The Yankees' new, no-nonsense manager has already put his mark on the team, reenergizing the franchise
NEW BOSS Hank Steinbrenner waited exactly one week into Joe Girardi's tenure as the Yankees' new skipper before declaring, "He's going to be one of the greatest managers in the history of the game." But junior Steinbrenner was only the first to throw out a superlative. General manager Brian Cashman, who passed over Yankees icon Don Mattingly to hire Girardi, told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, "He's doing a fantastic job. I know I made the right selection."
This shouldn't be such a surprise. The Peoria native's act already played in New York as a gritty catcher, insightful broadcaster and coach before he became Marlins manager in 2006, an eventful season that culminated with both an NL Manager of the Year award and a pink slip. Girardi led a Florida team with an average age of 25 and record 22 debuting players into September pennant contention but ultimately couldn't get along with the Marlins front office.
This spring Girardi, 43, says, "I'm still a lot of the same guy," but appears looser than he was as a player. The no-nonsense guy has charmed front-office folks and media alike, and New York is hoping that he's the perfect hybrid of its last two managers, Joe Torre, an expert mediator, and Buck Showalter, an intense workaholic.
The stark change from Torre's tenure was apparent when position players, including veteran outfielders Bobby Abreu and Johnny Damon and first baseman Jason Giambi, arrived to camp looking fit to run Girardi's killer drills. (Last spring a few of the Yankees' midsections were as thick as their wallets.) Another difference: instead of the Daily Racing Form on the manager's desk, it's now a laptop. "I'm an information guy, I love information," says Girardi, who graduated from Northwestern with an industrial engineering degree.
While Girardi, who received a three-year, $7.8-million deal, has infused training camp with a new energy and attitude, he knows that one 78--84 season as manager can't match Torre's 12 straight postseason appearances, including four World Series titles in his first five years in the Bronx. "I have a lot of work to do before I can be compared to Joe Torre," he says.
Girardi cites Tony La Russa, whom he played 16 games for, as his model for game managing—"Tony's as prepared a manager as I've ever known," he says—but he has great respect for Torre's gift. Says Girardi, "Joe was a master at handling people. He had a way of making you feel like everything was going to turn out O.K. as long as you stuck together." So far Girardi's intensity and candor hasn't grated in the clubhouse. Says bench coach Rob Thomson, "He's made connections with players." Girardi admonished Joba Chamberlain to stay grounded despite his sudden fame, and quietly explained why first baseman Shelley Duncan's retaliatory spikes-up slide into the Rays' Akinori Iwamura went over the line. Publicly, though, Girardi was reminiscent of Showalter when he deflected questions about the incident, before eventually telling everyone to "move on." When it comes to their manager, that's exactly what the Yankees have done.
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GOOD FIT Girardi (left, with Derek Jeter) has connected well with players such as Chamberlain (below, right).
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