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1996 Yankees 20th Anniversary Retrospective: Joe Girardi

Continuing our retrospective on the 1966 Yankees with former catcher and current Yankee manager Joe Girardi.

David Seelig/Getty Images


Joe Girardi was drafted out of Northwestern University by the Cubs in the fifth round of the 1986 draft. He started the 1989 season on the Cubs' major league team after three seasons in their minor league system. That year, led by manager Don Zimmer, the Cubs made the playoffs, though they lost the NLCS to the Giants in five games. Girardi caught each game in the NLCS (there was no NLDS back then), hitting .100/.182/.282 in ten at-bats. Girardi went on to play three more seasons with the Cubs, only appearing in more than 100 games in 1990 and primarily serving as a backup to catcher Rick Wilkins. Throughout his tenure with the Cubs, Girardi posted a meager triple slash of .262/.306/.323 with an OPS+ of 72, but he gained a reputation as a strong receiver behind the plate.

Following the 1992 season, Girardi was left unprotected in the 1992 expansion draft and was taken by the Colorado Rockies, where Zimmer was now a coach. He spent the next three seasons with the Rockies, hitting .274/.323/.371 during this time. During Girardi's first two years with the Rockies, he played only around half of the season's games, but in 1995 he became their starting catcher and caught 125 games for the team. That year, the Rockies made the playoffs, losing to the Braves in the NLDS, while Girardi hit just .125 in 16 at-bats.

1996 Performance

Results: 124 G, .294/.346/.374, 22 2B, 2 HR, 82 OPS+, 1.0 WAR

The Yankees went into the 1995 offseason with no catcher, as their previous catcher Mike Stanley had become a free agent, and they let him sign with the Red Sox. The Yankees subsequently traded minor league pitcher Mike DeJean to the Rockies for Joe Girardi, who had one year left on his rookie contract before he would become a free agent. Again, the driving force behind Girardi's new team acquiring him was Zimmer, who was new to the Yankees' coaching staff.

Girardi had his best offensive season to date with the Yankees in 1996, hitting .294 and getting on base at a .346 clip. Always an adequate defender, 1996 was a mixed bag for Girardi behind the plate. He ranked 2nd in the league in fielding percentage (.996) and range factor/game (7.08), but he also allowed ten passed balls (second worst in the league) and 90 stolen bases (third worst in the league). However, all in all he played slightly above average defense for the team, posting 0.5 defensive WAR, and pitchers loved throwing to him.

Girardi was part of a key moment in the 1996 season: on May 14th, he caught Dwight Gooden's no-hitter against the Mariners at Yankee Stadium.

Girardi played well enough in the playoffs, but did regress significantly offensively from his season statistics. In the first two rounds, he only hit .238/.385/.333 in 26 plate appearances, though the Yankees did go 7-2 to win their first AL pennant in 15 years.

Despite mediocre statistics in the 1996 playoffs, Girardi played a key role in the Yankees' ultimate World Series victory against the defending champion Atlanta Braves. The Yankees were up three games to Atlanta's two entering Game 6 of the Fall Classic, but they faced a tall task in the ace Girardi once caught on the Cubs: future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.

The game was tied at zero entering the bottom of the third inning. Paul O'Neill stood at third base, having reached second on a double and advancing to third on a groundout by Mariano Duncan. Girardi slammed the biggest hit of his career, a triple to deep center field that scored O'Neill, setting up a rally that ended with the score 3-0 in favor of the Yankees. The Yankees ended up winning the game 3-2, thus winning the 1996 World Series.

What did he do after?

Girardi became a free agent following the 1996 season, but re-signed with the Yankees for a three year contract. He provided veteran leadership in the clubhouse, especially for young backup catcher and future star Jorge Posada. He was also part of yet another historic Yankee moment in 1999 when he caught David Cone's perfect game.

Including 1996, Girardi hit .272/.317/.361 for the Yankees in addition to playing in four total playoff runs. He won three World Series rings with the team and was a core component of this Yankee dynasty. However, when he reached free agency in 1999, the Yankees bid him farewell, as they had Posada waiting in the wings. Girardi went on to sign with the Cubs, his original team, and hit .257/.315/.343 over three years with the team. He made his first and only All-Star game in 2000.

Upon the end of his contract with the Cubs, Girardi signed with the Cardinals on a one year deal. He only appeared in 13 games for the team, and the Yankees re-signed him following the season so that he could retire a Yankee following a brief spring training appearance. However, the end of Girardi's playing days did not mark the end of his involvement in Major League baseball. He first became a commentator on the YES Network in 2004, then took the job of Yankee bench coach under Torre in 2005 a couple years after Zimmer departed. In 2006, he became the manager of the then Florida Marlins, leading them to a 78-84 record. He was fired at the end of the season, despite winning the NL Manager of the Year Award (oh, Jeffrey Loria).

He returned to the YES Network booth in 2007 despite interviewing for multiple managerial positions. In 2008, he was named the Yankees manager after they parted ways with Torre. The Yankees failed to make the playoffs, but the next year, Girardi led the Yankees to their record 27th World Series victory after going 103-59 in the regular season (sometimes I forget just how great that team was).

Despite fielding a who's-who of washed up veterans in both 2013 and 2014, the Yankees have never had a losing season with Girardi at the helm. He has been one of the top ten Managers of the Year each season of his reign, and will soon begin the third year of a four-year, $16 million extension he signed after 2013. The organization has a lot of confidence in him, so it would not be surprising to see Girardi remain at the helm of his old club for several seasons to come. Even if it doesn't work out, Girardi and Yankees fans will always have the shared euphoria of '96.