TAMPA, Fla. — Joe Girardi was still in his Phillies uniform Wednesday afternoon as he battled traffic on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, the bridge that connects his new spring-training home with his old one.
Girardi’s first game finished Wednesday at 4:20 p.m. in Clearwater. His second began at 6:35 p.m. in Tampa. It was already a busy day for Girardi, who managed the Phillies in both sides of a day-night, split-squad doubleheader. And rush-hour traffic did not make things any better.
“So I didn’t really have time to think about it,” Girardi said.
It was how Girardi felt about returning to Tampa — the spring training home of the Yankees — wearing something other than blue pinstripes. He played four seasons for the Yankees, was their bench coach for a season, managed them for 10 years, and worked as a team broadcaster.
“Can we add those up,” said Girardi, who spent 16 years of his life with the Yankees and won four World Series rings. “It’s been a big part of my life. It’s been a big part of my kids’ life. Obviously, I’m really excited about my next chapter. I loved every bit of being in Philadelphia. It’s a passionate town about sports and their baseball. It’s been great.”
Girardi may not have thought much about the Yankees as he crawled from Clearwater, but he did spend quite a bit of time thinking about them after the way things ended in the Bronx. The Yankees fired Girardi after the 2017 ALCS, which his Yankees lost in seven games to the trash-can-thumping Astros.
“It was hard for me. It was an emotional time for me,” Girardi said. “There were a lot of things that you think about. You’ve been there for so many years. Yeah, it was emotional.”
Girardi said that he loves Philadelphia, but he was hurt to leave New York. It took him time to find peace with his departure.
“I had given a lot to the Yankees in the 10 years that I was there. I put my heart and soul into it,” he said. “I thought I was going to be back and I was looking forward to it. We went through some years that were kind of lean and in transition with older players and it was like ‘Finally, the young guys had arrived.’ And you knew they had a run for a long time, so I was looking forward to them.”
He recharged himself the last two seasons by spending time with his family in Florida and returning to television with MLB Network. Girardi needed time away from the day-to-day grind of managing. And he also needed time for closure.
He met with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, the man who fired him, after the 2018 season and the two cleared the air. That same offseason he received a call from Aaron Boone, the man who replaced him in the Yankees dugout.
“I was not expecting that,” Girardi said. “I had a message from him and I’m thinking ‘I wonder what this is about.’ ”
Boone told Girardi that he was thankful for the job Girardi and his coaching staff did, because many of the young players they ushered to the big leagues were now finding success with Boone. Girardi knew Boone’s older brother, Brett, but did not really know Aaron Boone. And that phone call, Girardi said, was “really big of him.”
“I thought it was really nice,” Girardi said.
Perhaps knowing his guiding the Yankees was appreciated was enough to find closure. He inherits a team this spring that fell short last season of lofty expectations. It has been 11 seasons since the Phillies won the pennant and eight years since they last had a winning record.
The Phillies, searching for legitimacy, hired a brand name to be their manager.
They replaced Gabe Kapler with Girardi, a known commodity who won a World Series in his second year managing the Yankees. He has commanded respect this spring in Clearwater, bringing what one player referred to as an “air of professionalism.”
So far, the returns on the new hire are strong. But before the Phillies could hire Girardi, he first had to move on from New York. That took time, but Girardi did that long before driving to his old home while wearing his new colors.
“The job is still the same,” Girardi said, when asked if there was a difference between managing the Yankees and Phillies. “You have a responsibility to everyone in the organization, the fan base. I take that very seriously.