Known as one of the hardest nosed catchers to play the game, Joe Girardi has brought that same grit to his role as a Major League Baseball manager, including 10 years with the New York Yankees where he led the franchise to the 2009 World Series Title.
But underneath that tough exterior you’ll find a man who passionately loves God, his family, and his players. In this conversation with Managing Editor Chad Bonham, Girardi talks about his salvation experience, what grace means to him, and what the world would look like if more people lived like Jesus:
Chad Bonham: How did you become a Christian?
Joe Girardi: I’m a big believer that God is in charge of your life. I definitely understand that now. I became a Christian during my first full season as a baseball player. When I was 13, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and given three months to live. She lived six years. During that time, I thought I was playing baseball to give her something to live for or to keep her live. I was playing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and doing really well. All of the sudden it hit me, I didn’t know why I was playing. So I came home, back to Northwestern, where at the time I was dating Kim who is now my wife of 20 years. She led me to the Lord and made me realize that God had given me a gift. That’s why I was playing. Throughout these past 23 years, I’ve realized that God has been in control. So many times I thought that I was in a certain place, like when I played for the Chicago Cubs, that I was going to play there the rest of my career. And then I went to Colorado. And then I thought I’d be there the rest of my career. And then I went to New York. In the beginning, New York was very difficult. Sometimes you don’t understand why God puts you places, but you realize over time that there’s a reason for everything that He does and He’s in charge. So many of the things that have happened in my life, they wouldn’t have been what I picked. He’s going to put you where He wants you, not where you want to go.
Bonham: How do you find balance between trying to live right before God and resting in His grace?
Girardi: You’re going to fall short every day. Because of what Jesus did for us, we have the ability to get to Heaven. So who am I to judge? In dealing with players, who am I to judge what someone does? Because we all fall short. Our job is there to love your players or whoever your working with and to always be there for them. To me, it’s more about making them men then good players. I think in the process of making them men, I think you’ll make them better players. It was because of Jesus’ grace, not what do because we all fall short. We all mess up every day. It could be in the smallest way or the biggest way. But there is only One perfect. And it’s not us. So who are we to judge?
Bonham: What is the secret to living that out in the clubhouse, in your actions as a manager, and in your personal life?
Girardi: It goes back to when Kim introduced me to the Lord. God had given me a gift. With that gift, He has given me a platform. If you have faith and if you understand what Jesus is all about, that love is the greatest commandment, then the works will just take over. You’ll want to be there for people. You’ll want to do good things for people. You’ll want to reach out to those who are struggling—very much like Jesus did. I think Jesus would have played like a mad man. I really do. I think He would have played fair and I think He would have respected his opponent. But I think He would’ve played harder than anyone. That’s my thought. Here he has given me this great gift. Don’t waste it, because He’s given me a platform and I’m supposed to go out there and do good things for Him. So to me, that’s what its all about. I know they think Christians are soft. But Andy Pettitte (for example) was not soft. I can tell you. He was as fierce a competitor as I’ve ever seen. I think it’s because of his faith. Andy understands what God has given him.
Bonham: How do you balance walking that out when put in situations where you need to argue a call or stand up for one of your players?
Girardi: Jesus stood up for people. I think it’s important that people see you stand up for people; that they see that you believe in them. How easy would it be for Jesus not to believe in us as many times as we screw up in the course of a day? But He always believes in us. And by dying on the cross, He stood up for us in the ultimate way.
Bonham: What do you think our world would look like if more people lived like Jesus?
Girardi: I think there’d be a lot more love in the world and not selfishness. I think so many times in the world we lose focus because we get busy, we have pressures in life and we’re not willing to reach out and help others. And there are a lot of people struggling in our world. I just think that families would be together more. I don’t think the divorce rate would be nearly the same. I think kids would all have mothers and fathers. We wouldn’t have the alcohol and drug problems. You could go as far as saying we wouldn’t have wars, if people practiced his principled about Jesus and about love.
(Photos: MLB Pressbox; Keith Allison)