Joe Girardi, left, leaves the New York Yankees spring training complex at Legends Field on Monday, Oct. 22, 2007 in Tampa, Fla. after being interviewed for the Yankees' new manager position. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is driving. (AP Photo/Craig Litten)
NEW YORK (AP) -- Joe Girardi spoke with George Steinbrenner and they quickly found common ground: Northwestern football.
"I talked to him about their 5-3 record and that they were one game from bowl eligibility and that was big for Northwestern, so we had some laughs about that," Girardi said.
Girardi is a Northwestern alumnus and from his days as a catcher for the New York Yankees, he knew the owner is a former Northwestern assistant football coach. On Monday, they talked on a different level, with Girardi becoming the first person to interview as a potential replacement for departed manager Joe Torre.
He struck a Steinbrenner-like tone.
"I wouldn't expect anything else from the players in New York or for myself but to be the best," Girardi said.
Yankees bench coach Don Mattingly, scheduled to be interviewed Tuesday, is considered the favorite. New York first base coach Tony Pena is slated for a Wednesday interview.
"I choose not to place odds on anyone or to think that one person has an advantage over another," Girardi said.
Girardi spent about five hours with the Yankees' baseball operations staff, and an hour with Steinbrenner, sons Hank and Hal, son-in-law Felix Lopez and team president Randy Levine.
"From what I know about him, he appears to be very smart," Hank Steinbrenner said. "He's tough when he has to be and he can be easy when he has to be."
Hank Steinbrenner seemed to reinforce the notion that Mattingly began the process ahead of the others.
"There's a slight favorite, not a heavy favorite," he said.
Steinbrenner said one or two others will be asked to interview - but former New York Mets and Texas Rangers manager Bobby Valentine isn't on the list.
"He's certainly a smart guy, but probably not," Hank Steinbrenner said.
Girardi caught for the Yankees from 1996-99, served as a bench coach in 2005, then managed the Florida Marlins the following year. He kept a young team in contention until September, then was fired, apparently for clashing with owner Jeffrey Loria and others above him.
"I haven't really commented on the situation and what had happened the whole time because I didn't think really any good would come from it," Girardi said. "I have learned a lot, I will put it to you that way. By talking about specific things that I've learned, people might have a better idea of my side of the story and that's not something that I've ever really tried to get out."
Office politics appears to be one of the lessons.
"I did learn a lot in the importance of relationships and some of the situations you go through as a manager that aren't just on the field," he said.
Girardi said his departure from the Marlins was discussed Monday. Hank Steinbrenner said he wasn't concerned.
"I don't want to get too much into that, but, we're not stupid," he said.
Girardi was voted NL Manager of the Year for his work with the Marlins and joined the Yankees' YES Network as a broadcaster this season. He turned down the Baltimore Orioles' managing job last summer, choosing instead to spend time with his father, who had health problems.
Steinbrenner said Monday morning that the Yankees also planned to discuss whether to ask for a meeting with Alex Rodriguez, who has until the 10th day after the World Series to decide whether to terminate the final three seasons of his record $252 million, 10-year contract and become a free agent. The Yankees say that if Rodriguez ends the contract, they'll drop out of the bidding - they would lose a $21 million subsidy from the Rangers if he opts out.
"We want him to stay and I would think he would want to stay. We've made it clear if he opts out, goodbye," Hank Steinbrenner said.
Asked whether Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, understands the Yankees' position, Hank Steinbrenner responded: "I think he does now."
Also Monday, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera said he's been in contact with Torre, whose 12-year tenure as manager ended last week when he rejected the team's offer of a $5 million, one-year contract.
"I just wanted to find out if he was OK," Rivera told Sirius Satellite Radio. "I wanted to wish him my best."
Rivera, eligible for free agency, doesn't need to know the next manager before he starts negotiating.
"I let them know the way I felt. They know what they have to do so I don't worry about it," he told Sirius. "The ball is in their court, and I'm just being patient and waiting patiently."
AP freelance writer Mark Didtler in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.