Giambi appreciates time in pinstripes
Wild ride with Yankees could be coming to end for slugger
TORONTO -- Jason Giambi is aware that he may be putting on his Yankees uniform for the final time this weekend, ending a dizzying seven-year run in pinstripes filled with ups and downs.
The slugger believed that the Yankees would have won a few World Series titles over that span, and finds it a little difficult to believe that they won't have a chance in 2008. But Giambi lives without regrets, and reflects that time really has flown by.
"I'm a better person, no doubt about it," Giambi said. "It's been incredible. The baseball has been fun and I got a chance to play with some of the greatest players in this game. Unfortunately, we didn't win a World Series, but it wasn't for lack of trying."
The Yankees have not ruled out a return from Giambi in 2009, and general manager Brian Cashman has already reached out to Giambi to gauge his interest in playing in New York for another season. Giambi said that Cashman told him he would need to figure out his own situation first. Cashman's contract expires Oct. 31 and, though the Yankees want him back, he is waiting until after the season to decide.
The Yankees figure to evaluate Giambi as they would any other free agent, primed to buy out his $22 million option at a price of $5 million. Giambi's response to Cashman was that he is interested in a multi-year deal but would love to stay, as he hopes to play into his 40s.
"It's been fun -- it's been awesome," Giambi said. "I think that's the thing you miss out on when you play in California, that passion. We're from the beach and we just like to hang out. It was really fun to be thrust into that atmosphere every single night. You really come to love it as a ballplayer."
One of the turning moments of Giambi's time in New York came on July 9 of this season, when the Yankees sponsored a giveaway of 20,000 faux mustaches in a "Support the 'Stache" promotion, intended to rally Giambi's candidacy for the All-Star Game Final Vote.
Giambi wound up in Las Vegas for the All-Star break instead of at Yankee Stadium, but a candid conversation with YES Network broadcaster David Cone that month really set a deeper meaning for the whole mustache event.
"[Cone] said, 'You got the fans back,'" Giambi said. "You worked hard and you've been that guy and you were honest. I worked hard to get back where I was, and at the same time, still being that player and playing to that caliber of baseball I played before."
Giambi has succeeded in proving his doubters wrong, playing through a full season at age 37 with no injury concerns. Giambi entered Thursday's game batting .251 with 32 home runs and 95 RBIs, and with no foot injuries to slow him, has started 109 games at first base after making just 16 starts there in 2007. That makes Yankees manager Joe Girardi believe that there is a lot left in Giambi's tank, no matter where he finds a home for 2009.
"I think Jason can continue to be productive," Girardi said. "He's done everything that we've asked. He's stayed healthy the whole year. He's played nine innings at first as much as he's probably played in a long time."
It was Girardi who was among Giambi's most outspoken supporters this season, from the moment he accepted the managerial post in November. Girardi called Giambi at home and told him that he expected him to be ready to play upwards of 100 games defensively at first base.
That was welcome news to Giambi, who historically hits better when he plays the field. Able to begin a running program after losing months of last season to a torn plantar fascia, Giambi reported to Spring Training in shape and reaped the rewards.
"He's been through a lot, but he responded very well this year," Girardi said. "It's something that he should be proud of."
That would have seemed a long shot during Giambi's early days in pinstripes. Signing a seven-year, $120 million contract before the 2002 season, Giambi hit .314 with 41 homers and 122 RBIs, overcoming a slow start by announcing his presence on the New York stage with a May 17 grand slam in the rain against the Twins. He also had a productive 2003 (.250, 41 HR, 107 RBIs), but injuries and maladies began to set in.
Giambi missed time with an intestinal parasite and a benign tumor in 2004, playing only 80 games, and testimony was leaked from a federal grand jury to which he had admitted previous use of human growth hormone. Giambi rebounded to win the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award in '05, though he admitted that was far from a certainty.
|"I got a chance to play with some of the greatest players in this game."|
|-- Jason Giambi, on his run with the Yankees|
It was during those darkest of days, marked by an apology unspecific in nature, that Giambi realized what he had with the Yankees. He recalled how a comment to the media from Yankees captain Derek Jeter resounded with him.
"When it all came out and I was basically the only guy, it was very controversial," "Jeter stepped up and said, 'Listen, he's my teammate and he's my friend and we welcome him back.' It's huge for a guy like Derek Jeter. It's a very controversial issue for who he is and what he represents. For him to do that, he's a great friend and I'll never forget it."
For Giambi, the biggest moments have been witnessing his teammates' achievements. He points to the accolades and honors earned by Alex Rodriguez, Jeter and Mariano Rivera over the seven years.
"When you look back, being here is like being in a time capsule," Giambi said. "I'm sure it was like that when those guys played with Mantle. All the great things that people have accomplished here, not only individually but as a team. We're going to step back someday and view this as a time of the greats of the game."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.