Most Yankee fans, if we are being honest with ourselves, didn’t want him. We all had visions of our beloved “Donnie Baseball” succeeding “Mr. Torre” as the skipper of The Bronx Bombers. When the 2007 season concluded, GM Brian Cashman and others from the front office were summoned to Tampa to deliberate about a new manager… it was as if they were selecting a new Pope. In our hearts, we were hoping Mattingly’s name would be announced once the white smoke billowed from the chimney at Steinbrenner Field. Instead we were told former Yankee catcher Joe Girardi would take the helm of the biggest ship in professional sports.
Now, Girardi was a good player for us. He’d been part of World Championship teams. He’d caught a perfect game, and we all remember him gutting out that triple in 1996. But Joe wasn’t a Hall of Famer…or even a "Monument Parker." He gave us all he had and played the game the right way, and that means a lot to Yankee fans. But the bottom line is Joe Girardi isn’t, as the late Bob Shepard would say, “The first baseman, #23, Don Mattingly, #23."
So like it or not, Girardi moved into his new office in the clubhouse at 161st and River Ave and Donnie went Hollywood with Mr. Torre. As for Yankee fans, we got used to the idea. It's not like The Boss hired Grady Little or Tommy Lasorda. Hell, Girardi had a Manager of the Year Award on his resume. He has an Engineering degree from Northwestern, which isn’t exactly ITT Tech or DeVry, folks. Even Don Zimmer vouched for Joe, saying he was meant to be a Big League manager. So yeah, he isn’t Donnie but he’s far from a bad choice.
This season Girardi has dealt with more adversity than he could dream up in a nightmare. The exodus of some key players coupled with countless injuries to the engine room of the batting order…Joe didn’t even have Derek Jeter. Instead, he was given “talent” in the twilight of their careers or "not ready for prime time" players who, to their credit, played way over their skis and kept the Yanks from taking up the motto of the Chicago Cubs, “Wait ‘til next year.”
And then there was the “ARod Factor”. The return of Alex Rodriguez was like jamming a Grand Piano into the back of a moving truck already loaded with a house full of problems. Sure, ARod playing on one leg and blind folded is better than David Adams, my opinion, but the laser/light show of drama he brings with him could unsettle even the most Zen-like clubhouse. And yet, G.I. Joe remains steady as a US Marine in the heat of battle. He juggled the injuries, the re-injuries, the “uneasy” fan base, aging heroes and possibly the darkest cloud to hang over the game since the Black Sox in 1919. All the while Girardi excelled at keeping his troops focused. He never ran them down or blamed the team’s struggles on bad moves or luck. These are the men Joe goes to war with, and they know he is always there to back them up. Joe Girardi might not be the former Yankee Captain wearing Dodger Blue in La La Land, but Joe Girardi IS a leader and one hell of a manager.
For years it has been said you’re not a real Yankee until you have your moment. Like Hideki Matsui earning his Pinstripes with a walk off dinger. This past Sunday night at a very hostile Fenway Park, Joe Girardi earned his.
Yes, Joe has rings. Yes, in 2009 Joe helped bring home number 27. But to me, on Sunday August 18th, Girardi solidified himself as a Yankee. Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster decided to take the code of baseball into his own hands and threw intentionally and repeatedly at Alex Rodriguez in his first at bat. Does ARod deserve to have players and fans angry with him? Yes, I believe he does. Does he deserve relentless jeering and boos raining down on him? In my opinion, you betcha. If found guilty of PEDs, should he be exiled from baseball? Absolutely. But is it Ryan Dempster’s job to dish out punishment? Is it okay for the Fenway Faithful (who seem to have forgotten the titles Manny and Papi helped deliver fuel by PED) to cheer wildly at their pitcher throwing up and in to drill Alex? No. No it isn’t. Not to me and apparently not to Joe Girardi either.
In a George Brett-like charge from the Visitor’s dugout, Girardi hit the field and defended his player. And this is a player that has caused Joe more than a few headaches. This is a player that he had to bench more than once, that has seemingly always put himself before his team and who’s lawyers are attacking the same employers that hold sway on Girardi’s job. And yet, there he was standing up for one of the most hated men in sports with everything in his heart. Why? It’s because Alex is, for at least this season, part of Joe’s unit. He is a one of Girardi’s soldiers and what Dempster did was cowardly and wrong.
As I watched, I found myself feeling a lot of pride in the man who was picked over one of my childhood heroes. Joe Girardi has integrity. He has set an example for his team to follow. They fight like he does. Many of them weren’t the first choice either and yet they play with all they have following their Skipper into battle each and everyday. No excuses, they just leave it out on the field.
Will the Yankees make the playoffs? I don’t know. What I do know is that although this team doesn’t resemble the Yankees we have gotten used to, they don’t quit. They give us all they have just like their manager did when he played. They have handled everything the 2013 season could dish out and kept on keeping on. That is what G.I. Joe Girardi has taught them, and that is why he’ll be remembered as a great Yankee manager.
--Mike O'Hara, MLB Fan Cave Host, Season 1
"Paulie was always my favorite player."
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