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Zero hour

Signs point to Girardi-Cubs union; Matsuzaka's suitors

Posted: Monday September 25, 2006 12:52PM; Updated: Monday September 25, 2006 2:43PM
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Joe Girardi has guided the young Marlins to an improbable 76-80 record this season, but his chances of returning in 2007 are bleak.
Joe Girardi has guided the young Marlins to an improbable 76-80 record this season, but his chances of returning in 2007 are bleak.

Last week the South Florida Sun-Sentinel first reported that manager Joe Girardi has "zero chance'' to return after leading the Marlins to a miracle season, and now Girardi has read in all three major local papers that he is a goner. But in reality, Girardi didn't even need to read those assessments to know he's dust.

Girardi's known for some time that he's history. He's known it from reading previous reports, which, citing unnamed sources (undoubtedly team sources), depicted Girardi as meddlesome, headstrong, wrong on personnel opinions and generally unable to play nice with fellow Marlins decision-makers.

Girardi, who has a good chance at becoming the Cubs manager, has never responded to those negative reports because it's not his style to air dirty laundry. And frankly, he understood that it is a losing battle to combat unnamed sources who are conducting what looks from here like a smear campaign. The minute he started to see these unnamed reports saying he favored one Marlins player over another, that he didn't believe in certain successful Marlins and detailing how he supposedly wasn't getting along with his Marlins bosses, he knew he was done.

It isn't uncommon for managers to provide opinions about players to their bosses or even to disagree with them. But once those opinions and divisions are exposed publicly, whether or not they are accurate, it puts the manager in an impossible position with his players. That's where Girardi resides these days, seven days from the end.

It's hard to know whether all the leaked negative reports are true, or if any are. The Marlins' Steinbrenner wannabe, owner Jeffrey Loria, won't discuss the situation. It's hard to know, but I can say that the very first and supposedly key incident leaked doesn't ring true at all -- at least not all of it.

The initial hint Girardi might be fired in a year in which he is a prime candidate for Manager of the Year came when reports surfaced that Loria nearly fired Girardi for supposedly telling Loria to "shut the ---- up'' after Loria was continually yelling at home plate umpire Larry Vanover during a game this summer. While Girardi may well have told Loria to shut up (possibly after Vanover warned Girardi to curtail the chatter), the story seems just a little shakier when it is claimed that Girardi swore at Loria. In one report, Girardi's admonishment to Loria was said to be "profanity laced.'' No shot of that being true.

"I have never, ever in my life heard Joe Girardi saying anything off-color or use a curse word,'' said Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay, who's known Girardi for a decade and worked with him in the YES Network booth for two years. "Sometimes it gets off-color in the breaks, but never with Joe. Never, ever. I can't even imagine him saying the 'F' word. This is a real legitimate, religious guy.''

What else has been skewed to make Girardi look bad? Did, for instance, Girardi really argue for Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco to start in the bullpen rather the rotation, as has been reported? And did he favor slugger Josh Willingham to catch over Miguel Olivo?

Did he really "refuse'' to attend some unspecified team function this spring? And if so, who cares?

One real yet never recounted factor in the disintegrating relationship between Girardi and his bosses came right in the beginning. When they were courting Girardi, they didn't disclose the fact that they were about to embark on a pervasive fire sale; sure, Girardi understood that A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett would be gone, but he didn't know that Juan Pierre, Carlos Delgado, Paul Lo Duca and others would be, too. If the relationship between Girardi and his bosses started to fray early, as has been written, perhaps it was over the false picture Girardi's bosses painted during the interview process.

I do believe what unnamed sources are saying about Girardi being headstrong, even prickly, at times. He is a drill-sergeant-type, and this style has worked splendidly for the young Marlins, as they hoped it would. He offers strong opinions and upsets some folks. But he is bright and talented, and a personality clash is no reason to get rid of him.

Girardi is surely frustrated that he is ignored when he makes suggestions to general manager Larry Beinfest, who like Girardi has done a terrific job (with help from scouts Jim Fleming, Stan Meek and others). But Girardi has never leaked anything negative about others in the organization. He has merely continued to do his job well while waiting for what looks from here like a very effective smear campaign to do him in.

Loria and Beinfest have declined through the Marlins' p.r. people to speak publicly about the situation. Girardi, approached last week when he was in New York, said he was "extremely proud'' of what they'd accomplished in Florida (the Marlins are a still startling 76-80) but was true to himself when he responded to inquiries by saying emphatically, "No comment, no comment, no comment.'' Sometimes things are better left unsaid. If only all his bosses had shown that same sort of discretion.