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Differences lead to Girardi's dismissal

Differences lead to Girardi's dismissal

MIAMI -- When the Marlins signed Joe Girardi to a three-year contract on Oct. 19, 2005, the hard-nosed former catcher said he was "born to manage."

There is no disputing Girardi did a terrific job under trying circumstances guiding the league's youngest and lowest-paid team. A strong case can be made that the Marlins, with their $15 million payroll and rookie-laden roster, were the biggest surprise in the National League.

Where Girardi slipped up -- in the eyes of the organization -- is dealing with everything else on and off the field that comes with being a big-league manager.

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Because of internal disputes between Girardi and the front office, Florida dismissed Girardi on Tuesday, despite overachieving and finishing 78-84.

Braves third-base coach Fredi Gonzalez, who interviewed for the Marlins job last year, was named Girardi's replacement during an afternoon press conference.

Girardi said that he'd been dismissed during a 9 a.m. ET meeting in his Dolphin Stadium office with club president David Samson, general manager Larry Beinfest and assistant GM Mike Hill.

Team owner Jeffrey Loria was not in South Florida on Tuesday. Beinfest made the official announcement that the organization was changing directions.

"This was not a decision we as an organization expected to make during any part of Joe's three-year tenure with us," Beinfest said of Girardi's deal that was through 2008. "I did not want this to happen. Jeffrey Loria did not want this to happen.

"Joe is not returning because he was not a good fit. That's it."

Earlier in the day, Girardi spoke with reporters about his one-year stay with the club.

"It was short, brief and unemotional," Girardi said to reporters about an hour later. "I talked to one of my mentors last night and said I had never been fired before. He said, 'Welcome to the club.'"

Friction had long existed between Girardi and the front office, stemming back as far as the hiring of coaches. More disagreements arose in Spring Training and continued throughout this improbable season.

Rather than dwell on his brief meeting with management on Tuesday, Girardi is holding onto the memories of the season and the emotions that flowed following Sunday's 3-2 win over the Phillies in 11 innings at Dolphin Stadium.

On the field afterward, a number of players and coaches embraced Girardi.

"Whatever I say is not going to help the situation," Girardi said when asked about any harsh words at his final meeting. "Pride is a dangerous thing in life. It's very dangerous. If you feel like you have to have your pride when you leave, [you're in trouble]. To me, the hugs, and the winning is enough for me. The hug from Dontrelle [Willis] on the field. The hug from Miguel Cabrera, Anibal Sanchez, Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla. That's enough for me."

Disagreements over personnel, control and clubhouse access reached the point where the team felt it had to make an unpopular move and let go of a popular manager.

Girardi declined to say when he first felt trouble dealing with management. There have been conflicting reports concering the extent of Girardi's awareness of the dramatic payroll cutting that took place after the 2005 season.

Earlier this season, Girardi said he was told payroll would be trimmed if the team didn't resolve its still-unsettled stadium situation. It dropped from about $60 million in 2005 to $15 million this season.

Asked again Tuesday if he was made fully aware of the payroll parameters, Girardi said, "No comment."

Girardi did shed some light on one report that he upset management by not attending a speaking engagement. He said he declined speaking to a group at the stadium at noon during the team's home opener.

"I said I'll be in a meeting with my players getting ready for Opening Day. Can I do it the next day?" Girardi said. "Evidently, they weren't real happy about it. To me, that should be a miniscule thing. I think people know how I feel, regarding children in the game, making myself as accessible as I can be. But the one thing I won't do, I won't sacrifice winning."

Many of the rumblings had been kept internal. The brewing tensions, however, became public after the Marlins were swept by the Dodgers on Aug. 6 at Dolphin Stadium.

Following that frustrating loss in which some questionable umpiring calls were made, the clubhouse was closed for 90 minutes. As reporters were kept waiting outside, Girardi and Loria aired out their differences.

Loria was prepared to replace Girardi on the spot but was talked out of it.

A questionable umpiring call in the seventh inning ignited the argument between owner and manager.

Rookie Marlins reliever Taylor Tankersley, facing Julio Lugo with the bases loaded, threw a pitch that TV replays later appeared to show was over the plate. But home-plate umpire Larry Vanover signaled ball four, forcing in a run. The Dodgers then broke the game open.

From his seat 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."

Neither side was able to patch up its differences with the other, and indications kept coming from within the team that Girardi's days were numbered.

Beinfest said that the incident after the Dodgers game did not prompt what took place Tuesday.

"I think when Joe entered into this, and we entered into this, we wanted this to work out," Beinfest said. "I think there were efforts made to make this a good situation. Everybody wanted that."

Speaking to what happened on Aug. 6, Girardi said neither he nor Tuck directed profanities at Loria.

He added that he requested a meeting with Loria the next day, when the team was set to play the Nationals in Washington. That get-together didn't happen.

From an organizational standpoint, Girardi's dismissal is an unfortunate turn of events in a season filled with surprises.

Girardi prides himself on teaching players how to win and learn the game "the right way." From the day he was hired, he spoke openly about his primary goal: reaching the World Series, regardless of payroll or player experience. Although the team fell short, Girardi is in line for an individual honor. He is regarded as a strong NL Manager of the Year candidate.

Beinfest believes Girardi is certainly worthy of the top managerial honor.

"I think justifiably so that he should be a candidate for that," Beinfest said. "If you look at what this team has accomplished, and what he did with this team in conjunction with his staff, he should be a candidate for that."

Girardi ran Spring Training almost like an National Football League training camp. Workouts were long and rigorous because there were so many rookies to evaluate. Players frequently went through an array of grueling drills up until 90 minutes before they played Grapefruit League games.

Girardi pushed just as hard as his players. Three years removed from his playing days, the 41-year-old is incredibly fit. He often ran sprints with his players in the outfield, and he lifted with them in the weight room.

Even then, disagreements with the front office were developing.

According to one source, if Girardi had his way with personnel coming out of Spring Training, "this team would have lost 100 games."

At one point, Girardi wanted to switch Miguel Cabrera to first base, use Dan Uggla at third base and have Mike Jacobs open the season in Triple-A. Beinfest overruled the manager on those ideas. Girardi also wanted Josh Willingham to be the primary catcher over Miguel Olivo, Beinfest's choice to be behind the plate.

Although some of Girardi's early personnel ideas were shot down, many close to the team believe he has a promising future as a big-league manager.

Like the rookie squad he was surrounded with, Girardi grew with the job. He's smart, determined and prides himself on being prepared.

Girardi projects to receive interest in several managerial openings. The Cubs, Nationals and Giants all have openings.

"If there wasn't a fit here, doesn't mean there won't be a fit somewhere else," Beinfest said. "That's really the bottom line. But as far as his talent, it is there."

A devoted family man, Girardi said he will consult with his wife, Kim, before deciding his next career move.

"I haven't had time to think about it, because to me it doesn't make sense to think about another job as long as you have a job," Girardi said. "My heart and my soul has been here, so now I have to readjust. I'll talk to Kim. She's my No. 1 support and my No. 1 friend. We will talk about what is best for us as a family.

Kim gave birth to the couple's third child, a girl, on Sept. 5. Girardi's young son, Dante, and daughter, Serena, frequently played on the Dolphin Stadium field after games.

On the day Girardi was hired, Dante and Serena sat on his lap during a news conference.

"I'll land on my feet," Girardi said. "I don't worry about that."

The year had its share of growing pains. The Marlins got off to a frustrating 11-31 start, dropping a number of games after taking leads into the ninth inning.

The club's fortunes changed on May 22, when the players began to grow up in a hurry.

Gaining confidence seemingly on a daily basis, the Marlins improved to 73-71 on Sept. 11, closing to within two games of the NL Wild Card lead. Florida's squad was the first team in Major League history to improve from being as far as 20 or games under to topping the .500 mark during the same season.

The dream season, though, began to unravel down the stretch. The team that was projected to finish with the worst record in the league was mathematically eliminated from Wild Card contention on Sept. 26 with five games remaining.

While talking with reporters Tuesday morning, Girardi had moments where he was choked up and moments where he laughed.

He infused some humor to "clarify" why he said a year ago that he was "born to manage."

"To me, that came out kind of the wrong way," Girardi said. "The reason I said that is because in [managing], you don't have to hit. To me, managing would probably be more enjoyable than playing because I don't have to hit. "

A Peoria, Ill., native, Girardi was the eighth manager in Marlins history. He joined the club with no previous managerial experience. In 2005, he served as the bench coach of the New York Yankees.

Girardi seemed to be an ideal replacement for savvy, 74-year-old cigar-chomping manager Jack McKeon, who stepped down after compiling a 83-79 mark in the 2005 season.

With the team getting younger, going with a young, energetic manager made sense.

Girardi said he would hold no grudges and would root for his former players.

"I'm not leaving here saying, 'Boy, I hope they never win,'" he said. "I want them to win. I want Miguel Cabrera to win a batting title. I want Dontrelle Willis to win a Cy Young. I want to see five 20-game winners. I want them to do well. I love them. They gave me what I asked."

Minutes before leaving his now old office, Girardi offered his appreciation to his players.

"I'm thankful for the players," he said. "I really want what's best for them. Go out and win next year. And this club is not far. They are a few additions from a playoff team."

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

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