One of the most enduring images of Joe Girardi -- taken on June 22, 2002, the day Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile died and Girardi was chosen to make the announcement to a sellout crowd at Wrigley Field. He did so with dignity, showing everyone the leadership qualities he possesses.
Profile by BCB reader gauchodirk
What can you say about the new manager of the Cubs? He caught 1,247 games for four different teams in his 15-year career, he led an arguably under-talented Florida Marlins team to a 78-84 record this season, and he...
(Hold on, I'm being handed a message.)
(What? The Cubs didn't hire Joe Girardi? Why not?)
(You don't know?! Well, who did they hire?)
(Lou Piniella? Are you kidding me?! That's unbelievable! Oh, that's right, the bio... Where was I?)
For what it's worth, the actual new Cubs manager was a .291 hitter over his 18-year career. But whether Joe Girardi ever ends up as manager for this franchise, he spent all or part of seven seasons behind the plate at Wrigley, and his time in Chicago will forever be remembered fondly by many Cub fans.
A true leader in the clubhouse if there ever was one, Girardi, a righty who stood 5'11" and weighed 200 pounds, was born on October 14, 1964 in Peoria, Illinois. After high school he attended and played baseball at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois; he graduated with a B.S. in industrial engineering. He was drafted by the Cubs in the fifth round (#116 overall) of the June 1986 amateur draft. He was immediately sent back to his hometown of Peoria to play for the Chiefs, the Cubs' affiliate in the Class A Midwest League. He hit .309 in 68 games to finish the 1986 season.
For 1987 the Cubs promoted Girardi to the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Spirits of the Class A Carolina League, where he hit .280 with eight home runs and 46 RBI in 99 games. His performance earned him a promotion to the Pittsfield (Mass.) Cubs of the Class AA Eastern League for 1988; his teammates included Jerome Walton, Hector Villanueva, Jim Bullinger (who was still a shortstop), and Mike Harkey. Girardi hit .272 with seven home runs and 41 RBI in 104 games.
Girardi was the starting catcher for the Cubs on Opening Day of the 1989 season, April 4th, and he made his major league debut in style, going 2-3 with a walk and a run scored in a 5-4 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. He didn't spend all of the season in the majors, however, as he was sent down to Class AAA Iowa to play a total of 32 games, hitting .245. (The Cubs had three catchers play at least 35 games behind the plate in 1989: Girardi (59), Damon Berryhill (89), and Rick Wrona (37). This might explain why Girardi was sent down to the minors for a spell.) In his major league at bats, Girardi hit .248 with one home run and 14 RBI. He played four games in the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants, going 1-10 with one run scored.
Wrona was still around, and Hector Villanueva was also on the roster, but it was Girardi who was the Cubs' primary backstop in 1990, catching 133 games (which is the most number of games he ever played in a season in his career). His line was pretty unspectacular at .270/.300/.344 with one home run and 38 RBI, and he caught the second-worst pitching staff in the league. Girardi's 1991 season wasn't an improvement at all as he spent half the season on the disabled list; he played only 21 games and hit an anemic .191.
The 1992 season was the last of Girardi's first stint with the Cubs, and he hit .270 with one home run and 12 RBI in 91 games. He caught the majority of games at 86, with Rick Wilkins catching 73, and by this season the Cubs had vaulted to fifth in the league in ERA (including Cy Young winner Greg Maddux's 2.18 and 32-year old Mike Morgan's 2.55).
Wilkins was two years younger than Girardi (25 to 27), and the Cubs probably figured that Wilkins was the better long-term option at catcher, so they left Girardi unprotected in the 1992 expansion draft for the Marlins and the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies selected Girardi with the 19th pick overall and he was the primary catcher for their inaugural 1993 campaign; he hit .290 with a career-best .397 slugging percentage in 86 games. (This season, by the way, set the all-time record for single-season attendance: the Rockies drew 4,483,350 to Mile High Stadium [which includes myself], an average of 55,350 per game.)
The strike shortened Colorado's 1994 season to 117 games, but Girardi caught 93 of them, and he hit .276 with four home runs and 34 RBI. His 1995 season might have been his crowning achievement in his career, though not necessarily for his offense. He hit .262 with career bests in both home runs (8) and RBI (55) in 125 games. Most notably, his handling of a pitching staff that included Kevin Ritz, Bill Swift, Marvin Freeman, and Armando Reynoso helped send the Rockies to their first (and still only) playoff appearance as they won the Wild Card with a 77-67 record (30+ homers each from Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla, Dante Bichette, and Larry Walker sure didn't hurt). Girardi went 2-16 in the Rockies' Division Series loss to the Atlanta Braves.
Girardi's stay in the Mile High City was short-lived, however, but his trips to the postseason were about the become much more frequent, as he was traded to the New York Yankees in exchange for Mike DeJean on November 20, 1995. He caught 120 games for the World Champion Yankees in 1996, hitting .294 and stealing 13 bases during the regular season, and then .226 (7-31) overall in the playoffs (though he did triple in both the ALCS and the World Series).
The Yankees didn't repeat as champions in 1997, but Girardi continued as the Bronx Bombers' main catcher (Jorge Posada was only 25), hitting .264 in 112 games. Posada took over the reins behind the plate in both 1998 and 1999, but Girardi saw plenty of action, and he hit .276 and .239 respectively as the Yanks won the World Series each season. He hit .238 (5-21) in the '98 playoffs and .191 (4-21) in the '99 playoffs.
Girardi became a free agent after the '99 season, and he came back to where he started by signing a three-year contract with the Cubs at the age of 35. He was the primary catcher in 2000 and posted a respectable (for a 35-year old catcher) .278/.339/.375 with six home runs and 40 RBI in 106 games, which earned him his first and only All Star selection. He split time with Todd Hundley behind the plate in 2001, catching 61 games to Hundley's 67. Unfortunately for Girardi, it was becoming obvious that his age and 1000-plus game career were catching up to him, as evidenced by his .253 average with three homers and 14 RBI in '01. He caught 67 games to Hundley's 71 in 2002 and hit .226 with one homer and 13 RBI. The greatest testament to his current and future leadership probably occurred this season on June 22nd when, as Cub captain, he had the unenviable task of informing the sellout crowd at Wrigley Field that the scheduled game against the St. Louis Cardinals would not be played "because of a tragedy in the Cardinal family," which was the unmentioned death of pitcher Darryl Kile.(see photo above)
His time in Chicago was over for the second and final time when he became a free agent after the '02 season. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for 2003 but played in only 16 games at age 38, hitting .130 in his final season as a player.
Girardi finished his 15-year career with a .267 average, 36 home runs, and 422 RBI. His proficiency behind the plate is difficult to quantify, but there is no doubt that he knew how to call a game and handle a pitching staff, and he helped his team play into October six times in his career. Those skills were quickly transferred to the dugout as he became the Yankees' bench coach for the 2005 season (passing over the same job for the Marlins) and even managed a game during a Joe Torre suspension. Then, as we are all well aware, he managed the Marlins to a 78-84 record this past season, taking a team with a number of young and inexperienced players, not to mention the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball at $14 million (less than the salaries of 16 individual players), to the edge of the wild card race in September before finishing fourth in the NL East, 19 games behind the Mets.
Girardi has accepted a job in the broadcasting booth for the Yankees' YES Network for 2007. Whether he will ever become manager of the Cubs is a matter of some speculation. Whether that would be a good thing is of great debate. Whether he understands what it takes to be a leader, however, is universally agreed upon: yes. And he knew what it meant to be a proud member of the Cubs franchise. Those qualities would seem to make him a top candidate for any future managerial opening the Cubs have. If Piniella can't lead them to a World Series championship, maybe Girardi will be the next one to get the chance.