VetFamily: Joe Girardi, Player and World Series-Winning Manager, Son of an Air Force Veteran

Joe Girardi

There's more to New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi than his signature military-style crewcut.

Girardi holds military service dear to his heart, honoring his late father's service in the U.S. Air Force.

"He taught me so much about the value of hard work and earning a living, and being a good husband and a good father. I always say that the best way to describe him is, 'If I could be half the husband and father that he was, then I'm doing something right,'" Girardi told Mike Francesa, a top-rated sports radio host in New York City soon after Jerry Girardi's death in 2012.

In dramatic fashion, Girardi's father passed away in the midst of another Yankee playoff run that year. Joe Girardi was managing with a heavy heart during the American League Divisional Series against the Baltimore Orioles, with Game 1 starting just 24 hours after his father's death, capping a struggle with Alzheimers dating to the 1990s. He was honored by a moment of silence in Yankee Stadium.

Jerry Girardi was an Air Force veteran who served in the Korean War as an airplane mechanic, and later worked in construction sales for National Gypsum Company and as a bricklayer. He and his wife, Angela, had five children, including Joe, a World Series winning manager and player for Major League Baseball's best-winning team, and two others who became doctors.

As a child, young Joe Girardi was heavily influenced by his father, both in sports and at home. A great cook, who later opened a restaurant outside of Chicago that bore the family name, Jerry Girardi was seen as a talented coach for the Sacred Heart grade school basketball team where young Joe first had hoop dreams. Bob Manning, a lifelong friend of Girardi's and one of his teammates on that Sacred Heart basketball team, recalled how the elder Girardi placed importance on teamwork.

"Mr. Girardi was a great basketball coach who stressed the fundamentals and working together. It was always about the team. You can see the imprint it left on his kids, especially Joe," said Manning, as reported by the New York Daily News. "(Jerry) was fiery at times, but never intimidating. He wasn't Bobby Knight, but he could get your attention."

On the eve of a 2013 exhibition baseball game with the Army Black Knights before a record West Point baseball crowd, it was the memories of an Air Force veteran named Girardi which still remained strong with his son.

"I have pictures of my father in uniform in my house, and it's very special to be able to be here," Joe Girardi said, according to the Yes Network, the Yankees hometown sports channel. "Growing up in the Midwest, this wasn't available to me, but I got a chance to come up a couple years ago to watch Army play Air Force (in football), and that was a thrill to see all the cadets in the stands and see two military schools going at it, with the respect between them and how disciplined they were."

Yankee – West Point baseball games were a regular tradition until the 1970's when they stopped, but with a return game in 2013, the linkage seemed stronger than ever. Johnson Stadium's usual capacity is 824 with standing room for about 200 more, but the Academy added two large sets of bleachers to accommodate another 4,800 or so spectators, ensuring a record crowd of over 6,000 for the game.For Girardi, he hopes the tradition endures for more important reasons than the game itself.

"I'm glad we could make so many fans happy, but I think more important is to recognize what our military does for us on a daily basis," Girardi said. "When you come up here and see the history, and be able to have lunch with the cadets, see the different stripes on their uniforms, and get an understanding of what they go through every day - how their summers are different from normal students, because they're in training exercises - I think it's important for people to understand what they go through, and how important it is to us."

The Yankees won the game 10-5, but that will be long forgotten while the memories will remain.

"We're here to play a game, but they're here to protect us. Every day I wake up, and I feel safe, and that's not true everywhere," he said.

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