Joe Girardi

Joe Girardi hits a home run in his return to McCormick

Joe Girardi went from studying statistics as an industrial engineering and management sciences major to creating them as a major league baseball player and manager. He returned to campus in February to receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences.

At Northwestern, Girardi played baseball and was a three-time Academic All-American and two-time All–Big Ten selection. After graduating in 1986, he made his Major League Baseball debut in 1989 and played for 15 seasons as a catcher with the Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, and New York Yankees. Girardi was a member of three World Series championship squads in New York and, while playing for the Cubs, was named to the 2000 All-Star team.

After retiring as a catcher in 2004 Girardi became a commentator for the YES Network and hosted the youth-oriented Kids on Deck. Girardi then began his coaching career as a bench coach and catching instructor with the New York Yankees.

In 2005 Girardi accepted the manager position for the Florida Marlins, replacing Jack McKeon. As a first-time manager, he guided the Marlins to surprising Wild Card contention (finishing with a 78–84 record), despite having the lowest team payroll in Major League Baseball. Girardi was awarded the National League Manager of the Year Award in 2006. He now works as a broadcaster for Fox and the Yankees’ YES Network.

During his visit to Northwestern, Girardi met with small groups of students, faculty from the industrial engineering and management sciences department, and Dean Julio M. Ottino. At the conclusion of the day, Girardi spoke to nearly 100 members of the Northwestern community about how his Northwestern education helped prepare him for a successful career.

“You think about industrial engineers as problem solvers. In baseball, that's what you do. Situations come up all the time where you use the skills you’ve learned to solve problems,” he said. “I also have three children, and there’s a lot of problem solving when you have children.”

Girardi found his analytical background to be particularly useful when it came to using statistics to his advantage. As a catcher, he had to calculate a pitcher’s strength and a batter’s weakness in order to succeed. “They give you so many statistics in baseball today that some players become paralyzed, but I loved it,” he says.

Girardi owes many of those statistical skills to Ajit Tamhane, who was one of Girardi’s undergraduate statistics professors. Now department chair, Tamhane was excited to welcome Girardi back to campus as a distinguished alumnus. “Joe has had a fantastic career,” Tamhane says. “He exemplifies our talented alumni body, many of whom have gone on to pursue diverse career paths and achieve great success in their fields.”

Speaking to students, Girardi’s advice was to make the most of their time at Northwestern. “What you’re going to miss most about Northwestern are the people,” he said. “When I think about my four years at Northwestern, I think about my friendships. You have to take time to invest in your relationships. Work as hard on your relationships as you do on your schoolwork.”

— Kyle Delaney