Joe Girardi may have the toughest job in professional sports- manager for the New York Yankees. A team recognized throughout the world and the model for success to anyone involved in professional sports.
When he took over for the future hall of fame manager Joe Torre, he had some big shoes to fill. Not only did they make the playoffs every year under Torre, they won the AL East 10 out of his 12 seasons (not to mention the 6 AL pennants and 4 World Series titles). That being said, Girardi hasn’t done too shabby in his 5th season as Yankee skipper. The former NL Manager of the Year in 2006 with the Florida (now Miami) Marlins guided the Yankees to their 27th World Series victory in 2009 and has captured two division titles while only missing the playoffs once.
In spite of his achievements there are still those that do not like Girardi or his managerial style. Slack must be given to Joe as he works under the demand of success from the Steinbrenner clan as well as one of the best general managers in baseball, Brian Cashman. Girardi also must deal with the egos of the stars under which he is to lead day in and day out. Thick skin is a must while self-doubt should be almost non-existent. While it is arguable Girardi meets those important credentials to the average Yankee fan, what Girardi exudes as a person is what makes him immensely likeable to other Yankee fans.
Rewind back to the fall of 2009. The Yankees have just finished celebrating their Game 6 win over the Philadelphia Phillies and manager Joe Girardi is on his way back home. Driving along a suburban parkway he comes across a violent car crash. He could have simply called 911 and continued home, chalking it up to him being too important to intervene. Instead, Girardi pulled over and darted across a dangerous stretch of road with a “notorious blind curve” where he “could have been killed” due to typical high speeding traffic according to Westchester County Sgt. Thomas McGurn. Girardi flagged down help and then left shortly after realizing the driver would be OK. The driver of the crashed vehicle escaped shaken and was unaware of whom her helper was until after the fact.
When a 45 year-old man smiles, braces may be one of the last things you’d expect to see. Joe Girardi is not ashamed of that. When daughter Serena (now 12) found out she needed them, Joe’s first reaction was to ease her dismay by agreeing to get them as well. Many Yankee fans were perplexed by the skipper’s metal-mouth, as it was never apparent he had any dental issues. Regardless, Girardi displayed an admirable paternal bond with his daughter (and later his son) despite a twist in the agreement. “What I didn’t realize when I made the deal is that she only had to get four on her front teeth and I got the full mouthful” said Girardi.
There was also an unspoken deal made with his son Dante (who also needed braces) that he would get color rubber bands (which help with pulling the teeth in the desired direction). He chose blue despite his inability to recall the agreement.
Fast-forward to spring training 2012, Girardi is heading out to batting practice and YES broadcaster Michael Kay points out something to him. A fan packed in with autograph-seekers holding a sign proclaiming “Please Remember Steven E. Smith”. Smith was killed in an automobile accident in 2010. He was 24 years old. The man holding the sign was Steven’s father, Matt Smith, who proclaimed his deceased son was a “fervent” Yankees fan. In an ultimate act of tribute, Joe invited the man onto the field to watch batting practice. “You can never imagine what people are going through when something like that happens”.
For the manager of a prominent baseball team with high expectations to arrange his priorities upon spotting the man is a prime example of altruism. He could have come out and simply shook the man’s hand or worse, could have just ignored it. He’s got a team to mold for a 28th championship, but that’s not how Girardi thinks. He cares about people as much as he does his team. Joe then took Mr. Smith’s poster and told him that he would mail it back after he had the entire team sign it.
Girardi might not be a master strategist or a lock for the Hall of Fame. What he is a lock for is an example of how to be a good person is the truest sense of the phrase; a man of integrity. With egos abound in the upper-class organization that is the New York Yankees, Joe is showing everyone what it is to be a class act off, as well as on, the field even when its nothing more than a bunch of men playing a boy’s game.