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Friday, August 27, 2010
Joe Girardi living in present

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Joe Girardi addressed the small bear in the room.

"I'm going to talk about it for a few minutes today and that's going to be it," he said before the Yankees played the White Sox on Friday. "As I've said all along, my responsibility is to the Yankees. I was hired by the Yankees to do a job, we're in a division race, we're in a very tight division race and my job is to prepare this team and play every day, and that's what I'm focusing on."

Girardi has been rumored to be a top candidate for the Chicago Cubs' open managing job, and for at least the second time since Lou Piniella abruptly retired early last Sunday he had to address the rumors that he would be interested in joining his old team.

With a his reputation as a cerebral player, ties to the team and lack of a contract for 2011, Girardi's candidacy has Cubs fans excited. While Triple-A Iowa manager Ryne Sandberg is seen as the favorite, Girardi's big league managing experience should play to his advantage, unlike 2006.

The Peoria, Ill., native and Northwestern University graduate is in the last year of his three-year contract with the Yankees, who won the World Series last season. Girardi said he's not worried about his contract status.

"My faith has always been extremely important to me," he said. "And I've never worried about next year. I'm happy about my contract situation. I feel fortunate to be one of 30 managers to have a contract right now managing in the big leagues."

Girardi was drafted by the Cubs in 1986 and played for them twice, from 1989-92 and then from 2000-02. He hit .259 in 578 games with the Cubs, and was known for his intellect and defensive presence.

After getting fired from a promising, but tumultuous, one-year stint in Florida, Girardi was a candidate for the Cubs job in the winter of 2006, before Piniella was hired and given a team with a large budget and the expectations of ending the team's World Series drought. Piniella went to the playoffs his first two years and went 0-6.

"In 1989 we made the playoffs and I thought, being young and green and in Major League Baseball, you're going to make it every year," he said. "But I realized no matter where you are, that doesn't happen. They've been real close a lot of times. Sometimes it's a break one way or another. They were close in 2003. They had a very good year a couple years ago, where they had the best record in the National League. Sometimes things just don't go your way."

Girardi's father, Jerry, still lives in Peoria and has been suffering from Alzheimer's. The manager was grateful for the chance to see his father during the off-day Thursday.

"That was tremendous," he said. "My father is in the end stages of Alzheimer's and it's tough. Every time I see him, I wonder if it's going to be the last. He hadn't spoken in four or five months. Then out of the blue yesterday he said, 'I'm good today.' And it just shocked us. And sometimes I think the noise my kids make actually kind of gets him going."

Former Cubs teammate Kerry Wood is now pitching for Girardi, after coming over in a trade from Cleveland earlier this summer.

"I think Joe would make a good manager for anybody," he said. "I thought that when he was playing. When we played together, I thought he'd be a good manager. Obviously he's got a good fit [in New York] and a good group of guys here."

Wood has ties to several prospective Cubs managers. Current manager Mike Quade was a coach at the end of Wood's Cubs' career. Broadcaster Bob Brenly called Cubs games when Wood played in Chicago, and he played for Eric Wedge in Cleveland in 2009, until Wedge got fired during the season.

"Those are good baseball minds," he said. " All these guys you're talking about,they're good baseball people."

Girardi is done talking about the Cubs, but he said he's not bothered that the topic came up.

"If you love this game it's flattering to hear your name mentioned as a big league manager. It is, no matter what you do," he said. "I was flattered to be mentioned for the Yankees. I was flattered to be mentioned for the Marlins."

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.