New York Yankees

The Death of a Superstar – Jason Giambi

And now, starting for the American League All-Star team as voted on by the baseball fans out there… with a stellar 11 home runs, 31 RBI and a .238 batting average, former MVP Jason Giambi!  Every year the fans make a mistake or two with their selections for All-Star game starters, often voting on reputation or recognizable names instead of on how a player has performed in the current season, and that’s not always a bad thing. It brings more star power to the game, which is supposed to be more of an event than a competitive game anyways.  Cal Ripken Jr. was a constant presence in the starting lineup over the years, despite a career that was on a noticeable downward plunge.  But the fans loved him because of the streak that kept him in the public eye, and even more importantly, because they knew who he was.  One year Jose Canseco was voted as a starter despite missing virtually the whole first half of the season due to injury, but he was still the most exciting player in the sport at the time, so he still deserved to be there at a showcase for the sport.  Jason Giambi has no business being at the All-Star Game in 2004.Giambi was once radically different from the man we see before us today.  As a Yankee in 2004, he is a designated hitter that swings for the fences on every pitch and is a risk to his team when he is allowed to play defense.  With his batting average decreasing on a daily basis, he found an excuse to avoid the spotlight of playing baseball thanks to a mysterious injury.  He was infected by a parasite that sucked the energy out of him and caused the once exuberant clubhouse leader of the up-and-coming Oakland A’s dynasty to walk around aimlessly, with none of the swagger that he once brought to the game of baseball.

There was a time when Jason Giambi was poised to become one of those special people that is bigger than the game he plays.  As the unquestioned leader of an Oakland A’s team built on Billy Beane’s infamous cerebral Money Ball approach, Giambi was the free-spirited transcendent force that always came through in big situations and earned the respect of his peers.  Star players like future MVP Miguel Tejada, future Cy Young award winner Barry Zito, Eric Chavez, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder, all looked up to Giambi as their leader.  Jason was exploding with personality and the confidence to be true to himself, and the media took note.  As an Oakland player, Giambi was photographed for the cover of Sports Illustrated with his long hair covering his eyes, rugged facial hair, and big, bold tattoos on full display.  At a time when wrestling leagues like the WWF and ECW were capturing the attention of millions of TV viewers, Major League Baseball had their version of a wrestler, and he had the substance to go along with the showmanship.

Look at him now.  Jason Giambi, fresh off of a playoff series that culminated with his Oakland team blowing a two games to none lead and losing to the Yankees, abandoned his team for the spotlight of New York City.  He does not deserve all of the blame for leaving Oakland, as Billy Beane is a believer that star players are overrated and overpaid.  So to get his market value at the time, Giambi had to jump at George Steinbrenner’s money.  Unfortunately for the baseball public, that also meant he had to adopt the sterile, corporate image of a New York Yankees ballplayer.  It is an organization that prides itself on being “classy” the same way that stockbrokers on Wall Street perceive themselves as classy as they hide behind suits and ties and an immaculate appearance as they shamelessly hustle people out of their money through a ruthless, inhumane, competitive nature.  Giambi entered the big city with reverence for the team’s history and for his new teammates, in the process losing the identity that had him primed to become the next larger-than-life entertainer to extend beyond the sports world to draw new types of fans to baseball.  In New York he was clean shaven, and no longer the dominant leader of a clubhouse that admired him.  The man who felt confident enough to berate his future MVP teammate Tejada in front of the whole world in an elimination game at The Stadium for a base-running mistake, and then seek him out to make sure Tejada understood it was nothing personal, was gone.  Instead of leading, Giambi was part of a machine that was wildly inconsistent, but so powerful that the Yankees still managed to slug and pitch their way into the playoffs.

Giambi was a player whose performance rose from season to season with shocking regularity across the board.  From his first season as an every day player in 1996, to his MVP year of 2000, he increased his number of home runs, RBIs, walks and his batting average steadily, never taking a step backwards in any department.  Here are the numbers to back it up, going from ’96 to ’00: Home runs – 20, 20, 27, 33, 43.  RBI – 79, 81, 110, 123, 137.  Walks – 51, 55, 81, 105, 137.  And Batting Average – .291, .293, .295, .315, .333.  After peaking statistically as the MVP, Giambi followed with yet another monstrous season in 2001, with 38 home runs 120 RBI 129 walks with only 83 strikeouts, and his highest batting average, which was .342.  He was the poster child for the modern hitter; willing to take a walk if a pitch wasn’t exactly where he wanted it, and if it was where he wanted it, he would drive it somewhere with power.  That was when he took his game to New York.

The numbers for Jason Giambi in his first year with the Yankees were still big, but were a step down for him as a hitter in the best lineup he had ever been a part of, and with a short outfield wall in right field that is well-known for boosting the power numbers of left handed pull hitters, which is 100% Giambi.  He pulls balls with such regularity that the opposing team often positions three fielders on the right side of the infield to take away any chance of a grounder rolling through for a hit.  To this day, Giambi refuses to adapt to the way he is defensed.  But his numbers in his first season with the Yankees were  still  41 homers 122 RBIs and a .314 batting average.  He also struck out a career high 112 times, and got off to a slow start as he felt the pressure of playing in New York City, which kept his numbers down.  As the season wore on, Jason became more comfortable with his role, as part of a balanced lineup, but his team’s pitchers were absolutely abused by the eventual World Champion Anaheim Angels in the first round of the playoffs, ending his first season in New York as a disappointing one.  The expectations were that Giambi would now have an understanding of New York and come back in 2003, settled in and better than ever.

Though he hit 41 home runs in 2003, a new Jason Giambi emerged, which is the man we see before us as the laughable All-Star Game starter.  He was once proud enough to demand that he play first base, not Designated Hitter, even though he has been called “a butcher” of a first baseman.  Nagging injuries forced Giambi to take on the role of a man who makes around $12 million every season, not able to play the field or to run fast.  He swings for the fences, strikes out or takes a walk and heads back to the dugout.  His other numbers in 2003 were horrible for a former MVP, as his batting average dropped all the way down to a meager .250, the lowest of his entire big league career, and he struck out 140 times, more than he ever had before.  He was too eager to walk, as he drew 129 of them like the Giambi of old, but he wasn’t coming in through in clutch situations, which can be seen in the 107 runs he drove in, far too little for a man with that kind of power in that lineup.  That’s when the excuses, now a Giambi trademark, started showing up.  He claimed that because his knee was hurt he had to change his whole approach to hitting in order to compensate.  That caused one of the most intimidating presences inside of a batter’s box to seem constantly overpowered by anyone with a decent inside fastball.  Yankee fans, notorious front runners who went so far as to boo a slumping Derek Jeter this season, finally started to become fed up with Giambi.  Sure, he was booed at times when he didn’t produce at the start of his first season in pinstripes, but he never made excuses.  With the excuses, came a closer analysis from the fans that revealed Giambi to be nothing like a former MVP and player to build a lineup around.  He was dropped to a lower spot in the batting order, hitting seventh at times, and that’s when the bizarre and inexplicable happened.

Game 7, the appocolypse.  It was the classic, moment frozen in time, Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium with a chance to break the curse while humiliating Roger Clemens.  The legendary Pedro Martinez was on the mound for the Red Sox with his team leading.  Everyone remembers the Yankee rally when Sox manager Grady Little left Pedro in the game for too long, on the mound to die.  What becomes overlooked in that game is the contribution of Jason Giambi, playing in maybe the biggest game in the history of baseball considering historical context and what was at stake.  Pedro, the Sandy Koufax of his generation, was on the mound looking to cement his legacy as one of the all-time greatest, and there was a shamed Giambi hitting in the 7th spot.  All he did was smack two solo homers off of Pedro to keep his team in the game, making that rally for the ages possible.

It is very frustrating to be a fan of Jason Giambi because he has the ability to come through in those important moments.  He constantly delivered the goods in Oakland, and in the 2003 All-Star game, delivered a vicious rocket of a home run off of the little human flamethrower Billy Wagner.  It was a moment similar to his homers of Pedro, in that Giambi’s blast set up a comeback for the American League, where the invincible Eric Gagne failed for the only time in the midst of his impossible streak of closing games.  That Giambi home run helped the Yankees secure home field advantage in the World Series, thanks to the newly instated rule that rewards the league that wins the All-Star game.  And it was in the World Series, with his team on the road in a crucial game, that Giambi produced his defining moment, which encapsulates everything about his time with Yankees.

With the 2003 World Series tied at two games a piece after the Yankees blew a chance to take a 3-1 death grip on the series, Jason Giambi actually begged his way out of the starting lineup.  Here he was, with his team needing him more than ever, in the pivotal fifth game of a seven game series, and one of the Yankees other primary power threats, Alfonso Soriano, in such a deep slump that he was actually benched for performance reasons.  Still, Giambi asked not to play because, in his own words, “I just didn’t want to hurt us defensively”.  With this game that could have given the Yankees a chance to take a 3-2 lead with two to play at Yankee Stadium, Giambi, whose was partially responsible for securing that home-field advantage, asked not to play because he could not hide behind the designated hitter rule in a National League ballpark.  He tried to put a spin on his actions saying that he was thinking it would be better for the team if he didn’t play.  Then, for the third time in the 2003 season, he did it.  This time as a pinch hitter with his team down by a score of 6-2, he launched another solo home run with his team trailing.  If the Yankees had come back all the way, he would have been a contributor to that rally.  But they failed, and Giambi was called out for his cowardice.  If he could come off the bench and hit a home run in a World Series game just like that, why couldn’t he give his team four at bats?  The Yankees were shut out at home by a Josh Beckett on a mission, and the team with the highest payroll in the history of sports did not win the championship for the third year in a row.

That is who the fans voted to be their All-Star starter in 2004.  Not MVP candidate David Ortiz, Rafael Palmerio as a new member of the 500 home run club, the underappreciated Mike Sweeney, or any number of young rising stars more deserving of the opportunity.  No, instead there will be a starting All-Star first baseman who is caught in the middle of the BALCO steroid controversy, is infected by mysterious parasites, plays as a designated hitter more often than as a sloppy fielding first baseman, and is on pace to drive in about 60 runs and hit a meager 22 home runs in this era of power with a despicable .238 batting average.  That’s former MVP Jason Giambi, your All-Star starter for 2004 by popular vote.

2 replies on “The Death of a Superstar – Jason Giambi”

jumping ship when players jump for more cash, I usually write it off as a business decision.  But, when they go to the Yankees, I root for them to never win a championship with them.  Mostly because I hate the Yankees but also because I’m so sick of people saying they are going to NY to win the series.  Look, you’re there cause Steinbrenner threw enough money at you to make it worth your while to live/work in shithole NYC, dont insult us with any of that championship rhetoric.

Giambi shouldve stayed with the A’s.  Same with Tejada.

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