MIAMI - Florida Marlins manager Joe Girardi was fired Tuesday, a move that had been expected after his rift with owner Jeffrey Loria boiled over in an on-field confrontation two months ago.
Florida Marlins manager Joe Girardi watches the game against the Philadelphia Phillies' in the fourth inning of a baseball game Sunday, Oct. 1, 2006, in Miami. The Marlins won, 3-2. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Girardi lost his job even though he's considered a strong candidate for NL manager of the year. The Marlins had baseball's youngest team and lowest payroll at $15 million, but Girardi led them to a 78-84 record, and they were in contention for a playoff berth until a late-September fade.
The cost-conscious Marlins wanted Girardi out so badly they were willing to let him go with two years left on a guaranteed three-year contract he signed in October 2005, when he became a manager for the first time. At 41, he was the second-youngest manager in the major leagues after spending 15 years as a big-league catcher.
Atlanta third-base coach Fredi Gonzalez is considered the front-runner to replace Girardi. Gonzalez was runner-up in the Marlins' search a year ago after Jack McKeon resigned.
Girardi said he was fired during a brief meeting in his office with team president David Samson, general manager Larry Beinfest and assistant general manager Mike Hill. Loria did not attend.
"They came in and said, `We're going to make a change,'" Girardi said. He said no reason was given.
"To hash over what happened doesn't make any sense," Girardi said.
Marlins officials did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
Girardi, an Illinois native and Northwestern graduate, becomes a potential candidate to replace Dusty Baker, whose contract with the Chicago Cubs was not renewed Monday. Two other teams are also looking for managers — Washington parted with Frank Robinson, and San Francisco cut ties with Felipe Alou.
Girardi said he has no idea what he'll do next season and plans to discuss options with his wife.
His strained relationship with Loria and Beinfest became public this summer. Loria subsequently declined to endorse the job Girardi did in his first year as a manager, even though the Marlins far exceeded expectations while playing 22 rookies.
The rift erupted at a game Aug. 6 when Loria berated an umpire while sitting behind the plate. From the dugout, Girardi asked the owner to stop, witnesses said. Loria angrily left his seat and confronted Girardi after the game during a 90-minute clubhouse meeting.
Loria declined to comment on the episode or respond to published reports that he fired Girardi, then changed his mind. Girardi also declined to discuss his differences with Loria and Beinfest.
"Obviously, the things I did, whether they were perfect or not, the players responded. We won," Girardi said.
Beginning in spring training, Beinfest clashed with Girardi over personnel decisions, and during the second half of the season the general manager was rarely seen in the clubhouse or manager's office.
The power struggle had no apparent affect on the team. The Marlins were widely projected to lose more than 100 games, but instead they rallied from an 11-31 start and trailed in the NL wild-card race by only two games on Sept. 12 before fading.
The Marlins became the first team to climb above .500 from 20 games under. They also became the first team to have four rookie pitchers win 10 games, and they set a record for most home runs by rookies with 112.
"People thought we were going to lose more games than any team in baseball, and we didn't," Girardi said. "And that's because of the players."
As a player, Girardi was a member of three World Series championship teams with the New York Yankees. He spent seven seasons with the Chicago Cubs and also played for the Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals before retiring as a player in 2003.
The Marlins' managerial change will be the eighth since their first game in 1993.