It’s the summer of 2018 and Joe Girardi stands in a dugout in South Florida. Everything about it should be familiar. It wasn’t that long ago that Girardi won the Manager of the Year award with the Florida Marlins.
This isn’t the big leagues, though. This is Florida Travel Baseball. Girardi is helping coach his son Dante’s team. The guy who won 91 games with the New York Yankees in 2017 is now spending his summer instructing 15- and 16-year-olds.
Since parting ways with the Yankees after the 2017 season, Girardi hasn’t strayed far from the game. He loves it too much. He loves the strategy, the way infield play has evolved, the way young hitters try to make their mark and the way old hitters make adjustments to remain successful.
Staying involved with the game hasn’t been a problem for Girardi — who joined MLB Network before the 2018 season. On a daily basis, Girardi gets to share the knowledge he learned during his 15-year career as a catcher and his 11-year stint as a manager.
Ignoring the game, even for a short period of time, was never an option.
“If I was on a two-year sabbatical where I was fishing every day, I would somehow find a way to know exactly what’s going on,” Girardi told Yahoo Sports.
While the pull to manage is still there for Girardi, getting back into broadcasting seemed like a logical choice. After retiring from his playing career in 2004, Girardi spent time as an analyst at the YES Network. He spent a year at the network before joining the Yankees as a bench coach in 2005.
After so much time away from broadcasting, there was some concern over how Girardi would fit in at MLB Network.
“When I found out that Joe Girardi was an analyst — after dealing with Joe as a member of the media — I was like ‘What is this going to be like?’” says MLB Network host Greg Amsinger.
Those concerns were quickly calmed the first time Girardi and Amsinger were on camera together. The two did an arranged spoof in which Girardi poked fun at his detail-oriented process by presenting Amsinger with one of the oft-discussed binders Girardi used while managing the Yankees.
That let Amsinger know things were going to be different.
“After doing two shows with him I’m like, this guy is laughing all the time,” Amsinger says. “We’re having a blast during commercial breaks. People just didn’t understand he’s got a side to him that he never gave away as manager of the Marlins and the Yankees. And I’m so excited that I get to see it every single day here at MLB Network.”
For Amsinger, having an analyst as well-versed as Girardi is a dream. He can let the conversation go anywhere and know that Girardi is going to give him something good. He can ask Girardi about any team, bullpen, front office or coaching staff knowing that Girardi has done his homework.
As it turns out, Girardi’s detail-oriented approach has carried over from his managing days. Before taping, Girardi spends a lot of time with MLB Network researcher Matt Baker.
“He wants data on every pitcher that’s starting,” Amsinger says. “Every lineup. What’s are their splits? What’s their OPS+? ‘I want to know how many balls this guy has blocked in the dirt in the last two weeks?’”
Then he’ll turn around and do it again Monday for the Cubs vs. Philadelphia Phillies game on an “MLB Network Showcase” telecast. It will be Girardi’s second time appearing on the program for MLB Network.
Girardi and Bob Costas — who will be calling Monday’s contest — will sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to the Wrigley Field faithful during the seventh inning.
Both games will give Girardi an opportunity to see things unfold from the broadcast booth, which he says is “actually the best place to watch a game.”
Preparation for Monday’s game began weeks ago. Girardi started studying up on rosters, beginning with the relievers. He’ll study their pitch selection, tendencies and watch tape to try and gather a scouting report. Does that pitcher hide the ball well? Do they like to quick pitch? Once Girardi knows what starters he’s getting, he’ll watch footage of their starts and go through the same process.
It’s the same approach he used as a manager.
“That’s how I always managed a game, I managed a game backward in a sense,” Girardi says. “Where I wanted to know what I had available in my bullpen and who matched up well so I knew how many innings I needed from my starter.”
All of it is aimed at getting as much information as possible before the game. But since Girardi doesn’t have the same access he had as a manager, he’ll listen to team broadcasts to get a better sense of what’s going on with a club on a day-to-day basis.
If it sounds like Girardi yearns to be back in the dugout, it’s because he does. He’s made it no secret he wants to manage again.
“I want to,” Girardi says. “I love it because I love the strategy of the game and trying to put players in the best situation to be successful and instilling confidence in them … and always having their back and building that trust with players. That’s really enjoyable to me.”
He has Amsinger’s support. If Amsinger owned a team that was ready to win now, he would want Girardi managing his club. Amsinger took things even further, “I’d vote for him if he was running for president,” he says.
A presidential run may have to wait until after Girardi’s next stint as a manager. Like Amsinger, many assume Girardi would only go to a contender, but that’s not necessarily the case.
“You know what, I had a blast with the rebuild I had in Florida,” Girardi says. “The unfortunate situation is that I didn’t get to see it through. I was only there for the one year. Working with those young players was rewarding. It was exciting. It was fun to watch them understand that they did belong at that level.”
For now, Girardi is having a blast broadcasting. He loves being around his former opponents and getting hitting insight from Jim Thome and pitching insight from Pedro Martinez. Girardi says he’ll keep doing TV “as long as they’ll allow me to do it. If I’m 75, I would still love to broadcast.”
The pull of managing may once again interrupt that journey. Not only because Girardi has talked openly about the possibility, but because he still has plenty of passion for the job. A guy with 988 career managerial wins wouldn’t spend his summers helping 15- and 16-year-old baseball players develop if that desire wasn’t still there.
It’s not easy to figure out why.
“He’s a baseball lifer,” Amsinger says. “He wants to smell the grass. He wants to feel the breeze. He wants to lean on the back of a batting cage. He wants to look at the players, shake their hands talk to a manager before the game. It’s a culture that’s been a part of his life for such a long time he wants to be in it.”
Amsinger may have been talking about Girardi the broadcaster there, but it applies to Girardi the manager just as well.
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