"I think what really sticks in the mind of my family and I is the uniform you're putting on, and how special and honored we are to wear that uniform, especially as a manager."
The 2006 National League Manager of the Year with the Florida Marlins, Girardi becomes the 17th former Yankee to manage the club, beating out candidates Don Mattingly and Tony Pena in an arduous interview process conducted over three consecutive days last week in Tampa, Fla.
"He's meticulous in his approach," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said of Girardi. "Three characteristics that probably describe his beliefs are hard work, accountability and discipline. One thing I know about him is that he likes to compete all the time. It's not just what happens when the bell rings for first pitch."
A former catcher for 15 Major League seasons, Girardi played on the Yankees' 1996, '98 and '99 World Series teams. Known for his gritty work ethic, it was Girardi's third-inning triple in Game 6 of the 1996 World Series that helped the Yankees clinch their first title since '78.
Quizzed in a battery of examinations that Cashman rattled off -- game strategy, pregame preparation, advance scouting, player evaluation and more -- Girardi was said to have impressed team brass with a sharp and analytical style, solidifying him as the best candidate to replace Joe Torre after a storied run of 12 consecutive postseason appearances.
"I understand the expectations, and I think that's the advantage of being a player in New York," Girardi said. "You understand what's expected. I expect it as well. I expect to be playing in the Fall Classic next October -- I think that's everyone's expectation. You do everything that you possibly can to get there."
Girardi served as Torre's bench coach in 2005 before guiding the Marlins to a 78-victory season in '06. Speaking on the "Late Show with David Letterman" on Monday, Torre gave Girardi an endorsement as his likely replacement.
"Joe Girardi is a good man," Torre said. "He's got a feel for this organization."
In the 2006 season, Girardi's only previous campaign of managerial experience, he kept the Marlins in NL Wild Card contention into the season's final week of the campaign, piloting a surprising club while forced to make use of 22 rookies after massive payroll slashing.
Yet he fell out of favor with owner Jeffrey Loria and general manager Larry Beinfest for various reasons, putting Girardi in the awkward position of accepting his Manager of the Year Award some six weeks after being dismissed by Florida.
"I've never chosen to go into the particulars of the Florida situation, because I didn't think it would benefit anyone," Girardi said. "I've always thought that things should stay in-house, but what I've learned through all that is the importance of relationships. Those are my largest lessons."
Aside from the Yankees job, Girardi had options and had been viewed as a hot commodity in baseball, including drawing rumored interest from the Dodgers as recently as Monday. Girardi was briefly pursued for managerial vacancies in Washington and Baltimore earlier in 2007, but he opted to stay on the sidelines, allowing him and his family to spend time with his ailing father.
Remaining close to the Yankees through the YES Network, Girardi also worked for FOX, who assigned him to broadcast coverage of the World Series. He was on the field in Denver for Game 4 on Sunday as the Red Sox celebrated a series sweep of the Rockies.
"I was fortunate in a sense that I saw a lot of Yankees games this year," Girardi said. "I saw a lot of the young players, the middle-of-the-road players and the older players. I had a sense of exactly what was going on in that situation in New York."
Girardi succeeds Torre, who led the club to four World Series titles, but none since 2000. Torre has been linked to the Dodgers in published reports after he turned down a one-year, "performance-based" $5 million contract offer on Oct. 18, ending his successful run with the Yankees.
Girardi said that he was not worried about following in Torre's footsteps. In 1996, Girardi replaced the popular Mike Stanley as the Yankees catcher, and he said he would take the same approach in this situation.
"I'm going to be myself," Girardi said. "Are there expectations on me and the coaching staff and the players? Absolutely. The same expectations that were on Joe Torre when he came in 1996.
"I don't think Joe was necessarily concerned about being the guy that he was replacing. He was concerned about being himself and getting the most out of the team, and that's what I'm concerned about. I can't be Joe Torre, because I'm made up different. I'm a different character."
"Joe Girardi's not afraid of anything -- that's the way he approached things as a player," Cashman said. "He looks forward to the challenge ... of how he is going to do the best job possible with the 2008 New York Yankees. I know he's ready to hit the ground running."
Girardi's acceptance also effectively ended Mattingly's four-year run as a Yankees coach. One of the most popular figures in franchise history, Mattingly served for three years as the club's hitting coach, and he spent this past season as Torre's bench coach, keeping an eye on managing.
Informed by Cashman on Monday that he would not be named the next skipper, Mattingly informed the Yankees that he would not accept a coaching position with New York in 2008. Girardi said he reached out to Mattingly to make sure that their friendship was not harmed by the decision.
Meanwhile, Cashman revealed that Pena has been offered a position on Girardi's coaching staff and is expected to return for 2008.
Girardi inherits a Yankees club that bid farewell this week to All-Star third baseman and AL MVP front-runner Alex Rodriguez, who elected to opt out of his contract and end his four-year stay in New York.
"Alex felt that it wasn't best for his family or himself to come back, and you're going to miss those 54 home runs," Girardi said. "But to me, you can't look backwards. You have to look forward at where we go from here as an organization."
Catcher Jorge Posada and closer Mariano Rivera were among a group of five Yankees to file for free agency on Monday, though Rivera and his agent Fernando Cuza met with executives at Legends Field on Tuesday to discuss a possible new contract. Left-hander Andy Pettitte also has not decided if he wants to return on a $16 million player option.
Girardi said that, in one of the first of many decisions to be made in his new role, that he plans to reach out to Pettitte, Posada and Rivera.
"I played with these guys," Girardi said. "We will have a strategy to move forward, and we will do it together. I will do whatever I can to influence players to come and play in New York, because it's such a wonderful place."