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Yet Another Giambi Post

Chat with Ziggy today at 3!

Obviously I think there are no shortage of Giambi posts on AN right now (and can you blame anyone for wanted to talk about the return?!), but I have one more to sneak in; more of a human interest piece than making any judgment calls about his upcoming performance.

Man, have I missed Jason Giambi. I’m better than most about handling the revolving door of Athletics--it comes with the territory of being an A’s fan--but the one player that I never really got over is Jason. (Side note: Don’t listen to baseballmom or baseballdad if they tell you I cried when Jose Canseco was traded; sixteen year old girls will cry at anything.)

I think Jason Giambi added the kind of excitement to the A’s that was so prevalent in the days of McGwire and Canseco (and yes, we all know why), but it was more than just the towering homeruns, or the extreme power numbers that we’ve been missing the last five years; the A’s were just flat-out more fun when he was around. Giambi had the kind of personality that made you like him as a person, not just as a ballplayer. He was the party boy; the straight-talker; who worked hard, played even harder, and made no apologies for either.

Because he had local ties to Anaheim, he would always make a point of jumping up into the stands before the games to visit with friends and fans. From my first-hand observations (I think I went to every A’s/Angels’ game in Anaheim during the 2000-2001 seasons), you simply couldn’t find a nicer, more accommodating player on the field at the time. Giambi always took the time to say hi to everyone around him; he talked like a regular guy, and he just seemed just like the kind of person you’d want to watch a game with.

I completely understand why he took the New York contract--I cannot begrudge him that--but at the same time, I also understand why many thought he sold not only his soul, but also his fun-loving, wild-haired, rock-star persona along with it, to play ball in New York.

I have no idea how New York has changed him, but I vividly remember his painful fall from grace. The Yankees had no problem with Giambi when he was putting up the ridiculous numbers of his first season, but as soon as the health issues started, followed shortly by the federal grand jury choosing him as their poster boy, the city had no problem piling on. Stories appeared overnight about Giambi’s partying ways and his irresponsible lifestyle. Many denounced him as a “True Yankee”, and sportswriters clamored all over each other to extract their pound of flesh.

I still missed Giambi. Not a day went during the first two seasons of his absense that I didn’t think, “What if…”. I still do. I still wonder if those years might have been different with Giambi on board. But by 2004, it didn’t seem to matter anymore. The revelation that Giambi was as deeply imbedded in the steroid mess as anyone seemed to be the final straw for not only Yankees fans, but A’s fans as well. No one wanted anything to do with him.
But things aren’t always as they seem. Not many of us had any idea of how far down the rabbit hole MLB was hiding the steroid scandal, and likewise, we never stopped to consider that Giambi wasn’t getting a very fair shake in the whole process. He made a huge, life-altering choice to take the competitive advantage, and he should be judged accordingly, but I would argue that Giambi was nowhere near the villain that he was made out to be.  Giambi sold his soul to play on the New York stage, and consequently, his fall was more intense; more public, than it would have been in another city.  

Despite twinges of nostalgia, I never felt truly sorry for Giambi until I read an article in 2004, in which the sportswriter questioned Jason’s lifestyle and character, in the wake of the steroid scandal. The purpose of the article was to point out that New York should have seen this coming when Giambi played for Oakland. In fact, this author claimed that eye-witnesses placed Giambi at an Upper West Side bar table-dancing at 4 a.m. two months before he signed with the Yankees. The night in question was in October of 2001; the sportswriter claimed that the A’s flew to New York up 2-0 in the Division Series.

When you are an A’s fan, and you have lost arguably one of the most painful series in recent memory, you don’t forget details. There is no way Giambi was partying in New York in 2001 up 2-0. The A’s took the first two games from the Yankees in New York, and flew home to Oakland. Was Giambi table-dancing that night in Oakland? Probably. But to make up a fact out of thin air to prove a point seems, well, disingenuous at best. And really unfair to Jason Giambi.

It wasn’t only New York. You couldn’t attend a Yankees/A’s game in Oakland for years without hearing the boos rain down on Giambi, the hurled insults rivaling the volume of the former cheers; sheer betrayal on the face of the Oakland fans as Giambi took the field in pinstripes. And really, for what? For making a decision to follow the money? For daring to admit that playing on the New York stage in front of a packed house every night had always been a dream of his? Baseball is an unfair monetary sport, as this off-season has certainly proved, and for all the criticism you can level at a person, looking for a bigger paycheck isn’t really one of them. Career moves are made for the money all the time; the business of baseball is no different. Frank Thomas left us because Toronto would pay him. Period. At least Giambi left for more than the money; he genuinely wanted everything that came with playing ball in New York.

Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

And now his career is ending, and he has returned to Oakland, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. I want a chance for Giambi to get cheered in green and gold again; I want him to come back to a place where he can just simply play baseball, and have fun doing it. I want to forgive, and forget, and maybe even love again.

Baseball is the sport of dreams. And I’m dreaming of 2001.