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Friday, November 02, 2007

New era dawns with Girardi at helm

New York's new manager holds court at Yankee Stadium
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com

NEW YORK -- In his first day as a manager at the current Yankee Stadium, the structure he experienced as a player, coach and broadcaster, Joe Girardi was offered a preview of the Yankees' future.
Inspecting the rising structure of the franchise's new home across the street, Girardi saw concrete being poured, foul poles in place, and walked a pathway leading from the dugout to the clubhouse -- and, of course, the manager's office.

It is a tomorrow that now includes Girardi, who was formally introduced on Thursday in a press conference at the Stadium Club of the current facility. Two days after agreeing to terms on a three-year contract, Girardi found himself in New York, grinning as he slipped on the pinstripes once more.

"It's a tremendous time to have this opportunity," Girardi said. "To be a part of the history here, and then to be part of it in the new stadium, it's really neat."

With that, Girardi became the 32nd manager in club history, and as he posed for photographs, he reiterated his excitement for perhaps the biggest challenge of his multifaceted career.

"I can't tell you how honored we are to be putting on this uniform for the third time," Girardi said after donning a jersey with the No. 27 on its back -- appropriate, perhaps, since Girardi will be trying to lead the Yankees to their 27th World Series title.

"This is the place to be. For the Girardis, this place is home."

Choking back emotion at the podium, Girardi opened his introduction with a story about his father, Gerald, whom he said is suffering from Alzheimer's. Gerald Girardi had not spoken in a month, but that changed when a caretaker showed him a photograph of Girardi as the new Yankees manager.

"Oh, yeah," the elder Girardi said.

The 2006 National League Manager of the Year with the Florida Marlins, Girardi beat out internal candidates Don Mattingly and Tony Pena in an interview process that took place last week in Tampa, Fla.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that the decision was not an easy one, but grouped in a trio of potential candidates, Girardi aced every exam sent his way to emerge as the front-runner.

"I wanted someone that understood the complexity of the Yankee organization," Cashman said. "We're a very complex situation, whether you're dealing with the media, the New York fan base, the expectations."

"Whoever hits the ground running, they're not getting caught up to speed and having a learning curve added on," he added. "It wasn't one thing that stands out. There were several things that stood out for me to help me gravitate to Joe Girardi."

Succeeding Joe Torre after a 12-year run at the helm, Girardi inherits a Yankees club prepared for transition, continuing to filter in younger talent while attempting to win its first World Series championship since 2000.

Cashman said that the Yankees are expecting Girardi to carve his own dynasty.

"He's going to be different, because there's only one Joe Torre," Cashman said. "I think Joe Girardi will slowly reveal himself as what he is in the Yankee universe as manager in due time."

Though Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner preached during the interview process that observers should have "patience" with the new manager, saying that he would not necessarily be inheriting the 1996 Yankees, Girardi has objected to that viewpoint.

A key contributor on the 1996 club -- it was his third-inning triple off the Atlanta Braves' Greg Maddux in Game 6 that sent the Yankees to their first World Series title since 1978 -- Girardi said that he expects nothing less than to be playing in the Fall Classic come October.

Girardi won the Yankees over with a prepared, information-based approach during the intensive interview process. Upon receiving the job, Girardi said he received a message from principal owner George Steinbrenner.

"He was very congratulatory," Girardi said. "He said, 'It's great to have you aboard.' I said, 'Well, I can't wait for the season to start.'"

In 2005, Girardi served as Torre's bench coach and catching instructor before receiving his first and only previous managerial opportunity, guiding the Marlins to a 78-victory season and keeping a young club flush with rookies in the Wild Card race until the season's final week.

"It made me more prepared," Girardi said. "I didn't necessarily ever feel tense. Obviously there are tense situations in games where you have to make tough decisions, but you go with the information with your head. It's thought out. I never thought of it that way."

A 15-year Major League veteran who also played for the Chicago Cubs (1989-92 and 2000-02), Colorado Rockies (1993-95) and St. Louis Cardinals (2003), Girardi becomes the 17th Yankees manager to have also played for the club.

A lifetime .267 hitter, Girardi performed on three Yankees World Series championship clubs, winning titles in 1996, '98 and '99. At 43, Girardi becomes the third-youngest manager in the Major Leagues, behind the Washington Nationals' Manny Acta (38) and the Cleveland Indians' Eric Wedge (39).

"The Joe Girardi that I know is a determined individual," Cashman said. "He's got a big heart -- genuine and sincere. He's decisive in what he wants to do, but yet open to a great deal of information to allow him to be in the best position possible to come together with a plan and execute it.

"I know the person and obviously I'm betting on this person."

Girardi is preparing to transition from the broadcast booth to the dugout, having spent the 2007 season as a broadcaster for the YES Network working as an analyst on Yankees broadcasts.

Girardi said he believes that time spent intimately watching the organization, on the field and off of it, will help him in his new assignment.

"I was a part of about 35 games watching the Yankees," Girardi said. "I think, as a club, there's always areas you can improve. The New York Yankees have a chance to go to the World Series.

"They were in a tough playoff with Cleveland, and obviously Cleveland outplayed them during that four-game series. There [are] areas that you have to improve on all over, because you can't be satisfied with where you're at. In my heart, I have feelings of things we have to do."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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