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Girardi managing with heavy heart
If only we had known.
Jerry Girardi, father of the Yankees manager, died Saturday after suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years. His son told few people, never left his team, and managed three postseason games under intense scrutiny while coping with the loss of his father. Girardi and the team only acknowledged the news after it started to become public Thursday before Game 4 of the American League Division Series.
“One of the reasons I didn’t say anything, I knew talking about it would make it probably even harder,” Girardi said at a poignant pregame news conference Thursday prior to Game 4. “Saturday when we were on the bus going to the train station, we were on the Henry Hudson about noon (when) I got the call that my father had passed.
“I had tears in my eyes on the bus, so I put some sunglasses on. And probably what a lot of men do when they go through difficult and sad times, we try to stay busy. That’s what we do. I tried to focus on what we were trying to accomplish and what we were doing because that’s what my dad would have done.”
Girardi nearly broke down as he said, “I’ve always said, if I could be half the husband and father my dad would be, that would be special.”
Girardi movingly noted that his father and mother are able to watch games together for the first time in 28 years; Angela Girardi died in 1984. “My mom and dad saw a pretty good game last night,” he said, choking back the emotion. The support of the organization (and its fans) was evident before Game 4, as Yankee Stadium observed a moment of silence in Jerry’s memory.
Girardi spoke tenderly of the emotions one endures — frustration, patience, kindness — while watching a parent suffer from Alzheimer’s. Jerry nurtured Joe’s love for baseball — he was a diehard Cubs fan — but the illness prevented him from developing lasting memories of his son’s tenure as manager of the Yankees, which began with the 2008 season.
“My thoughts have always went to people that are dealing with it, because it’s difficult,” he said. “It affects a whole family.” Girardi established his Catch 25 charity years ago in part because he wanted to help those with loved ones battling the disease.
For now, perhaps the all-consuming nature of the postseason will help him grieve. Girardi has always busied his mind with details — not surprising for a man with an engineering degree from Northwestern. He sets goals. He keeps a tight focus. It appears he inherited that from his father.
“I was watching my dad change a bathtub spigot,” Girardi said, recalling a story from his childhood. “He had the wrench, and he was trying to tighten it. The wrench slipped and hit his thumb. He broke his thumb. It was bleeding, but he finished what he had to do.
“My mom was like, ‘You’ve got to go to the hospital.’ He’s like, ‘Nope, I’ve got to finish it.’ He just taped it up. So I thought, ‘That’s what my dad would want me to do.’ ”
The daily rigors of Major League Baseball offer few pauses to reflect on matters outside the game — let alone mourn the death of one’s father. The challenge before Girardi was never more apparent than during Thursday’s news conference, when questions about personal loss blended with inquiries about Girardi’s relationship with A-Rod and the health of Derek Jeter.
For the record, Girardi said A-Rod “wasn’t angry” when he was removed in favor of Ibañez. (The fact that Ibañez homered — twice — in a Yankees victory probably salved any bruising of A-Rod’s ego.) “I don’t think it will change our relationship,” Girardi said. “I think we have a very open dialogue. We have a very honest relationship. I trust him. I expect big things from him tonight. I still believe he’s a great player.”
Jeter, meanwhile, was back in the lineup — as the designated hitter — after departing with a bone bruise on his left foot late in Game 3. In Jeter’s 156th postseason game, he played somewhere other than shortstop for the first time.
As he spoke with reporters, Girardi recalled their pregame conversation:
Girardi: “Derek, how you feeling?”
Jeter: “I’m playing.”
Girardi: “OK. Well, I’m going to DH you then today. Let’s go through BP and see how you are.”
Jeter: “I’m playing.”
Girardi smiled. He is not the first pro sports figure for whom professional triumph has coexisted with personal tragedy. A World Series title can’t take away the pain of his loss, but Girardi believes leading his team — with honor, with guts — is the best way to honor Jerry’s memory. Asked what his father would have thought of pinch hitting Ibañez, the manager smiled.
“He would have been extremely proud,” Girardi said, “and probably told all his buddies.”
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