Girardi's days likely numbered

Girardi's days likely numbered

PHILADELPHIA -- It's been a year of surprises for the Florida Marlins. So, in an ironic way, it's strangely fitting that this startling season has produced a fallout between management and manager.

The tension that became public in early August has reached the point where it is likely that Joe Girardi's days managing the club are numbered.

According to a report on Friday in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Girardi has "zero" chance of returning for a second season.

"I don't think there is any chance," the source told the paper.

If indeed team owner Jeffrey Loria dismisses Girardi, it will be viewed by many as a shocking move. But to those around the club on a daily basis, trouble has been brewing for months.

A number of insiders and sources have dropped hints stemming back to late August that Girardi, under contract through 2008, would not return.

The Marlins had no comment on the Sun-Sentinel story.

Asked about the report before Friday night's game at Philadelphia, Girardi stressed the importance of focusing on the remaining nine games.

"The one thing I can't control is sources," Girardi said. "My job is to get this club to win games. We've done that, we've won games. The focus should be on the players and what we're able to accomplish the next nine games and if we're able to reach the goal that we want. The focus should not be on me, and it shouldn't be on anything but winning games."

Girardi has been at odds with the front office over control, access to the clubhouse and personnel decisions.

For most of the season, the friction remained under wraps. But the bubbling tensions came to light after the Marlins were swept by the Dodgers on Aug. 6 at Dolphin Stadium.

In the seventh inning of that game, the Marlins let a seventh-inning lead slip away. A defining moment came when rookie reliever Taylor Tankersley was facing Julio Lugo with the bases loaded. Tankersley threw a pitch that TV replays appeared to show was over the plate. However, umpire Larry Vanover signaled ball four, forcing in a run.

Sitting next to the dugout, Loria hollered at Vanover. Girardi and bench coach Gary Tuck turned to Loria and both told the owner to "shut up." Reports have said Loria was planning on dismissing Girardi that day, but the owner was talked out of it.

Following the loss to the Dodgers, the Marlins clubhouse was closed to the media for 90 minutes as Loria and Girardi aired out their differences. According to reports, Girardi later met with the team to apologize.

Girardi was hired as the eighth manager in Marlins history on Oct. 19, 2005, after he served one year as the New York Yankees' bench coach. At 41, the former catcher was three years removed from his playing days.

In his one season coaching on the Yankees staff, Girardi studied New York skipper Joe Torre.

One league source said Girardi likes to play it cool in the dugout, a trademark of Torre. In some ways, that demeanor has worked against Girardi in the eyes of the Marlins.

The Aug. 6 loss to the Dodgers is an example. The source felt Girardi was playing that situation with Vanover like Torre would have.

"The thing is, [Girardi] doesn't have the Yankee team behind him," the source said. "Sometimes, you've got to fight a little harder for strikes for your guys."

At his introductory news conference in October, Loria said: "I believe Joe Girardi is here at exactly the right time, and that he is the right man."

Taking over the youngest club in the league, Girardi has worked wonders with a rookie-laden team. The former big-league catcher has had the challenge of competing at a high level with what is, at $15 million, by far the lowest payroll in the game.

The team used 21 rookies before the Sept. 1 callup period, and the Marlins started six rookies on Opening Day, the most by any club since 1900.

Yet, from the first day of Spring Training, Girardi told his team he expected to win. At that time, the buzz was that the Marlins could be the worst team in history. Some projected them to lose more than 120 games.

After getting off to an 11-31 start, it certainly appeared it would be a bleak season. But from late May on, the team grew up seemingly overnight.

Now the Marlins enter a three-game series at Philadelphia with a fighting chance at the Wild Card. Florida is four games behind the Wild Card-leading Dodgers and 3 1/2 in back of the Phillies with nine games to go.

With the season entering its final stage, Girardi doesn't want his job status to become more important than Floirda's playoff push.

"There are distractions in everyone's lives when you play this game," Girardi said. "Whether it is someone at home, or it's a job, a mother or father. Our job is to win games, and we're doing everything we can to do that."

Led by Miguel Cabrera, who has had a remarkable season, the offense picked up from an early slumber. Rookies Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, Mike Jacobs, Josh Willingham and Jeremy Hermida stepped up and played beyond their years. But the primary reason the team reversed its fortune, and became the first club since 1899 to go from 20-under to .500, is the emergence of a bumper crop of rookie starting pitchers.

"The players should never be in the middle of this. The players are called upon to play"
-- Marlins manager Joe Girardi

In Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Scott Olsen, the Marlins are the first team to possess a trio of rookies to win 10 or more games since the 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers. Currently at 9-3, Anibal Sanchez is slated for one more start and has a chance to be the fourth rookie to join the club. Sanchez threw a no-hitter on Sept. 6.

The ace of the staff, Dontrelle Willis, also has come on during the Marlins' improbable run.

The credit for the dramatic turnaround can be spread around among Girardi, the players and the front office.

Girardi is being mentioned as a serious Manager of the Year contender, and his chances would greatly increase if his young club finishes above .500.

Internally, however, there is little communication between Girardi and general manager Larry Beinfest and the rest of the front office.

Girardi is a no-nonsense manager who hasn't gotten close to many in the organization. One source said that he treats the front office like he does the media, "keeping them at arms length."

Several of Girardi's decisions of late have been up for scrutiny, creating more internal rumblings with upper management.

In a 3-2 loss to the Phillies on Sept. 8, slugger Ryan Howard belted two homers and drove in all three runs. Howard's two-run shot off Olsen in the sixth inning came with first base open and the Marlins clearly looking to pitch carefully to the slugger.

In the eighth inning, after Howard homered again, one source said Loria got up from his seat next to the dugout and walked away in disgust.

Last Sunday, in an 8-7 10th inning loss to the Braves at Turner Field, the Marlins scored four runs in the top of the 10th. However, in the bottom half of the inning, the Braves capitalized on two errors and two misplayed flyballs that were ruled hits. Atlanta rallied to an improbable win.

Inside the Marlins clubhouse, some said quietly that the best defensive outfielders weren't on the field in the 10th. Girardi said he kept Willingham in left and seldom-used Reggie Abercrombie in center because they would be on the postseason roster if the team wins the Wild Card.

One clubhouse source said the Marlins would have won that game if either Cody Ross or Eric Reed -- both regarded as better fielders than Abercrombie -- was in center.

Another game that frustrated the front office was at home against the Mets on Sept. 12. Johnson suffered a strained right forearm in that game, after throwing 56 pitches following a 1-hour, 22-minute rain delay.

During that long stoppage, Willis came up to Johnson 20 minutes into the delay and said the rookie should throw some catch to stay loose. Regarded as one of the top young pitchers in the league, Johnson experienced stiffness after five innings.

The Mets rallied from four runs down to win that game, and Johnson isn't expected to pitch again this season.

Johnson on Friday defended the decision of letting him stay in the game. The 6-foot-7 right-hander noted that he intentionally stayed away from Girardi because he didn't want to be removed from the game.

"I felt the best I've felt probably in a month or so," Johnson said of the game vs. the Mets. "I felt good, and I want[ed] to go out there. I'm not going to get in the middle of all that stuff, but I felt good personally. My arm felt fine. I felt fine for four innings and then it cramped up a little bit.

"If I had to do it again, I'd do the same thing."

Girardi said he doesn't want players caught in the speculation of his future.

"The players should never be in the middle of this," Girardi said. "The players are called upon to play."

Like all managers, not every decision pans out. But with a divide already in place with the front office, isolated incidents have built up on Girardi.

Should a managerial move be made after the season, Atlanta third-base coach Fredi Gonzalez, who interviewed for the Marlins job last year, will get strong consideration.

A Miami native, Gonzalez once was the Marlins' third-base coach. He has managerial experience, and he is regarded as ready to manage in the big leagues.

The current Marlins staff doesn't have a Spanish-speaking coach, which has caused some rumblings among Latin players.

A source said in October that some in the organization wanted to hire Gonzalez, but Loria's choice was Girardi.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.