Girardi brings winning attitude to role
Former Yankees player, coach, broadcaster back as manager
NEW YORK -- As Joe Girardi served his apprenticeship as the Yankees' bench coach, the former catcher provided such analysis-based insight that manager Joe Torre referred to him as "Don Zimmer, with stats."
Now, Girardi will get his shot to slide into the manager's seat for the final year of Yankee Stadium, two seasons after leaving New York for a first managerial opportunity.
Girardi's run at the helm of the Marlins lasted just one season, cut short by rifts with management, but Girardi's chances with the Yankees -- an organization he has played, coached and broadcasted for -- may actually run a great deal better.
"I think I bring a certain attitude to the park every day and an expectation of winning," Girardi said.
Through a 15-year playing career with four organizations, Girardi enjoyed a reputation as a hard-nosed catcher and important team presence, one who helped the Yankees win three World Series titles in 1996, '98 and '99.
During his time in New York, Girardi's leadership abilities became apparent through several fiery clubhouse speeches, some of which are still referred to by Yankees of that era.
A graduate of Northwestern University, Girardi was a .267 lifetime hitter who played the majority of his career with the Cubs. He was a large piece of the first three World Series titles of the Torre era, helping to set the groundwork for organization success to come -- his triple off Greg Maddux in Game 6 of the 1996 World Series sparked a three-run inning and helped secure the Yankees' first title in 18 years.
Showing a respect for developing talent that would benefit him later, Girardi helped ease Jorge Posada's transition to the everyday catcher role in 1998. While Posada's playing time increased, Girardi's fell, as he appeared in 78 games in 1998 and just 65 in 1999 (though he caught David Cone's perfect game).
During that time, Girardi's skills in handling a pitching staff and creating an aura of preparedness were major examples to be relayed. He said he will carry the same ideals into the Yankees' job.
"I think any path you take in life is really a challenge," Girardi said. "I understand the task at hand; I know the pressures at hand. I had a chance to play in New York, which gave me a pretty good understanding."
Finishing his playing career with three seasons in Chicago -- including the 2000 campaign, when he was a NL All-Star, batting .278 -- and a 16-game stint with the Cardinals in 2003, Girardi was ready to move into a new role.
The Marlins requested Girardi's presence as a bench coach under Jack McKeon for 2005 with the understanding that he could be the manager in '06, but Girardi opted instead to remain with Torre as his bench coach.
Girardi would wind up with the Marlins eventually; as he would later recall, at one point late in the Yankees' season, the manager jabbed Girardi and told him he was ready to manage.
"Joe is brutally honest," Girardi said.
Signing on with Florida, Girardi endured the challenge of getting the most out of a team not seriously expected to compete. Instilling an aggressive style of play in his club, the end result would put Girardi in the awkward position of accepting the National League Manager of the Year award some six weeks after being dismissed.
"My motto in life is, 'No one should ever take your job because they work harder,'" Girardi said, explaining his approach toward the Marlins. "That's what I want to instill in my players. You know, everyone is gifted with so much talent, and that's not something you can change. But there's no amount of hard work that you can't do. That's my job to teach them."
Replacing McKeon, Girardi's Marlins had changed drastically from the 2003 World Series edition; weeks after Girardi sat with two small children on his lap in Miami, donning a No. 8 Marlins jersey, the franchise unloaded key players like Josh Beckett, Carlos Delgado, Paul Lo Duca and Mike Lowell in favor of cost-cutting measures.
Instead, Girardi was sent on a video-hunting expedition to assemble scouting reports about the young players in Florida's organization, several of them who would soon be promoted to the Major Leagues -- perhaps ahead of their time.
"I love being an underdog," Girardi said in December 2005. "You know, I've been on both sides of the spectrum now. Just because you have a high payroll doesn't mean you don't have problems. You have issues that you have to work through and things that have to get done to be successful."
Armed with information and breakdowns assembled over Spring Training, Girardi's Marlins had their horses -- among them, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera, both of whom turned in impressive seasons.
But on their way to a surprising 78 victories and contention for the NL Wild Card, Girardi needed to get a little lucky, too; Rule 5 Draft pick Dan Uggla hit .282 with 27 home runs, rookie Hanley Ramirez hit .292 and led the club with 51 stolen bases, and 22-year-old Anibal Sanchez went 10-3 with a 2.83 ERA.
Enjoying such success with an assemblage of 22 rookies could not stave off a rift with ownership, as Girardi rubbed up against owner Jeffrey Loria and general manager Larry Beinfest. Reports indicated the Marlins nearly dismissed Girardi in the first season of his three-year contract in August, hastily scrapping a potential press conference, but the run would only last through the close of the season.
The Marlins parted ways with Girardi, hiring Braves coach Fredi Gonzalez, and Girardi was left to ponder his future. Girardi has declined to comment on specifics of what occurred with the Marlins' brass, but he claims to be better prepared for his next managerial job.
"I have learned a lot, I will put it to you that way," Girardi said.
Briefly toying with managerial vacancies in Washington and Baltimore, Girardi spent 2007 broadcasting with the Yankees' YES Network, while also working for FOX. Girardi was able to remain close to the game, if not the dugout, and later would say that his time in the booth had helped expand his view of baseball.
"The greatest thing about being a broadcaster is that you see the game a little bit different," he said. "You have a much better understanding of the media than you do as a player, and even a different understanding as a manager. You just understand how it works more."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.