Chicago fans may hate Yankees -- but they still love Joe Girardi
Joe Girardi transcends Chicago sports fans' simmering resentment of New York
Girardi, a Northwestern graduate, was the Cubs' catcher for seven seasons
He's still respected for his Wrigley Field remarks on Darryl's Kile's death
The late, great ink-stained orator Mike Royko was the wise-guy voice of Chicago on myriad matters large and small, pitch-perfect in articulating his city's sensibilities and proudly unwavering in his disdain for all things New York.
Most notably its sports teams.
Such Big Apple animosity was deep-rooted due to an unfortunate circumstance: Royko was born a Cub fan, a real Cub fan, a Lenny Merullo/Andy Pafko-era Cub fan, not some late-to-the-party socialite who embraced charming Wrigley Field and the lovable loser "Cubbies" as the very height of Yuppie chic.
"Cubbies?" Please. Mike Royko personified the genuine article, the "long-suffering" Cub fan, his passion matched only by his frustration with the team's chronically futile ways, which inspired some of his wittiest, most biting prose. During the 1981 work stoppage he claimed not to have noticed that his favored squad was idle; the Cubs being on strike, he said, was about as significant as buggy-whip manufacturers walking out. Later he suggested shooting a player a day until the two sides settled.
The 1969 season, the mere 61st of a 101-year championship drought, scarred Royko for life. A talented, versatile team built around Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Fergie Jenkins was running away with the National League East in the first year of divisional play, until Leo Durocher's stubborn refusal to use his bench caused the Cubs to wilt in the heat of late summer, enabling the "Miracle Mets" of Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman to roar past.
The pitiful collapse was hard enough on Cub fans. That the Mets were the beneficiaries was a stomach-turning side effect. Royko was traumatized. Cueing up the final scene from the movie Fail Safe and watching New York get nuked to smithereens always made him feel better, he said.
White Sox fans with slightly longer memories could relate. The entire South Side would crackle with anticipation whenever the Mantle-Maris-Berra Yankees arrived for a late-summer series circa 1960. Billy Pierce and Whitey Ford would duel into the late innings on Friday night, then some second-tier slugger like John Blanchard or Hector Lopez would pop one with a man on and the Yankees would win 2-1. They'd repeat on Saturday, split Sunday's doubleheader and leave town with a lead twice the size of the two-game edge they'd arrived with.
Happened like that every year, it seemed. Damn Yankees was a Broadway play to most of the country. On Chicago's Sout' Side it was a semi-official motto.
The Bears have had some success alleviating Second City angst on the football field. They knocked Y.A. Tittle around and beat the Giants 14-10 in the 1963 title game at chilly Wrigley Field, and the clip of Sean Landeta whiffing on a punt and handing the Bears a gift touchdown in the '85 playoffs at arctic Soldier Field was worthy of the campy "Super Bowl Shuffle" video.
On balance, though, and much to the chagrin of Mike Royko's memory, the New York-Chicago sports argument tends to be one-sided; Hue Hollins' phantom foul call on Scottie Pippen v. Hubert Davis in Game 5 of the '94 Bulls-Knicks playoff series is the perfect backdrop for a citywide inferiority complex. So it was rather startling to walk the streets these last few weeks and hear Chicagoans expressing grudging admiration for the hated Yankees during their postseason run. Joe Girardi, see, transcends bad memories and simmering resentment. He's one of ours.
"I hadn't really thought of it like that, but it's a good thing, I guess," said Dr. John Girardi, Joe's older brother, a physician who practices internal medicine and is involved in church work and youth counseling in the north suburbs. "Most of my friends are Cub fans. They probably still think of Joe as a Cub."
Why not? Peoria-born and Northwestern-educated, Girardi was the Cubs' catcher for seven seasons over two tours, including a division title-winning campaign in 1989, his rookie year. He did not evoke Johnny Bench with a bat in his hands, but his heady game-management skills and his efficient supervision of a pitching staff were apparent early on.
"Joe was the backbone of our team while he was here, a coach on the field," recalled Northwestern coach Paul Stevens, an NU assistant when Girardi was an All-Big Ten catcher for the Wildcats in the mid-'80s. "He always got pitchers to buy into what he wanted to do because he was so meticulous in his preparation. He paid attention to every detail and didn't miss a thing."
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