Chicago fans may hate Yankees -- but they still love Joe Girardi
The late, great ink-stained orator
Most notably its sports teams.
Such Big Apple animosity was deep-rooted due to an unfortunate circumstance: Royko was born a Cub fan, a real Cub fan, a
"Cubbies?" Please. Mike Royko personified the genuine article, the "long-suffering" Cub fan, his passion matched only by his frustration with the team's chronically futile ways, which inspired some of his wittiest, most biting prose. During the 1981 work stoppage he claimed not to have noticed that his favored squad was idle; the Cubs being on strike, he said, was about as significant as buggy-whip manufacturers walking out. Later he suggested shooting a player a day until the two sides settled.
The 1969 season, the mere 61st of a 101-year championship drought, scarred Royko for life. A talented, versatile team built around
The pitiful collapse was hard enough on Cub fans. That the Mets were the beneficiaries was a stomach-turning side effect. Royko was traumatized. Cueing up the final scene from the movie
White Sox fans with slightly longer memories could relate. The entire South Side would crackle with anticipation whenever the Mantle-Maris-Berra Yankees arrived for a late-summer series circa 1960.
Happened like that every year, it seemed.
The Bears have had some success alleviating Second City angst on the football field. They knocked
On balance, though, and much to the chagrin of Mike Royko's memory, the New York-Chicago sports argument tends to be one-sided;
"I hadn't really thought of it like that, but it's a good thing, I guess," said
Why not? Peoria-born and Northwestern-educated, Girardi was the Cubs' catcher for seven seasons over two tours, including a division title-winning campaign in 1989, his rookie year. He did not evoke
"Joe was the backbone of our team while he was here, a coach on the field," recalled Northwestern coach
Girardi met his wife,
"To earn an engineering degree while playing a varsity sport is incredibly challenging, but that's Joe -- once he commits to something, he's going to do it and do it well," Stevens said. "I've been around a lot of really intelligent people at Northwestern, and Joe is as sharp and as motivated as anybody. He'd have been a big success in anything he chose to do."
Including manage a team of Yankees for whom anything less than a World Series title would have been a crushing disappointment. The addition of big-money free agents
"All three of those guys are really good ballplayers, and I was happy to have them -- there's no question they made us a better team."
Girardi also got a kick out of being an exception to Chicago's built-in New York animus. "Growing up a Cub fan, I was very much aware of it," he said, "and if I hadn't been, Ron Santo would have reminded me of it, just about every day."
Santo, the Cubs' standout third baseman in 1969, is their long-suffering radio analyst today. Like Mike Royko, he never got over the '69 collapse, and trips to Shea Stadium used to traumatize him.
"Remembering how Ronny and Ernie Banks and Billy Williams never got to experience a World Series made me appreciate how special it is," Girardi said.
Lord knows he never had the feeling as a Cub.
Though his head-in-the-game hustle made him a fan favorite with the Cubs, Chicago remembers Girardi for an act of statesmanship. On June 22, 2002, as a festive sellout crowd was filing into Wrigley Field for a Saturday matinee with rival St. Louis, word reached the park that Cardinals pitcher
"Joe was a unanimous choice, among management, the coaches, the players, everybody," said longtime Cubs executive
In brief, touching remarks, Girardi informed the suddenly subdued crowd of Kile's death and expressed condolences to his family. He was emotional yet remarkably composed, his message a reminder that ballplayers are human beings like the rest of us, subject to all that entails. Afterwards, members of both teams lined up to thank him for his sensitive handling of an unspeakably difficult moment.
"Not many people are equipped to deal with a situation like that, but Joe was perfect," McDonough said. "Leadership comes naturally to him."
The Cubs thought so and interviewed Girardi for their manager's job when it opened following
"I've known Joe since he was a player, and I think anyone who's been around him could see he had the stuff to manage a big league club if that's what he chose to do," Hendry said. "He has a great knowledge of the game, great passion for teaching it and seeing that it's played the right way. Plus he's great with people, just an outstanding human being. I couldn't be happier for him."
The one man who might be happiest of all for Joe Girardi is sadly oblivious to his latest achievement.
"He has no clue, he's totally unaware [of the Yankees' World Series title]," Dr. John Girardi said of his father's condition. "It's probably just as well. Joe's sports career meant the world to my father. He'd be so ecstatic and excited he might have died of a heart attack."