Friday, January 9, 2009

The Big G: A Retrospective

Now that Jason Giambi has signed a deal with his former team, the Oakland A's, worth slighty less ($4.5M) than his $5M buyout from the Yankees, the time has come to evaluate The Big G's tenure in pinstripes. Being a Red Sox fan, Brendan has voiced his dislike of Giambi and understandably so, considering we named this blog after our dislike of his obverse on the Sox. Up until the 2008 season, I really didn't know much about him, aside from the fact that he had a great set of initials. To me, he was the slow-footed, hard-hitting first baseman, with an intimidating left handed stance and a great eye.

The Yankees signed J. Gilbert Giambi coming off of back to back incredible offensive seasons playing in a pitchers ballpark in Oakland, finishing 1st and 2nd in MVP voting in 2000 & 2001 respectively. He put up OPS+es of 187 & 198 in the greatest offensive era of all time (league average OPS+ in any given season is always 100). It wasn't quite Manny Ramirez money (8yrs/$160M), but the 7 year, $120M deal he signed in 2002 represented what the Yankees thought was a commitment to a franchise cornerstone type of player.

Unfortunately, that's not what they got. Despite the looming short porch at Yankee Stadium helping him to 81 HRs in his first two seasons in pinstripes, Giambi never amassed the the all around offensive numbers he did with Oakland. His highest OPS+ with the Yankees was 171 in 2002 and the only other time he breached 150 was in 2005 with 161. In 2004 and 2007, injuries cut his seasons in half and in the games he did play in, his production was far below his career norms.

Regrettably, his most memorable moment as a Yankee was probably the press conference where he responded to the leaked BALCO testimony, during which he issued an (understandably) intentionally vague apology for using PEDs. This, of course, transcends the incident itself and casts a shadow upon every aspect of Giambi's shortcomings in his Yankees career.

The drop off in production from Oakland to the Yankees? Steroids. Injuries to a traditionally durable player? HGH. The benign tumor he had to have removed? Clearly a result of all that juicin'...

The problem with the performance enhancing drug stain on Major League Baseball is all the collateral damage it has caused. There are players who have used and not been caught and there are probably players that have been accused who have never tried to gain that edge. Who knows how much of Giambi's downfall was really precipitated by the corners he cut?

He was already 31 years old when he signed with the Yankees, and in hindsight it looks pretty damn ridiculous to pay a one dimensional player that kind of money at that stage of his career (especially in 2002 dollars). But at that point, Baseball was looking at player's decline phases (or lack thereof) through testosterone-colored lenses.

Shortly before the golden thong "story", but slightly after he grew the State Trooper Giambi 'stache, you could have told me he did anything absolutely anything during the offseason and I would have believed you. "Oh, yeah, he's the bassist for this sick death metal band"... Awesome! Have you seen them live? "My uncle shared a guide hunting Asian Elk with him in Mongolia"... Wow, did he get his autograph? "Rumor has it he dropped in during a huge swell out at Mavericks". No fucking way... Well, he is from California, right?

As a fan, you really don't know much about the players who you root for. I've never met anyone on the current Yankees roster, so I have to go on subtle indications of what kind of person they are. Besides their performance, which is first and foremost, you judge them based things like their body language, their minute long interviews with Kim Jones, how they interact with their teammates or whether or not they chat up opposing players on the field.

Around the time when he narrowly missed the All-Star game last year via the "Final Vote", I found out his personal motto was "Party like a rock star, hammer like a porno star and rake like an All-Star", the first part of which was affirmed by this picture, snapped during the All-Star break in his year-round hometown of Las Vegas.

But more interestingly, this season Peter Abraham shared a few stories about Giambi that really changed my perception of him, like this one:

Heard a great story today. After the rookies dressed up in their Village People outfits on Saturday and went back to the hotel, Jason Giambi invited them all to the hotel bar. After a few drinks, he paid for a bus to take all the rookies, a few other players, some staff members, assorted friends and a security guard to the Capital Grille for dinner. The Big G hosted a dinner for about 25 people, including the bus driver who he insisted join the group. He paid for the whole thing and dropped a huge tip on the wait staff.

On the way back to the hotel, Jason told the kids that he wished them a long and happy career and to always watch out for the rookies on their team.

Giambi told the other players he didn’t want any publicity for what he did. Tough break, Jason. People should know you’re a good dude.

Derek Jeter is the one and only captain of the Yankees, so you never heard about The Big G's leadership skills. I don't remember reading all that much about him as a "clubhouse presence" (probably because he never won a World Series with the team). Amazingly, the guy who made a tacit admission of using steroids, and underperformed his enormous contract ended up flying under the radar to some extent.

This seasons' emergence of the 'stache, his 32 homers in 2008 (including this pinch hit, two out, walk off home run against the Jays) all re-endeared him to the fans. He left the Yankees under the cover of a tumultuous flurry of offseason spending and slipped out the back door as quietly as a guy who didn't really live up to a $120M contract possibly could have.

I'll leave you with another quote from Mr. Abraham...

I wish I could tell you some of the great lines Giambi has had over the years but I’d get fired in a minute. Suffice it to say, he’s one of the few people I’ve ever met who can use a certain word as a noun, adjective, adverb and verb, sometimes all in the same sentence.

Good luck to Jason. He has some ups and down in pinstripes but he was never boring.

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