Girardi 'finishing the job' following father's passing
By KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency
|New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi. (REUTERS)
NEW YORK - Last Saturday, while the Yankee team bus was travelling through Manhattan on the way to Penn Station for their train ride to Baltimore and the opening two games of this American League Division Series, Joe Girardi got a phone call.
“My father had passed,” said Girardi Thursday afternoon.
After suffering for many years in an assisted-care facility in Illinois, Jerry Girardi had succumbed to the ravages of alzheimer’s disease at the age of 81.
Girardi took in the news, then put on a pair of sunglasses to hide the tears.
“I didn’t say anything because I knew talking about it would even make it harder,” said the Yankee manager. “I didn’t want to have to deal with it with the team and to have the team have to deal with it. That’s a strong group in (the clubhouse) and I’m glad I have them behind me. If we were to get into the next round I was going to tell them that I wouldn’t be at the workout day on Monday, that I was going to the funeral.”
Girardi said there was never any doubt he would be there with his team in Baltimore because both his father and mother, who died more than two decades ago, had taught him to “always finish the job at hand.”
He described the frustrating anguish of seeing his loved one lose his faculties.
“You have to show them a lot of patience and kindness and try to understand the disease.”
Wednesday night, Girardi made one of the gutsiest calls any baseball manager will ever make. In the ninth inning of game in which the Yankees trailed 2-1, he pinch-hit for future Hall of Famer Alex Rodriguez, one of the best players ever to play the game. Yes, Rodriguez was struggling. Yes, Ibanez is a low-ball hitter, a lefty with power to take advantage of the inviting short porch at Yankee Stadium, facing a power righthander in Jim Johnson. It all made perfect sense but, let’s face it, not many managers would dare to pull it off.
“It was something I could feel in my gut,” said Girardi. No matter that most managers would rather respond to such a gut feeling by taking some Pepto-Bismol.
The pinch-hitter, Raul Ibanez, not only homered to tie the game but hit another one leading off the 12th inning to finish off one of the most dramatic postseason victories in Yankee history.
It’s the kind of momentous decision that Girardi would have loved, in a different time and place, to have talked about with his dad.
“Sure I would have loved to talk about the situation. I mean, baseball was something we both had great passion for. Sometimes as a human being you have to make tough calls. Geez, I can remember a lot of tough calls my dad made and it didn’t always please me.
“I had a tremendous relationship with my father. Wherever he went, I went. When he stopped, I ran into him. I’ve always said if I could be half the husband and father my dad was, that would be special.”
Girardi said he hopes and believes that his relationship with A-Rod has not been compromised by Wednesday’s decision.
“I don’t think it will change our relationship. We have a very honest relationship. I trust him. I expect big things from him tonight.”
Rodriguez himself said Girardi’s decision will not change a thing between them.
“No, no, no,” said Rodriguez. “I love Joe. I’m one of the leaders of this team. Maybe 10 years ago I would have reacted differently, but not now.
“You guys laugh at me when I say it, but I’ve matured a lot over the last few years. We preach about team, team, team around here, and that’s what this was. Raul has been phenomenal for us.
“There was no one happier for Raul than me. It was an awesome moment and it couldn’t have happened to a better guy,” said Rodriguez, who laughed when asked if he could remember when he was last lifted for a pinch-hitter.
“Maybe in high school,” he said.
Somewhere deep beneath A-Rod’s outward cheerfulness, there has to be some private humiliation and Girardi is acutely aware of that.
“If you’re Alex Rodriguez and you’ve hit 650 home runs, I’ve got to believe he thinks he could have done the same thing (as Ibanez)” said Girardi. “I’ve seen him hit big home runs and I’m expecting to see him hit a lot more.”
Regardless, New York was still buzzing with the high drama that unfolded in the Bronx Wednesday and Girardi was hoping that, somewhere, his parents had a couple of good seats.
“It’s the first time in over 28 years that my mom and dad have been able to see a game together again, and they’d be mad if I wasn’t doing my job; I know that.”