His career, like many of his contemporaries, has not followed the script that he, his father, or his agent imagined. There have been glitzy signings, heroic appearances on late-night TV, accusations, mea culpas, public demotions, unusual contract clauses, and shockingly negative fan receptions in Oakland and New York.
All this from a guy that is extremely well-liked by his teammates, honest and forthright with the media, and charitable in his support of the community.
Nonetheless, Jason Giambi does personify the "Juiced" era of baseball because he has been the flashpoint of Moneyball realities and public humiliation.
I attended Giambi's first game back in Oakland as a highly paid member of the visiting Yankees. I remember it well, not only for the sheer volume and intensity of the reception but because there was a group of 12-year-old female Yankees fans that I shouted down all afternoon. (I never realized that you could shout yourself into a cold).
It was Giambi therapy. He represented everything that I hated about the game. Team leader turns down a generous contract with his home team to sign a better contract featuring a pivotal no-trade clause with George Steinbrenner and the Evil Empire.
He was the first to leave from that upstart crew of homegrown talent. In eight short years, they're all gone, save Eric Chavez—possibly the nicest guy in the game. The oft-injured third baseman can probably not wait to see his buddy back in the rowdy clubhouse he once ruled.
The beer is gone, but there is a lot of water under the bridge, as well. Oakland fields an odd team of talented youth with little or no experience. Billy Beane typically signs an aging vet as a second bench coach (David Justice, Frank Thomas, Mike Piazza); this time, that leadership will come from their own.
Why does Giambi stir such emotion from A's fans? We all respect his talent and personality. It's his decision-making and naivete that drove us batty. He thought that he could go to New York with that flawed swing and .300 average and garner the same love he received from the grateful East Bay. Wrong.
It seems that Yankees fans looked at Giambi as a prospect and that his accomplishments in the heart of the Quadruple-A A's were irrelevant. As a Bronx Bomber, he changed his approach so drastically to hit that right-field short porch that his contact, bat speed, and eye went out the window. Bad move.
A's fans were happy when he was on the basepaths starting a two-out rally from the third spot in the order. His heroics in New York seemed to be only of the ninth-inning-homer-to-right-field type.
But chicks dig the long ball, right? Maybe he would have escaped the intense scrutiny if he stayed a complete player instead of a DH looking for 50 or bust. A's fans quickly realized that Giambi paid in full in embarrassment and diminishing skills in the Big Apple, and the bad feelings subsided. So is this signing pouring salt in the wounds or the coronation of the returning king?
At $3-4 million guaranteed for a year, not that much will be expected from the prospective cleanup hitter. Protected by Matt Holliday and Jack Cust will be an amazing opportunity for this vindicated slugger to find many gaps and pile up the RBI.
Most of all, Oakland needs some publicity badly as they try and build their ballpark complex in Fremont. A little ESPN attention and rock-n-roll lifestyle could help entice Holliday into signing longterm with this team and its glitzy plans for Cisco Field.
It's a good move with little downside. I think that Oakland welcomes back their bad boy with the hope that the magic returns and rubs off in the right way on this young team.