After an illustrious 20-year career, five-time All-Star Jason Giambi announced on Monday that he is retiring from baseball. The slugger, who spent the last two years with the Cleveland Indians, told media that his family was a big factor in his decision. Giambi has two children with his wife Kristian, 3-year-old London and 1-year-old Tristan, and is reportedly looking forward to staying home with them and being “Mr. Mom”.
Giambi was drafted by the Oakland A’s in 1992 out of Long Beach State, where he played for their world-class 49ers baseball team. He debuted in 1995, where he bounced around the corner infield and outfield positions for his first couple years before taking over the everyday first base job from Mark McGwire. In 1998, his first full season as the A’s first baseman, Giambi blossomed into the elite player he would remain for several years.
As the 21st century dawned, Giambi hit his prime. He finished the 2000 regular season with a triple slash of .333/.476/.647, leading the league in on base percentage. He also put up career highs in both home runs (43) and RBIs (137). Giambi won his first and only MVP that year, narrowly beating out Frank Thomas of the White Sox for the honor. He continued his tear a year later, putting up a career best .342/.477/.660 and leading the league in a smorgasbord of offensive stats. He narrowly missed out on his second straight MVP award, losing to Ichiro Suzuki. Giambi was also teammates with his younger brother Jeremy on the A’s for both of those years.
Giambi led the Athletics to October in both 2000 and 2001, but both times the A’s lost to the eventual AL Champion Yankees in the ALDS. Apparently Giambi believes in the saying “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” because in December 2001, he signed with the Yankees out of free agency. However, Giambi never fully regained the form he had with the A’s and by 2004, “The Giambino” had seemingly petered out. In mid-2005, however, Giambi surged back after beginning the season in a slump. He finished with a respectable .271/.440/.535 and was awarded AL Comeback Player of the year. The next few years saw Giambi’s production go up and down as he battled both injuries and age.
Giambi returned to Oakland in 2009, but the now 38 year old struggled mightily. While on the DL and with the lowest batting average in the Majors, Giambi was released from the A’s and eventually signed by the Rockies as a pinch-hitter and veteran presence in the clubhouse. He filled this role for both the Rockies and the Indians in the last years of his career, often coming off the bench to deliver clutch, late-inning hits. While in Cleveland, Giambi became the oldest player to hit a walk-off home run on July 29, 2013 – then broke his own record on September 24 of that year. The second walk-off gave the Indians a crucial win that helped them earn a wild card spot in the playoffs.
Giambi may have declined on the field as the years went on, but he changed drastically as a person. During the best years of his career, Giambi was known as the swaggering leader of the A’s moneyball-built frat house-like clubhouse, often seen driving motorcycles, drinking heavily, and comparing himself to a rock star. When he went to the Yankees, he was nicknamed “the Giambino” for his similarities to another hard-hitting (and hard-living) Yankees first baseman, Babe Ruth. As time went on however, Giambi mellowed as both health and personal choices caught up with him in the mid-2000s.
In late 2003, Giambi testified in front of a grand jury that was investigating a bay area-based trainer named Greg Anderson who was suspected of giving players steroids. A year later, his testimony was leaked, revealing to the public that he had taken several different steroids between 2001 and 2003. Giambi later apologized for his actions and called on others to do the same. In May 2007, he told USA Today that “What we should have done a long time ago was stand up—players, ownership, everybody—and said, 'We made a mistake.’”
By the time Giambi’s career wound down, he was a far different person than the “rock star” he had been with the A’s. The ability to crush a baseball out of the park right when his team needed it – that was still there. But the swagger had been replaced by the persona of a guy who was just happy to be a part of it and play the sport he loved. As the other major faces of the steroid era started hanging up their cleats and entered the scrutiny of the BBWAA, Giambi stayed active, all the while rewriting the legacy of someone who should have gone down as just another PED-fueled masher.
In both Colorado and Cleveland, Giambi adjusted well to the role of pinch-hitter and became a new kind of clubhouse leader – the kind that the younger players looked up to as a big brother figure and sought for advice on how to be a ballplayer. While he was in Cleveland, Indians manager Terry Francona gave Giambi the freedom to become, in essence, an extra coach to several of the younger guys on the team. Francona also gave Giambi the authority to call team meetings whenever he saw fit.
Giambi’s retirement is not only the end of a very special career, it also takes away one of baseball’s final reminders of one of the most controversial eras any sport has gone through. Jason Giambi was one of the last of the game’s great mashers, but his legacy is one far different than that of Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire. Giambi will go down not only as a great hitter, but also as a great influence on many of the clubhouses he was a part of.
Baseball is,was, and always will be the greatest game in the world
Jake Wesley is now the only writer for MLB_NL_AL.com all of these articles are ether based on facts and pieces of his opinion.