The Herald Bulletin

September 23, 2006

Mike Beas: Girardi the only real choice to manage Cubs

Warm winters aren’t the norm in Chicago. Lately they’ve been even colder for Wrigleyheads who have had to accept the fact that their treadmill of futility isn’t equipped with an ‘off’ switch.

The Chicago Cubs aren’t merely bad. They’re bad and three-quarters. A Triple-A ballclub playing Major League competition. A beat-up shell of the 2003 team that teased the masses and, ultimately, made ‘Bartman’ and ‘Satan’ neighbors in the same sentence.

No professional sports franchise thirsts for a B12 shot quite like the Cubs, and it might soon be en route.

The more friction that exists between first-year Florida Marlins manager Joe Girardi and his boss, team owner Jeffrey Loria, the better the 2007 Cubs are going to be if rumors are true that Girardi is headed back to Wrigley Field.

A fixture behind home plate on Chigago’s Northside having served two stints as the Cubs’ catcher, Girardi should win National League Manager of the Year having led the no-name, barely-a-payroll Marlins to wild-card playoff contention.

Florida is baseball’s most-overachieving club in part due to Girardi’s ability to squeeze maximum effort and performance out of a group of players that together comprise approximately one-thirteenth of the payroll of the New York Yankees.

In fairness to current Cubs manager Dusty Baker, it’s not the toothpick nibbler’s fault ace pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood broke down physically and are now little more than high-dollar question marks.

Yet fair or unfair, it’s Baker who is about to fall on the sword. Girardi, Peoria-born and Northwestern-educated, is the first, last and only logical successor. Illinois to the core, Girardi might not be the first name on Loria’s Christmas card list, but he should be the only person the Cubs are considering.

Girardi’s relationship with Loria has been strained since an Aug. 6 home game against the Los Angeles Dodgers during which Girardi asked his boss to stop badgering an umpire.

Loria thought his manager overstepped his bounds — and vise versa — and there has been tension between the two ever since.

Think about it. This could be the ideal present from the Marlins organization to Chicago. A bit of payback for the Cubs falling apart like wet bread in the ’03 National League Championship Series and basically handing the Marlins a spot in the World Series (which they went on to win).

What Girardi must do now is go to great lengths to ensure his release. Call Loria at home in the middle of the night disguising your voice as Jack McKeon. Maybe slip a Whoopee Cushion beneath him during a team banquet. Something. Anything.

Then come to Chicago and turn around a franchise in need of a swift 180.

Cubs manager Joe Girardi. Kind of has a nice ring to it, the emphasis on ring.

Sports Editor Mike Beas can be reached at mike.beas@herald