franchise’s managerial ranks might not take that long. In retrospect, that reality makes earlier speculation about Girardi bolting for the Cubs’ job seem even more implausible. In this new era of stability, Girardi has a unique opportunity to leave his mark on the franchise’s storied history and its hard to imagine any scenario in which he would willingly pass that up.

Then again, Girardi’s ultimate legacy might not be defined so much by wins and losses, but how he deals with the twilight years of an aging core of Hall of Famers. Just like McCarthy with Babe Ruth, Stengel with Joe DiMaggio and Houk with Mickey Mantle, Girardi could be called upon to shepherd Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera through the inevitable end of their prolific careers. That task is easily the greatest challenge of Girardi’s second tour of duty, and it could be the one the determines whether he has a third.

Yankees’ Most Tenured Managers, by Games

Manager Yrs From To G W L W-L% Avg. Finish
Joe McCarthy 16 1931 1946 2348 1460 867 0.627 1.7
Joe Torre 12 1996 2007 1942 1173 767 0.605 1.2
Casey Stengel 12 1949 1960 1851 1149 696 0.623 1.3
Miller Huggins 12 1918 1929 1796 1067 719 0.597 2.2
Ralph Houk1 11 1961 1973 1757 944 806 0.539 4.1
Billy Martin2 8 1975 1988 941 556 385 0.591 2.2
Clark Griffith 6 1903 1908 807 419 370 0.531 4.1
Buck Showalter 4 1992 1995 582 313 268 0.539 2.4
Joe Girardi 3 2008 2010 486 287 199 0.591 2
Bill Donovan 3 1915 1917 465 220 239 0.479 5

1 Houk served two separate terms as manager: 1961-1963 and 1967-1973.
2 Martin served five separate terms as manager: 1975-1978, 1979, 1983, 1985 and 1988
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Honus Wagner has been dead for nearly 55 years, but a group of Baltimore-based nuns is hoping that the Hall of Fame shortstop can come up big one more time…on the auction block that is.

The photograph of Honus Wagner that was used to create the now widely sought after T206 baseball card (lower right). Note the incorrect spelling of “Pittsburgh” that was added across Wagner’s chest.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame are the latest in a long line of lucky owners who have found themselves in possession of what has become known as the baseball card collector’s Holy Grail: the T206 Honus Wagner.

The infamous card, which was originally produced by the American Tobacco Company between 1909 and 1911, was part of a set of 514 that the giant cigarette manufacturer distributed along with its many brands. Although most of the cards in the set are highly coveted, what sets the Wagner issue apart is its scarcity.

To date, there are only about 60 known examples of the Wagner T206 series. Most, like the one possessed by the Sisters, are not in very good condition, but still fetch six figures at auction. Better preserved versions, however, have regularly sold for over $1 million. In fact, the T206 Wagner purchased by Arizona Diamondbacks’ owner Ken Kendrick sold for $2.8 million, the highest amount ever paid for one baseball card.

As legend has it, Wagner objected to having his photo included in the T206. Some accounts have cited the Flying Dutchman’s objection to having his picture used to promote smoking among children, while others claim a dispute with ATC over compensation (after all, Wagner’s image had been used to promote tobacco products in the past). Either way, Wagner’s card was pulled from the set, making it the strongly sought after treasure that it is today.

Not long ago, a firm of tobacco manufacturers wrote to a local newspaper man and asked him to secure a picture of Hans Wagner to be given away with cigarettes [sic]… The scribe wrote to Wagner and asked him for the picture enclosing the tobacco company’s letter. A few days later he received a communication from Hans, saying that he did not care to have his picture in a package of cigarettes [sic], neither did he wish his friend to lose the chance to cop a little extra coin. “So,” he concluded, “I enclose my check for the amount promised you by the tobacco company in case you got my picture and hope you will excuse me if I refuse.” – Ralph S. Davis, excerpt from “Wagner A Wonder”, The Sporting News, October 24, 1912

Whether or not Wagner actually objected to his image being used to lure young boys to a life of smoking remains unknown, but by the time the set was produced, the relationship between baseball cards and tobacco had already become a cause for concern. In an attempt to curb the increase in underage smoking, several cities went so far as to ban the distribution of sports and actor cards along side tobacco products, but the overwhelming popularity of the giveaways was not abated by the limited legal actions.

I was allowed the first peep…to a sight of the Blessed Land and the gods, which, until then, we had only beheld in the lithographs which were given free with every pack of Duke’s Cameo cigarettes – I think that was the name of our choice vice.” – Benjamin De Casseres, writing about his youth and baseball, New York Times, April 18, 1920

A 1954 advertisement for Red Man tobacco that promotes a free baseball photo with every pack.

Ironically, the tobacco companies were just as eager for an exit from the picture card business. In an attempt to outdo the competition in terms of star power and production quality, manufacturing cardboard inserts quickly became one of the industry’s highest expenses. Eventually, it became hard to determine whether cigarettes were driving the picture card industry, or vice versa.

Finally fed up with their decreasing profit margins, the largest competitors in the tobacco industry consolidated under one umbrella, the aforementioned American Tobacco. One of the chief reasons for combining was to control costs, particularly marketing expenses associated with manufacturing picture cards. According to Dave Jamieson, author of Mint Condition: How Baseball Card Became an American Obsession, “the popularity of baseball cards had helped to spur the formation of one of the most powerful monopolies in American history”.

Beginning in 1907, the government began to take notice of American Tobacco’s dominance of the market place and brought suit under the Sherman Antitrust Act. By1911, the monopoly was forced to dissolve by decree of the Supreme Court. Not ironically, this period coincided with the rebirth of picture cards as a cigarette company marketing ploy, as evidenced by the now famous T206 series. Unintentionally, the federal government’s actions not only opened up the tobacco industry to increased competition, but also re-opened the market for underage smokers by once again making photo inserts relevant.

Cigarettes have always played a role in the national game. In many ways, both baseball and smoking were the defining pastimes of several American generations. Whether it was via picture card inserts, early television commercials or stadium billboard advertisements, cigarette companies strived to promote the idea that enjoying a smoke and watching baseball went hand in hand. In today’s smoke-free stadium environments, that may seem hard to believe, but curious relics of the past, like the Honus Wagner T206, help to serve as a reminder.

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