In case anyone missed it, I thought I’d post the article in the NYT by the always readable Tyler Kepner. The subject was former Yankee and proud ‘stache (and thong) wearer, Jason Giambi. I’d always heard how well-liked he is by his teammates, the beat writers, the fans and pretty much everybody in the sports world, so it was sweet to see he’s doing well. For your reading pleasure…….
Giambi Reinvents Himself, and Baseball Is Intrigued
By TYLER KEPNER
Jason Giambi, elder statesman. How can this be? The Big G? The man who swung big and lived bigger? The scamp with the dancing eyes, loose ethics and a bawdy tale for all occasions?
“Like anything, you grow up,” Giambi said the other morning, in the Cleveland Indians’ locker room, after a day at home in Las Vegas. “I still have fun. I mean, it’s a lot different fun than I used to have.”
Half of the major league teams train in Arizona, and Giambi is the oldest player out here. Two pitchers in Florida camps, Mariano Rivera of the Yankees and Darren Oliver of the Toronto Blue Jays, are older. Giambi is the dean of the Cactus League. He turned 42 on Jan. 8 — Elvis Presley’s birthday, naturally.
Giambi hopes to make the Indians’ roster as a pinch-hitter and occasional designated hitter, the kind of bench player his old general manager with the Yankees, Brian Cashman, calls a big, hairy monster. Two years ago, Giambi hit 10 home runs in 99 at-bats against right-handers. He still has pop, probably. He definitely has wisdom.
“He’s not a veteran, he’s the veteran,” Manager Terry Francona said. “I’ve already gone to him three or four times asking him questions. He’s solid. Brings a lot.”
Francona and Giambi have something in common: each interviewed for manager’s jobs after last season. Giambi interviewed twice for the job in Colorado, where he played the last four seasons. The Rockies hired Walt Weiss but offered to make Giambi their hitting coach.
He declined, he said, out of respect for Weiss; if the team started slowly, Giambi did not want to be seen as looming in the background, angling for his job. He also wanted to squeeze one more season from a career that stretches to 1995.
“Whenever he does end up retiring, he’s going to have to stay in the game,” said Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies’ shortstop. “Going to the field and being around the guys is something he’s going to miss more than the average person.”
Giambi has always been popular in the clubhouse for his ability to laugh at himself and his generosity. Members of the Yankees support staff, who depended on playoff bonuses to augment meager salaries, would rave about Giambi taking up their cause. When his former coach in Oakland, Ron Washington, now the manager of the Texas Rangers, sustained damage to his New Orleans home after Hurricane Katrina, Giambi wrote a check, no questions asked.
He was also revered in the Rockies’ clubhouse, where a photo of Giambi celebrating a game-ending homer — bat flipped high in the air — still hangs in a hallway above the word “character.” This would seem incongruous to those inclined to dismiss Giambi’s career with a different word: steroids. The Rockies were not among those people.
When Manager Jim Tracy resigned after last season, the team said that it would seek a younger manager, with no experience necessary. That intrigued Giambi, who asked for an interview with Bill Geivett, a senior vice president. He then earned another interview with ownership, and his past steroid use was not an issue.
“For us to hold things against people, especially from a time when they were younger, I don’t think that we’ve ever done that or will do that,” Geivett said. “People learn a lot from their experience. We looked at Jason as a guy with a tremendous amount of qualities and very good leadership, for what we see right now. In the grand scheme of things, that’s what’s important to us — where he is today.”
Today, Giambi and his wife, Kristian, are the parents of a 16-month-old daughter. They have been married 11 years, and when they decided to start a family, Giambi said, he knew he could no longer party like a rock star, as his clubhouse T-shirt once said. He stopped drinking and has been sober for three years.
“It’s not to say that he isn’t still a fun-loving guy,” Tracy said. “But he’s come to realize his level of responsibility has changed dramatically.”
Giambi came to the Rockies in 2009 with an open mind, Tracy said, readily accepting a bench role. He compared Giambi’s presence to Robin Ventura’s on the 2004 Dodgers, a team Tracy took to the playoffs. Giambi, like Ventura, could reinforce the manager’s points in the clubhouse and teach younger teammates the nuances of the game.
Ventura became White Sox manager last year and did well, despite having never managed. Tracy said Giambi had qualities that could help him someday, but emphasized, “There is no substitute, whatsoever, for the experience of actually doing it.”
For now, Giambi said, his ideal path to a manager’s job would be to first work as a hitting coach, not to manage in the minors. He said another, unspecified team offered him a major league hitting coach job last winter.
Giambi has always been a student of hitting; in high school, he once said, he taped an illustration of Ted Williams’s strike zone onto his notebooks. With uncanny plate discipline and steroid-aided power, Giambi became the dominant offensive player in the American League, the most valuable player for Oakland in 2000 and the runner-up the next year.
Giambi remained a productive regular through age 37, well into the drug-testing era. Unlike others from his heyday, he was spared much of the wrath of fans because he was truthful before the Balco grand jury in December 2003. That, of course, was merely his civic duty. But against the backdrop of others who dodged and weaved, Giambi stood out.
“I made the greatest choice ever,” he said. “If you look at how everything’s transpired, my whole thing was over the day I went in front of the grand jury and told the truth. The freeing part, actually, was when my grand jury testimony got leaked. That skeleton in the closet was no longer just waiting to come out.”
With his words laid bare in The San Francisco Chronicle, Giambi could apologize without specifying his transgressions. But everybody knew, and he signed lots of autographs and never chafed at follow-up questions. He was comeback player of the year in 2005, and three years later, in his final season in New York, the Yankees held a giveaway mustache day in his honor. Mike Mussina wore one in the dugout.
Going from scorned to celebrated is one thing. But becoming so respected that he would be a serious managerial candidate, even before retirement, may be Giambi’s most remarkable act.
“The fact that he got interviewed, coming right off the field, speaks volumes,” Francona said. “I think he’d be great.”
Few could match Giambi’s experiences. He has played in the World Series and finished in last place. He has been an M.V.P. and a bench guy, a wild man and a family man, a cheater and a truth-teller. He remains eager to share it all.
“I’ve got a whole dossier of things to do and things not to do,” Giambi said. “I tell people, I’ve lived lifetimes already.”