MIAMI (AP) – New York Yankees bench coach Joe Girardi was hired Wednesday as manager of the Florida Marlins, agreeing to a three-year contract.

Girardi, who also interviewed for the Tampa Bay job, spent 15 years as a major league catcher, then went into broadcasting in 2004 and came out of the booth to join the Yankees’ staff this season.

He’ll be introduced by the Marlins at a news conference Thursday, the team said.

“I am extremely pleased to have Joe in our organization, and I look forward to his input as we start focusing on next year,” owner Jeffrey Loria said in a statement. “Joe was known as an intelligent player with great leadership skills, and he will bring those traits to his new position.

“He is the right man to lead our team, and I’m proud that he will start what will be a long, successful managerial career here in South Florida.”

Girardi was apparently Loria’s first choice from the outset and was the first candidate to interview with the Marlins owner. A follow-up interview took place Oct. 12 in New York with Loria and general manager Larry Beinfest.

“This is an exciting day for the Marlins organization,” general manager Larry Beinfest said. “After several discussions with him, it became clear that not only was Joe ready to manage, but he is the right guy to manage the Florida Marlins. Joe has a tremendous reputation throughout the game and I am eager to start working with him.”

The 41-year-old Girardi will succeed Jack McKeon, who led the Marlins to the World Series title in 2003 but resigned after the team finished a disappointing 83-79 this year.

Girardi was a member of three World Series championship teams with the Yankees. He caught two no-hitters with the Yankees and also played for the Chicago Cubs, Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals before retiring as a player in 2003.

Among other candidates interviewed by the Marlins were Atlanta Braves bench coach Fredi Gonzalez, Oakland Athletics third-base coach Ron Washington and Tampa Bay coaches Billy Hatcher and Tom Foley.

Girardi interviewed twice for the Devil Rays job vacated by Lou Piniella. An Illinois native with an engineering degree from Northwestern, Girardi also weighed the option of turning down the Marlins to remain with the Yankees until the Cubs’ job becomes available. He spent seven seasons with the Cubs.

Girardi takes over a Marlins team facing a likely roster shake-up. Spending cuts are possible after Loria approved a franchise-record $60 million payroll this season and was rewarded with a late-season meltdown, the second-lowest attendance in the National League and a stalemate in his bid for a new ballpark.

Still, the Marlins have a strong young core with 22-game winner Dontrelle Willis and slugger Miguel Cabrera.

McKeon led the Marlins to three of the four winning seasons in franchise history, but there was a consensus within the organization that a managerial change was in order. Players complained that the 74-year-old McKeon was too abrasive, and clubhouse tension mounted as the season soured.

Girardi becomes the seventh manager for the Marlins, who played their first game in 1993.

AP-ES-10-19-05 1822EDT

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