Will Cubs play release and catch?

It didn't take long for Joe Girardi to go from deposed manager of the Florida Marlins to prime-time candidate for the Cubs' vacancy.

Shortly after Girardi was told he was being fired one year into his three-year contract with Florida, the Cubs contacted him as the Marlins were introducing his replacement, Atlanta coach Fredi Gonzalez.

Girardi and Lou Piniella are considered the top two names on general manager Jim Hendry's short list of candidates.

"Joe obviously is a candidate," Hendry said Tuesday night, declining to comment further.

Hendry didn't give a timetable for an interview but it may take a couple of days at least.

"I've had a couple of discussions with teams," said Steve Mandell, Girardi's agent. "Joe is taking the day off to talk with his family. He's just kind of relaxing now. Things obviously will start happening in the next few days. We'll see what happens."

Like Dusty Baker's ending with the Cubs, Girardi's demise in Florida had been rumored for weeks. Asked about the Cubs' opening during his farewell news conference in Miami, Girardi avoided the subject.

"I haven't had time to think about it," he said. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to think about another job as long as you still have a job. Now I have to readjust and I will talk to [my wife] Kim … about what is best for us as a family. When I took this job, I didn't have a third [child]."

Meanwhile, sources said Baker will not be a candidate for the vacant San Francisco position, but Cubs broadcaster Bob Brenly will interview with the Giants soon.

The importance of making the right managerial decision is something Cubs management is not attempting to downplay.

After all that has happened during a season Tribune Co. CEO and President Dennis FitzSimons called "dismal," culminating with the forced resignation of President Andy MacPhail and the decision to let Baker go, the Cubs realize they can't get it wrong.

Interim club President John McDonough stressed that Hendry will be the one making the call.

"In Jim Hendry you have the right guy," he said. "And with the recent change in Dusty, this is a critical decision, finding the right guy."

Hendry and McDonough both know Girardi from his days as a Cubs player and are known to have good relationships with him. Girardi is a former Cubs captain who gave an emotional speech at Wrigley Field when the Cubs returned to play after the postponement of games from the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, and again in 2002 when a game against St. Louis was canceled because of the death of Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile.

McDonough declined to address specifics of the managerial search, but he said he was looking for someone who "gets" the Cubs.

"I think you have to bring in a winner who respects this franchise, this brand, the fans, the ballpark and everything that is the Chicago Cubs," McDonough said. "Someone who 'gets it.' But it has to be somebody who's a winner, somebody whose only mission, whose only goal is to win the World Series. That's a strong statement to make."

Girardi, who was born in Peoria, made his Cubs debut during the surprising season of 1989, when manager Don Zimmer and a roster full of overachievers captured the National League East.

Zimmer, one of Girardi's early influences in the game, called his former catcher after the firing on Tuesday and said, "Welcome to the club, pal."

"I always said this about Joe Girardi: He would make a good engineer, a good coach or a good manager," Zimmer said. "He would be good at anything he wanted to do, and I still feel that way today."

Zimmer, who also served as bench coach under Yankees manager Joe Torre—another big influence on Girardi's career—during most of Girardi's time there, said Girardi would be able to handle a veteran team as well as he handled the rookie-heavy Marlins.

"Joe Girardi would be good with anybody," Zimmer said. "Joe can handle any situation."

McDonough said the next manager would be someone who "understands" the team's history and tradition and wants to manage the Cubs because they're the Cubs, not just because he wants to manage a major-league team.

"I'm a big believer that this person has to understand the culture, the unique mystique of the Cubs, and what's different about this place," he said.

"The different type of loyalty and passion that these [fans] have for this franchise, that whether it's a day in April or a day in June, you're going to be playing in front of 40,000 people. It's a privilege to manage this team."

Girardi's reported difficulties with upper management in Florida are certain to be broached when Hendry interviews him.

Girardi shed little light on his controversial conversation with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, considered to be the smoking gun in his dismissal.

Loria yelled at an umpire during a game, drawing a heated response from Girardi and leading to a confrontation during a 90-minute postgame meeting.

"The gist of the conversation to Jeffrey was, 'I preach to my players about not arguing with umpires, and this is not going to help us,"' Girardi said.

Despite a payroll of only $15 million, the young Marlins were in wild-card contention until the final two weeks of the season. Florida general manager Larry Beinfest declined to discuss the specifics behind his decision.

"Joe is not returning because it was not a good fit," Beinfest said. "That's it. … We felt Joe was not able to integrate himself into the inner workings of this organization."

Girardi, who figures to get a lot of attention in NL Manager of the Year balloting, said he hasn't soured on managing after a short first stint.

"I was never released and I was never fired [in my career]," he said. "I was traded. I've been pretty fortunate to be 41 years old and never have to deal with that. It's just another experience."

psullivan@tribune.comdvandyck@tribune.com

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