New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi Is Proud of His Little League Roots

New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi Is Proud of His Little League Roots

East Peoria (Ill.) Little League Graduate Reminds That Little League Is About Developing Good Citizens

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (March 27, 2008) – From a Little League uniform to Yankee pinstripes is the ultimate road to travel for many budding baseball players, but to be a Yankee and later become the team’s manager is a feat that puts Joe Girardi in rarified company.

Growing up in Illinois, Mr. Girardi was the fourth of seven children born to Jerry and Angela Girardi. Mr. Girardi’s three brothers all played baseball in the neighborhood, which created healthy competition.

“I love Little League,” Mr. Girardi said. “I had plenty of good experiences and those are what I remember. At a very young age, my Little League coaches taught me baseball, but I also learned about discipline and accountability.”

New York Yankees' manager Joe Girardi autographs the shirt of a player in the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Little League who attended a clinic there earlier this spring. Mr. Girardi, a graduate of East Peoria (Ill.) Little League and the clinic's guest speaker, played 15 years in the Major Leagues and is entering his first season as manager of the Yankees.


On the way to Tampa, Fla., for his first spring training as Yankees manager, Mr. Girardi returned the favor and shared his insights during a clinic for managers and coaches in the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Little League.

“I went through Little League, so the first thing I asked the coaches to do was to think about their own experiences in Little League,” Mr. Girardi said. “I told them, ‘the best thing a kid can say to a coach is that he wants to play again next year.’ The greatest reward as a coach is to have that same player say to you he wants to be on your team.”

Mr. Girardi started in East Peoria (Ill.) Little League at six years old, and played through Senior League. As a senior at Peoria’s Spalding High School he was an all-state catcher and received a scholarship to attend Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

In 1986, Mr. Girardi, a three-time academic All-American and two-time all-Big Ten Conference selection, graduated from Northwestern with a degree in industrial engineering. That same year he was drafted by his beloved Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the amateur player entry draft.

“I was truly blessed to play Little League Baseball,” Mr. Girardi, a Little League pitcher, infielder and catcher, said. “Little League is a wonderful opportunity to teach kids. They may not understand the lessons at a young age, but you are planting a seed, and they’ll understand later in life.

“The most important thing is to get an education,” he said. “If a child’s dream is to be a Major Leaguer, he should strive for it, but the definition of a dream is not if you reach your dream, but how you go about attaining it.”

Mr. Girardi’s time in Little League left such an impression on him that by the age of nine he had decided he wanted to be a professional baseball player.

Remembering an essay he wrote in the third grade, Mr. Girardi said, “Even as a kid I wanted to play for the Cubs and I was fortunate enough to be drafted by them. I became a Cubs fan because that’s what my Dad was, and I’m still a fan.

“I played hard in Little League and that theme never changed for me,” he said. “I always tried to show what I could do. When you’re a kid you always see yourself as a good ball player, and that’s the great thing about being young. Adults sometimes get too involved in winning and losing, which is why I remind managers and coaches that Little League is about developing good people.”

After three seasons in the minor leagues, Mr. Girardi broke into the Majors with the Cubs and began a 15-year career that included stints with the Colorado Rockies (19th overall selection in the 1992 expansion draft), the New York Yankees, a return to the Cubs, and finally, one season with the St. Louis Cardinals. He played in 1,277 Major League games (1,247 as a catcher/.991 fielding percentage), posting a .267 batting average, with 1,100 hits, 36 home runs, 422 runs batted in, 454 runs scored and 44 stolen bases.

Mr. Girardi played in the postseason six times. In 12 postseason series, he played in 39 games and won three world championships while with the New York Yankees (1997-99).

Along with three World Series rings, other highlights of Mr. Girardi’s Yankee career include catching Dwight Gooden’s no-hitter (May 14, 1996) and a perfect game thrown by David Cone (July 18, 1999). His only All-Star Game selection came in 2000, as a member of the Cubs. He did not play in the game.

“I’ve seen the game from a lot of perspectives, but there’s nothing like watching Major Leaguers turn into little kids when the Little League World Series starts,” Mr. Girardi, who started catching as a 12-year-old, said. “You’ll have guys from a particular state or country going crazy over their team. It is fun to watch the guys watch the games, and it’s that way because of the memories they carry with them from their Little League days.”

At 38, Mr. Girardi retired as a player following the 2003 season, and joined the Yankees as a bench coach on Manager Joe Torre’s staff. Two seasons later, he was hired as manager of the Florida Marlins and guided the team to a fourth-place finish in the National League’s Eastern Division. In his only season with the Marlins, Mr. Girardi won the 2006 National League Manager of the Year Award, then he was relieved of his duties.

Following one season as a broadcaster for the Yankees’ YES Network, during which he won an Emmy Award for hosting YES’ “Kids on Deck” series, Mr. Girardi was hired as the 32nd manager in Yankees history. Now 43, Mr. Girardi is the 17th former Yankee player to manage the team, and the fourth catcher, joining Ralph Houk, Bill Dickey and Hall of Famer Yogi Berra.

Whether talking to Little League players and coaches or Major Leaguers, Mr. Girardi said his message is always the same – make sure you make a positive impact.

“By the time you reach the big league level there are a lot of high points, but the fondest memories are of playing Little League,” Mr. Girardi said. “You don’t forget those memories.

“When I speak to coaches, I remind them that they’re not paid for wins and losses,” he said. “You purpose is to make a good impression in a young person’s life.”

Mr. Girardi and his wife, Kim, have three children, daughters, Serena and Lena, and a son, Dante. Dante, is six years old and playing Little League.

“My hobby is my family,” he said. “I had a great example – my parents. Even with a big family, my mom and dad always had time for me. With my son, the only coaching tip I’ve given him is to have fun.”

Joe Girardi, (on left in top photo) manager of the New York Yankees, spoke with managers and coaches in the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Little League (FLLL), and met with Little Leaguers during a clinic (hosted by FLLL) that was held prior to the start of the Yankees' spring training camp. Mr. Girardi is in his second stint as a Major League manager. He was named National League Manager of the Year in 2006, his only season with the Florida Marlins.


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