Joe Girardi proved during TGIF time Friday he can walk and chew gum at the same time -- baseball style.
Affable in meeting the swarming Chicago media desiring answers and hints he could not give them, Girardi at the same time showed he could well handle the daily grind, even the circus, that accompanies a Cubs manager.
Girardi was straightforward and matter-of-fact with no verbal misdirection, malaprops or homilies that marked the media sessions of both Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker. Almost bland. But bland is best if the manager has both passion, know-how of all things Cubs and a razor-sharp focus that blocks out all distractions, real or media/fan-borne.
Girardi's reaction to the widespread national speculation that links him to prime consideration as Piniella's permanent successor was so great that a good chunk of media hearing a tardy Ozzie Guillen's analysis of Manny Ramirez's possible arrival bailed out in mid-Guillen stream of consciousness.
Just read the tea leaves in what Girardi said:
“I was hired by the Yankees to do a job...We’re in a very tight division race. My job is to prepare this team to play every day, and that’s what I’m focusing on.
“My faith always has been extremely important to me. I’ve never worried about next year. I’m happy with my contract situation (expiring after this season). I feel that I’m fortunate to be one of 30 managers with a contract right now. There are people in this organization who have done a lot more for this organization than I have, who don’t have contracts.”
Instant analysis: This is a man with almost unreal, no-nonsense focus who want allow all the hubris that comes with the Cubs to get into his head. He's not thinking of political considerations or next year or 1969 -- only that game. For the present, he can both address and block out from his daily routine the sexiest rumor in baseball.
“Every one of them is attractive,” Girardi said of all big-league managing jobs. “You’re one of a select few. If you love to manage, any job of the 30 is a wonderful job.”
Instant analysis: The Cubs job does not stick out like a sore thumb, positively or negatively. It's a job to be done efficiently, with passion, but what happened for 102 previous seasons does not distinguish it from other manager jobs.
“I’ve had a chance to play for the Cubs in two separate stints. In 1989, we made the playoffs. I thought being young and green and in major-league baseball, you’re going to make it every year. But I realized no matter where you are, that doesn’t happen.
“They’ve been real close a lot of times. Sometimes it’s a break one way or another. They were close in 2003. They had a very good year a couple of years ago where they had the best record in the National League. Sometimes things just don’t go your way.”
Instant analysis: The Cubs have gone without a championship longer than any other pro sports team, but that doesn't affect successive teams going forward -- not if the manager filters out the past nonsense.
“I know Ryne Sandberg; I played with him. He was a great player. I really like Ryno and have a ton of respect for Ryno. He’s a Hall of Famer. As far as knowing Ryno as manager, the only person I know as a manager is myself. That’s all I know, because I know what I do.”
Instant analysis: Every managerial candidate brings his own style and there's no template to guide them. Tony La Russa himself said if you've got the knack to manage, you can manager, no matter what prepatory experience you get.
On an emotional, down-to-the-gut basis, Girardi would pay out of his pocket to manage the Cubs. He grew up making trips to Wrigley Field with his father, Jerry Girardi, whom he touchingly described on Friday in the end stages of Alzheimer's, suddenly rallying with a moment of recognition. At the Friendly Confines, he'd eat Ron Santo's Pros' Pizza (where the cardboard tasted better than the pie) and cheer on Jose Cardenal, his favorite. Driving around with his father on business, Girardi recalled listening to Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau.
While attending Northwestern, Girardi recalled hopping the Purple and Red lines to watch Wrigley Field games from the cheap seats. And as a Cubs catcher, he had his escape route to get home to Lake Forest, where his wife, the former Kim Innocenzi, grew up. Get over to Peterson Ave., go west and then catch the Edens northbound. Don't get hung up on Irving Park.
But as a manager, Girardi has to be more businesslike than emotional. That's how he runs the Yankees. And that's how he would run the Cubs, if a strange series of events could only come true.
Whether the new man is Girardi, Sandberg, Mike Quade or colorless Eric Wedge, a lot more attention to the fine details of winning in Wrigley Field -- yes, it can be done -- would suit everyone just fine. Along with Dragnet-style quotes -- just the facts, ma'am.
If Jim Hendry could get ahold of the tape of Girardi's Friday session, it would serve as a de facto job interview with a ton of telling points about the man's qualifications.