Girardi does his best through triumph, tragedy
NEW YORK -- While Joe Girardi was doing some of the best managing of his life, he was also mourning the death of his father.
Girardi's father, Jerry, died last Saturday at the age of 81 in an Illinois nursing home after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for many years. It is a measure of who Joe Girardi is -- an essentially private man in one of the most public of all jobs, managing the New York Yankees -- that he told almost no one about his father's death.
His team did not know. The media could not know. Girardi did not look for sympathy, for empathy, for any particular assistance from the outside world. He would bear the burden of his father's death in relative privacy for as long as possible.
Girardi said on Thursday that he learned of his father's death when the Yankees were on the team bus headed for the train that would take them to Baltimore and the beginning of their American League Division Series.
"One of the reasons I didn't say anything [was that] I knew talking about it would make it probably even harder," Girardi said during a pregame media session at Yankee Stadium. "My mom and dad, the one thing that both of them [taught me], besides many other things that they taught me, was always to finish the job at hand. So my thought process was that my dad would want me to do everything that we could do to go win a World Series.
"So you know, I was handling it pretty good until I got word that it came out today a little bit. So that's made it difficult."
Girardi had planned, if the Yankees defeat the Orioles to reach the AL Championship Series, to tell his team that he would not be present at Monday's off-day workouts to attend the funeral.
"You know, when I sit and think about it, I had a tremendous relationship with my father," Girardi said. "Wherever he went, I went. When he stopped, I ran into him. And I've always said, if I could be half the husband and father my dad would be, that would be special."
Girardi typically shows the world a stoic, unflappable demeanor regardless of circumstances. But as he finished that last sentence, his voice cracked a bit. It happened again when he was asked about how tough it would be to do his job in Game 4.
"I'll be able to do my job, because I know that's what they would want me to do," Girardi said, referring to his father and his mother, who died in 1984. "When I think about it, it's the first time in over 28 years that my mom and dad have seen a game together again. So they'll be watching, and they'll be mad if I'm not doing my job; I know that."
That was a truly touching remark. At that moment you got a glimpse of a side of Girardi you never could have seen before.
Just a few hours ago, the most important thing about Girardi seemed to be that he had both the brains and the guts to pinch-hit Raul Ibanez for Alex Rodriguez in Game 3. Ibanez responded in glorious fashion, hitting a game-tying home run in the ninth, then winning the game in the 12th inning with another homer.
Asked what his father would have thought of this decision, Girardi replied, "He would have been extremely proud and probably told all his buddies."
Girardi reflected on his parents after that classic Game 3 victory, thinking, "My mom and dad saw a pretty good game last night."
In a happier world, Girardi would have received one more victory Thursday night in his time of trial, a Division Series clincher that would move the Yankees on to the Championship Series. But in this world, what he received was a 2-1 loss in 13 innings that forced the Yankees into a win-or-go-home circumstance Friday against the Orioles. It will be a difficult situation, but it won't be anything like dealing with the death of a father.
It has been clear in Girardi's five years as manager of the Yankees that, despite winning a World Series championship in 2009, he has never been completely embraced by the fan base or regarded by the New York media in the affectionate, ultimately respectful way his predecessor, Joe Torre, generally was.
Girardi is guilty mostly of not being Torre, but nobody else is Torre, either. Torre was an impossible act to follow, filling reporters' notebooks on a daily basis with an endless supply of topical anecdotes, almost invariably maintaining his poise and dignity, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Girardi is not into embellishment, or story-spinning, and he clearly does not see charming the media as part of his job description.
But on Wednesday night, there was widespread admiration voiced for him, as he broke with convention, went with his heart and his gut, and gave the at-bat of the season to Raul instead of A-Rod.
And on Thursday, when the narrative of his father's death and the following days emerged, Girardi became a genuinely sympathetic figure. He was a private man, dealing with his father's death in the most public of settings, as the Yankees' manager in the postseason.
In the relatively few words he spoke regarding his father and his mother, Girardi showed a depth of feeling that many could not have otherwise seen. He was doing the very best a man could do in his job at Yankee Stadium, doing his best in both triumph and tragedy.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.