Can Joe Girardi Make Philly a Baseball Town?

Will it play in Peoria?

An all-star catcher and an "all-star" manager sure will.

Peoria, Illinois — not to be confused with Peoria, Arizona where, most relevant to the topic at hand, the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners maintain their Cactus League headquarters — is the birthplace of one Joseph Elliott Girardi, who spent 15 years in the major leagues as a catcher (which seems to be the most common position for Italian-Americans in baseball), being selected to the All-Star Game once (in 2000) and picking up three World Series rings as a player, all while with Major League Baseball's flagship franchise, the Yankees, to which he returned first as a coach in 2005, then, following a one-year stint as manager of the then-Florida Marlins, as manager of the Yankees in 2008, sitting out the 2007 season just as he sat out 2004.

In his decade as the Yankees' skipper, Girardi's teams never finished with worse than an 84-78 record, and made the playoffs six times, reaching the Division Series in five of them and the League Championship Series in four, including a World Series championship in 2009 — and even in his single season managing the Marlins, he won the National League Manager of the Year award that year (2006).

After taking a two-year hiatus, Girardi returns to the dugout to pilot a team that has not posted a winning record since 2011, finishing 81-81 and fourth in the NL East in the just-completed season despite having been 33-22 and in first place by 3 1/2 games on the morning of May 30, and 80-82 and third in the division in 2018 after having been 63-48 and in first place by 1 1/2 games on the morning of August 6.

These twin meltdowns cost Gabe Kapler, a bodybuilding nerd and "analytics" freak — talk about a composite creature! — his job, creating the opening that Phillies owner John Middleton filled by hiring Girardi, who would appear to be the ultimate departure from Kapler in every respect — and Kapler's firing and Girardi's hiring have raised big-time red flags as to the job security of both the team's president of baseball operations, Andy MacPhail (derisively referred to as "MacFail" by the fans) and general manager Matt Klentak, both fellow travelers in Kapler's analytics caravan.

Beyond the obvious — making the Phillies relevant again — Girardi also faces the task of competing with the Eagles for the attention of the Philadelphia fan base, which has been Eagles-focused for decades, even when the Phillies were contenders and the Eagles were not.

But with the Eagles suddenly in complete disarray, mainly due to their disastrous 2019 draft and a boatload of injuries, there is a definite opening for Girardi and the Phillies.

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