Russell: Yankees Manager Joe Girardi Can Relate To The Cardinals

Former Cardinals Matt Holliday and Pete Kozma will get a chance to beat St. Louis with the Redbirds playing the Yankees this weekend.

“There’s definitely emotions,” said Yankee manager Joe Girardi. “The emotions of all the friendships that you had and all the time you spent trying to help the St. Louis Cardinals.”

Girardi can relate. The last time the Cardinals played at Yankee Stadium, Girardi was the backup catcher for St. Louis. He was 38, and only played 16 games due to injuries in what turned out to be his final season. “I was only around there a year,” Girardi said. “I was hurt a good portion of the year which really told me it was time to retire, so I mean I was away from the club a lot more than I would’ve liked to have been.”

The Yankees swept those three games in June 2003, with Roger Clemens picking up his 300th win and 4,000th strikeout in the first game. That was a night that the Stanley Cup champion Devils were honored before the game and the Nets faced the Spurs in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

The series was also a Bronx homecoming for Tino Martinez, who hit a pair of homers in the second game. It was on that Saturday afternoon which Girardi caught a few innings at the end of the Yankees 14-4 win.

Girardi, who was born on the day that the Yankees won game 6 of the 1964 World Series in St. Louis, had won three titles with the Yankees from 1996-99. A return to the Bronx was discussed after 2002, as Joe Torre and Don Zimmer, two men who previously managed Girardi, would’ve liked Girardi as Jorge Posada’s backup, but the organization didn’t sign him. So after three seasons as a Cub, which included making the 2000 All-Star team, Girardi stayed in the NL Central and played with the Cardinals. The main catcher was Mike Matheny and the primary backup was another former Yankee, Chris Widger. Matheny is in a similar position to Girardi, having replaced Tony La Russa in St. Louis. The former catchers and teammates will wage a chess match from the opposing dugouts this weekend. “It will be enjoyable,” Girardi said. “Mike’s a brilliant baseball man. I had a chance to be around him as a player and saw how he went about his business.”

Girardi was the Yankees bench coach during the 2005 season and then went to the Marlins and was named 2006 NL Manager of the year for winning 78 games with a cost-cutting organization. Girardi worked for the YES Network in 2007, which was Torre’s last as manager of the Yankees.

Then he interviewed for the job and beat out Don Mattingly and Tony Peña. Mattingly may have been the fan favorite which may have been one reason fans didn’t totally warm up to Girardi immediately.

Girardi isn’t a brash trash talker but he did choose to wear number 27 to make a point that the goal should be to win a World Series. He might not be the Billy Martin style manager that fans love but he’s the right guy for the job in the post-George Steinbrenner era. Would The Boss have fired Girardi after a 15-17 start in 2009? Perhaps. Instead, Girardi stayed, the Yankees finished 88-42 and went on to win the World Series.

Now wearing number 28, Girardi is in his 10th season as Yankee manager. Only Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel and Joe Torre have managed more games in team history. Who could’ve foreseen that when the Cardinals were last here?

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