After Don Zimmer took a job as a coach in 1995, he strongly urged the New York Yankees to trade for a catcher he had known when he managed the Cubs and coached the Rockies -- a square-shouldered, square-jawed old-school catcher named Joe Girardi.
The Yankees completed the deal, and Girardi -- an Illinois native who had attended Northwestern -- became the catcher of the first Yankees team to win a World Series since 1978. He would be part of two more championship teams, serving as the personal catcher for Andy Pettitte and David Cone, and it was Girardi who embraced Cone at the conclusion of his perfect game in 1999.
Girardi played another four seasons before returning to the Yankees to be a bench coach for Joe Torre in 2005. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria hired him to be Florida's manager, but right away, there were problems. Girardi was never told of the Marlins' forthcoming plan to slash payroll, and then he and general manager Larry Beinfest reportedly shared a tense relationship. Late in the 2006 season, Loria yelled at the home plate umpire from his seat, and Girardi told him from the dugout to be quiet -- and Girardi was nearly fired that day.
But the Marlins greatly exceeded expectations under Girardi, the young players responding to his hands-on preparation and high standards. After Hanley Ramirez won NL Rookie of the Year, he tearfully thanked Girardi. Florida won 78 games, and Girardi was named NL Manager of the Year.
Loria fired Girardi at season's end, nonetheless, and anonymous officials savaged Girardi in print. And Girardi never responded publicly -- a professional stoicism that earned him great respect within the Yankees' organization. "Almost Joe Torre-like," said one high-ranking Yankees executive.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He updates his Insider blog each morning on ESPN.com.