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About Joe Girardi

Today, I am going to jump onto the Joe Girardi bandwagon.

And I am going to tell you why, because as you know, I have in the past NOT been in favor of hiring him as Cubs manager. Most of this is because of his perception as a my-way-or-the-highway sort of guy, and I have never liked those sorts of men as managers. The last Cub manager who was anything close to that was Don Baylor, and he had other problems that prevented him from succeeding -- and Baylor wasn't anywhere close to being a Lou Piniella-type, the screaming-in-your-face type that I see as the archetype of a "tough" manager.

Clearly, Dusty Baker's laissez-faire style did not work with the Cubs the last three years. It DID work in 2003, despite the fact that his lineup selections and use and abuse of the pitching staff were much the same as they were in 2006, for two reasons: first, that team did have talent, particularly pitching talent, and second, it had player-leaders in Eric Karros and Damian Miller who were able to "police" the clubhouse in a way that Baker was either unwilling, or unable, or both, to do in the rest of his tenure here without such leaders.

Joe Girardi is a leader. Of that I never have had any doubt -- this goes all the way back to his days as a player, particularly on June 22, 2002, when he was the man chosen, voice breaking with emotion, to tell a sellout crowd at Wrigley Field that Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile had died. Here are the remarks he made that day:

"I thank you for your patience. We regret to inform you because of a tragedy in the Cardinal family, that the commissioner has cancelled the game today. Thank you.... Please be respectful. You will find out eventually what has happened, and I ask that you say a prayer for the St. Louis Cardinals' family."
Girardi was a leader then, and it was clear that he was destined to manage someday. He went and learned under Joe Torre, and was supposedly being groomed to replace Torre, only to take the Marlins job when offered. A year ago, Fredi Gonzalez and Girardi were both finalists for the job that Gonzalez got yesterday; today, in Chris DeLuca's column, we learn more about some of the reasons Girardi and Larry Beinfest didn't get along, and they had nothing to do with the celebrated tiff between Girardi and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria:
When the front office pushed for young catcher Miguel Olivo, a White Sox castoff, to get the bulk of time behind the plate, Girardi resisted, sticking with veteran Matt Treanor. Girardi wanted the better catcher working with his young pitchers. The Marlins wanted to see more of Olivo's bat.

This is just one of many examples that caused friction.

Depending on your point of view, Girardi was way out of line or just doing his job. For a team like the Cubs, Girardi's aim was perfect. For the Marlins, it was maddening.

After the brutally honest news conference, Beinfest met privately with a few reporters from South Florida and eased up the rhetoric. He even pitched Girardi for National League Manager of the Year.

"It wasn't a fit here," Beinfest said. "That doesn't mean it won't be a fit someplace else."

I would imagine Girardi learned something from this. I would also imagine Jim Hendry has learned something from his four years with Dusty Baker in the dugout.

But here, in today's Tribune, is one of the best indicators that Girardi is the Cubs' target:

Interim club President John McDonough stressed that Hendry will be the one making the call.

"In Jim Hendry you have the right guy," he said. "And with the recent change in Dusty, this is a critical decision, finding the right guy."

McDonough declined to address specifics of the managerial search, but he said he was looking for someone who "gets" the Cubs.

"I think you have to bring in a winner who respects this franchise, this brand, the fans, the ballpark and everything that is the Chicago Cubs," McDonough said. "Someone who 'gets it.' But it has to be somebody who's a winner, somebody whose only mission, whose only goal is to win the World Series. That's a strong statement to make."

I have been pilloried here in the past for saying that people "get it", but that, in my view, IS an important factor in choosing a leader. I always knew Girardi "got it"; I was simply unsure whether he was the right fit for this team, and further, until very recently I didn't think that the Marlins were going to dismiss him, although in retrospect it has probably been obvious for a couple of months. Hey, when I'm wrong, I admit it.

McDonough is right. This move, if made, would mirror what the White Sox did when they hired Ozzie Guillen -- a popular former player who clearly has very strong views on how to be a leader. Girardi has one more year of managerial experience than Guillen had when hired; apart from that their backgrounds are quite similar -- both players of average ability who made long major league careers in part from sheer determination and hard work, and have been able to impart that view to those who have played for them.

I have long said, and I am not changing my mind here, that another retread, old-boy-network manager, a Piniella, a Fregosi, a Bowa -- what's the point? The winners of three of the last five World Series -- Mike Scioscia, Bob Brenly and Guillen -- were all first-time managers with little prior experience. With the dismissal of the entire Cubs coaching staff, including Larry Rothschild, a move I heartily endorse, it's a perfect time to start fresh, to bring in new ideas, to form a professional coaching staff rather than the manager's old playing buddies.

So go, Jim Hendry. Joe's out there. He's available. Go get him, and do it soon, so a plan can be put in place. It's time.