- Jon Greenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Joe Girardi has braces. I bet you didn't know that.
If the 45-year-old manager of the New York Yankees is that worried about his smile, it's a clear sign he's not coming to Chicago to manage the Cubs.
Heck, the last two years I feel like we only saw Lou Piniella flash a smile when he was laughing at his own jokes.
Girardi's trademark flattop is gray now, and thinning. He is the epitome of an aging ex-jock.
That actually bodes well for his candidacy. The Cubs' managerial gig should be sponsored by Grecian Formula and Rogaine. No job is more likely to age you in a hurry.
If Girardi is really interested in the foolhardy notion of leaving the Yankees for the Cubs when his three-year contract ends this fall, forget the hair dyes and teeth-straightening.
He should have his head examined.
Speaking to reporters before the Yankees played the White Sox on Friday, Girardi agreed to talk about the Cubs but, as expected, he didn't really say anything. For one, he has a better job right now managing the Yankees, the defending World Series champions with a payroll commensurate with the GDP of a developing nation.
"As I've said all along, my responsibility is to the Yankees," he said. "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 also described himself as a man of faith who doesn't worry about the future. Which, of course, makes him tailor-made for the Cubs.
After all, faith is paramount to taking a job that is known solely for the burden of its expectations, and the presumed hope that the future will yield better results.
"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 of his time as a Cub. "But I realized no matter where you are, that doesn't happen."
And it really doesn't happen with the Cubs. Piniella was a modern-day magician taking the Cubs to consecutive playoff appearances. In New York, a playoff appearance is as anticipated as construction.
For all his faith, Girardi isn't a miracle worker. He can't heal lepers or teach Kosuke Fukudome how to hit in July. As a former engineering student, he's probably not one to assume that faith and hard work will make the Cubs winners.
Girardi has the perfect pedigree for the job, which makes him the top candidate for the open job. A local boy (Peoria, Ill.) who was educated at Northwestern, drafted by the Cubs, played for the Cubs in two different stints during which he helped cultivate a reputation as a cerebral and gutty player, he lacks nothing on his resume. His World Series experience, as a player and as a manager with the Yankees, makes him only more desirable.
Which is why Cubs general manager Jim Hendry should've hired him in the first place, way back in the winter of 2006. I made this point last year when Girardi was managing the Yankees to the World Series title. In a perfect world, Girardi would've got the Cubs' gig after a one-year stint in Florida backfired, over Piniella.
But Girardi didn't have the managing chops then, just years as a coach under Joe Torre. Piniella, a good choice for the quick fix if not the long haul, had the right pedigree, and the Tribune Co. was opening the vault to fund a winner for the end of its tenure as owners of the team. And with the future of the front office up in the air, Hendry went for the surer thing in Piniella. The Cubs tried to buy an end to their long championship drought before a new owner took over.
And it almost worked. Almost.
Now the Cubs, led by the Ricketts family, are sure to come calling again whenever the Yankees are done playing. Now that Girardi has a few more years of managing, and one Commissioner's Trophy under his belt, he should be the top candidate, even over favored son Ryne Sandberg, my choice for the gig.
But Girardi should say no. And then he should tell Hendry he had his chance four years ago, but he's too classy for that.
And then he should re-sign with the Yankees and make room in his safe for more gaudy rings.
I believe he will do these things, because he is a logical person. And managing the Cubs and expecting to win a World Series is illogical. The Cubs have some decent parts to build around, and a few useful veterans, but there's a better chance of that Triangle Building going up than a World Series trophy being paraded through the Loop.
The only reason Girardi should entertain an interview is to raise his negotiating leverage with the Steinbrenners, who might be loathe to pay him the going rate for a World Series winner.
I've heard and read the arguments for Girardi to take the job, and aside from an embarrassing contract offer or, I guess, a breakdown in relations with them or the clubhouse, none convince me that he would give up his life in New York, where he played to much greater success than in Chicago, for the sake of sentiment alone. Yes, his wife's family is from the suburbs. But there are plenty of flights to Chicago from the suburbs of New York City.
Girardi's ailing father is still in Peoria. Jerry Girardi has been sick for some time, dealing with the ravages of an impossible disease. You could hear Joe's voice catch as he talked about visiting him 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."
But that's his personal life, which should be off-limits to the prognosticators, but often is not.
Girardi's ties to the Cubs are strong. He was drafted by the Cubs in 1986 and played for them twice, from 1989-1992 and then from 2000-02. He hit .259 in 578 games with the Cubs, and was known for his intellect and defensive presence.
"I think Joe would make a good manager for anybody," said Kerry Wood, who pitched to Girardi from 2000-02 and is now pitching for him in New York. "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 here and a good group of guys here."
Wood is more familiar with the modern-day Cubs than any other player. Before Friday's game, when they brought out the championship trophies won by the Bears, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks, they should've had Wood's surgically experienced right arm act as the delinquent trophy for the Cubs.
We won't know until it happens, but would Girardi would leave the Yankees for a chance, however slim it may be, to win that fateful World Series with the Cubs?
Is he enough of a dreamer, or perhaps, an egotist? After all, the Yankees' next one is No. 28, so he's just a link in a chain in the Bronx. In Chicago, he'd be legendary.
"The common person would say, 'Yeah,' but you never know," Wood said. "It depends on where the Cubs are heading."
Wood, who still resides in Chicago for part of the offseason, knows the pressures that come with the Cubs. He seemed lighter, happier without them. He certainly knows the dark side of the Cubs.
Forget history for a second, and think about finances. There's a belief the team, still saddled with more than $100 million in guaranteed contracts in 2011, won't add the slew of major free agents like they did during Hendry's "Drunken Sailor" era. Tom Ricketts talked to me earlier this season about shedding money from this year's bloated payroll, something Hendry has done, little by little. He will certainly try to deal an expensive player or two this offseason. Young prospects will continue to get shots to make the team.
Sandberg has spent the same amount of years in the minors as a manager as he did as a player to gain the trust of the Cubs and the experience to run a team. Bob Brenly has watched enough bad Cubs baseball to know what to stress if he got the job. Eric Wedge, the erstwhile Indians manager, was just interviewed by Hendry, and he gets rave reviews for his oratorical skills from Wood. Mike Quade, the underdog pick, is doing a fine job as Piniella's replacement.
"Those are good baseball minds," Wood said. "All these guys you're talking about, they're good baseball people."
Giradi had no problem dealing with the uncomfortable nature of the questioning. It's part of the job, he said.
"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."
The local newspapers made their bid for Girardi on Friday, but he said he didn't pay any attention. He's the Yankees' manager now. He's got enough problems ignoring the New York media.
"I did see the Sun-Times in my office," he said. "I didn't read it. I don't really read a lot of newspapers anyway. I'm a Sudoku guy."
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
3hJacob Nitzberg, ESPN Stats & Information
19hRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com