Top Candidate Withdraws

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Former Florida Marlins manager Joe Girardi, considered for weeks the favorite to become the next manager of the Washington Nationals, took his name out of consideration for the job yesterday, saying it was a decision based on keeping his young family together but simultaneously saying he could still end up on a baseball field next season.

Girardi had two meetings over the last three weeks, one with General Manager Jim Bowden and the other with Bowden and team president Stan Kasten. Girardi said the talks went well and that the decision to pull out was "very, very difficult."

"I was very impressed, very impressed with Jim and Stan, the organization, the new stadium, the Lerners," Girardi said in a telephone interview. "I think it's a great ownership group, and the situation is going to be very good. I think it's a wonderful job. But I think I came to the conclusion at this time that it's not the right move for my family."

Girardi and his wife, Kim, have three children -- two daughters, ages 7 and seven weeks, and a 5-year-old son. They have lived in suburban Miami for only 10 months after moving from Chicago, and Girardi said he didn't want more upheaval.

"We just moved," he said. "This was a tough decision, but for my family, it's the right one."

Girardi spoke with Bowden yesterday to relay the news. Sources close to the situation said that the job could have been Girardi's had he aggressively pursued it and that the Nationals had given indications that he was the favorite. Sources insist, however, that the Nationals had not extended a formal offer. All sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the Nationals intend to conduct the search in private.

Bowden did not return messages yesterday, and he has not spoken publicly about the vacancy since Frank Robinson was fired as manager at the end of the season. Kasten, who has spoken about the search only in broad terms, declined to comment.

The loss of Girardi leaves the Nationals with several potential candidates, including New York Yankees first base coach Tony Peña, a former manager in Kansas City whom Bowden tried to hire as a coach before this past season. New York Mets third base coach Manny Acta, who has managed at Class A, is supposed to interview this week. Atlanta hitting coach Terry Pendleton, who hasn't managed at any level, is another candidate, though it's unclear whether Pendleton would want to leave his three children in suburban Atlanta to pursue a job elsewhere.

Former Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker said yesterday that he hadn't heard from Bowden in a week, and it appears his candidacy is, at best, dormant. "It's the same situation," Baker said by phone.

Two other candidates -- Houston bench coach Cecil Cooper and Chicago White Sox third base coach Joey Cora -- were informed last week that they would not be finalists for the job. Because of the secrecy of the Nationals' search, it's possible there are other candidates who have not been publicly identified.

Girardi, 42, has managed just one year in the majors. Though he had a 78-84 record, the Marlins' payroll of $15 million -- by far the lowest in baseball -- Girardi received high marks from his peers. Nationals players said privately that their Marlins counterparts told them they loved playing for Girardi, who could win the National League's manager of the year award when it is announced next month.

Girardi's tenure, though, ended badly. He was fired with two years remaining on his contract -- reportedly worth about $1.5 million, which he will still receive -- after clashing with owner Jeffrey Loria and General Manager Larry Beinfest. The most publicized incident came on Aug. 6, when Girardi yelled at Loria to stop riding the umpiring crew from Loria's seats. Relations were never repaired.

There have been rumors that Girardi's hesitance to pursue the Nationals' opening has less to do with Washington and more to do with his desire to eventually take over the Yankees, speculation fueled by the fact that Girardi served as Manager Joe Torre's bench coach in New York. Torre's contract expires next year.

Girardi, however, said yesterday that the Yankees did not play into his decision.

"That has nothing to do with it," he said. "I have too much respect for Joe Torre to ever think like that. I think Joe should manage as long as he wants. I had no thoughts about the Yankees in making this decision."

That said, Girardi said he expects to know something about his plans for next year "hopefully in about a week or so." He will be in St. Louis this week working as an analyst for Fox's pregame show at the World Series, and he could have other opportunities in television next season. He said that returning to the field next year -- even given his concerns about family life -- is "definitely a possibility, yes."

"This is all very difficult," he said. "I love managing. I love the opportunity I had last year. I loved what I did. I enjoy the challenge of it, the relationships. It's very, very difficult [to make the decision]. I've troubled over it for the last week. Jim and Stan make it very, very attractive, but I have to make the right decisions for my family and I."

Meanwhile, Robinson said in a phone interview yesterday that he hadn't been contacted by the Nationals about potential opportunities to work in the front office.

"I expected something by now," Robinson said. "I will call back if they call. But I'm not thinking about doing anything but relaxing right now. I'm not pinning myself down. I'm going to be open-minded about whatever might come up."

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