There is no fun in playing the Steroids Card in Hall of Fame debates. So, let's dispense with that disqualifier when discussing the following question:
Is Jason Giambi a Hall of Famer?
This is probably a question we're already equipped to answer without reference to his admitted steroids abuse.
400 Home Run Club
There was a time when 400 home runs virtually assured a player a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Just ask Billy Williams, a good player who crossed the 400 homer line and made the Hall of Fame ahead of guys like Babe Herman, Sherry Magee, and Norm Cash.
Or ask Dale Murphy, whose exclusion from the Hall is often justified by reference to his 398 career home runs.
However, starting in the early 1990's, a peculiar thing began to happen: 400 home runs was deemed no longer good enough to get a player into the Hall automatically.
It started with Dave Kingman (442), who frankly did not belong in the Hall. Then Darrell Evans (414) fell by the wayside. Andre Dawson (438), the sole player-inducted into the 2010 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, needed nine tries to make the Hall.
The 400 Home Run Club Exclusion was only compounded by the Steroid/Inflation/Expansion/Juiced Ball Era.
After 1993, we added the names Jose Canseco (462), Juan Gonzalez (434), and Fred McGriff (493) to the list of players for whom 400 home runs was insufficient to merit election to the Hall, and McGriff had as many home runs as Lou Freakin' Gehrig.
Throw in the fact that Carlos Delgado (473) is probably well on his way to a Hall snub, and being a member of the 400 Home Run Club probably does very little for Giambi's case.
Another Funny Club
As a post-script to the 400 Home Run Club issue, check this out:
Players With More Than 400 Home Runs But Less Than 2,000 Hits
Mark McGwire: 583/1626
Dave Kingman: 442/1575
Andruw Jones: 404/1825
Juan Gonzalez: 434/1936
Jason Giambi: 412/1907
Jose Canseco: 462/1877
Which of those players seems to be anywhere near sniffing the Hall of Fame right now?
WAR (Hunh!) What is it Good For?
I think–no, wait, sorry–I know that analyzing a player's Hall of Fame credentials by discussing his WAR (which stands for Wins Above Replacement for those not in tune with the newest statistical fad) is silly.
Silly, not because I believe WAR to be a silly statistic or an unworthy statistic or an invalid statistic. I think WAR is very useful.
However, I don't see a day in the near or even distant future when Hall of Fame elections are going to turn on a player's WAR. So I think having a discussion about a player's WAR is, as I said, silly.
Nevertheless . . .
According to BaseballReference.com, Jason Giambi's career WAR ranks him just ahead of Bob Elliott, Cesar Cedeno, Jose Cruz, Harry Hooper, Minnie Minoso, and Ron Cey, and just behind Ichiro Suzuki, Jimmy Collins, Enos Slaughter, Bill Dickey, Bob Johnson, Jack Clark and Stan Hack. At this moment, GIambi is in a dead tie with Norm Cash (there's that name again).
Obviously, Hooper, Dickey, Collins, and Slaughter are in the Hall, and Ichiro will be someday. But most of those players Giambi compares to are not in the Hall of Fame.
If WAR is your standard, Giambi is out.
The strength of Jason Giambi's resume truly lies in his ability to get on base. Outside of two great years–2000 and 2001–Giambi was never a great "hitter" as we usually understand that word in baseball. A lifetime .282 hitter, even during his prime (which we'll say was 1998 to 2006) his batting average was only .293.
For a home run hitter, Giambi wasn't a particularly great "slugger" either. Early in his career, he was a doubles hitter with power (40 doubles and 20 home runs in 1997 and 1998). During his prime, that doubles power coincided with his home run power for only a couple of seasons; he had over 70 extra-base hits only twice in his career.
Part of Giambi's problem, of course, was his health. He managed to play over 150 games only six times in 16 years, and at this late stage in his career he is just now approaching 8500 plate appearances.
If Giambi had stayed healthy, we'd probably be talking 500 home runs instead of 400, and about 2500 hits instead of 1900.
Without belaboring this point, remember that Giambi must be considered in context. Assuming that this is Giambi's last season (not an unfair assumption), Giambi was a rough contemporary (1995-2010) of the following first basemen/designated hitters, most of whom had better career numbers than he did:
Mark McGwire, Frank Thomas, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, Jim Thome, Carlos Delgado, Rafael Palmeiro, Fred McGriff, John Olerud, Albert Pujols, and Mark Teixeira.
Now, we can deign to induct 12 first basemen/designated hitters from the same era into the Hall of Fame if we would like, but it has never been done before, and it wouldn't seem like a very selective process if we did.
What are we going to remember Jason Giambi for? Well, a few things, and not all good:
1) We'll remember Giambi for his 2000 AL MVP.
He was amazing that season: 43 home runs, 137 RBI, a .333 batting average. He led the AL in walks, on-base percentage, and a new statistic we were just learning about, OPS+. And he did it all for an Oakland A's team that defied the odds and beat a strong Seattle Mariners team by half a game to win the AL West.
2) We'll remember Giambi for how well the A's played after he left.
Giambi left the Oakland Athletics as the first of several high-profile stars to leave Oakland in the early part of the last decade. With Giambi in 2001, the A's had gone 102-60 but finished 14 games behind the 116-46 Seattle Mariners. The following year, with Giambi gone, the A's managed to add a game to their win column, finishing 103-59 and winning the AL West.
You may remember that Michael Lewis wrote a book about the A's that season.
3) We'll remember Giambi for how poorly the Yankees played once he arrived in New York.
The year before Giambi joined the Yankees, they went 95-65 and lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in one of the greatest World Series of all time. In 2002, the Yankees improved to 103-58, but lost in the first round of the playoffs. After a trip back to the World Series in 2003–which they lost to the Florida Marlins–the Yankees failed to make it back to the Series again during Giambi's time with the team.
In fact, in his last four seasons with the team, they failed to make the ALCS three years in a row and then failed to even make the playoffs.
Unfortunately for Jason Giambi, his intangibles add little to his otherwise already borderline Hall of Fame credentials.
At the End of the Day . . .
At the end of the day, Jason Giambi's candidacy for the Baseball Hall of Fame–again, steroids aside–has some pretty big issues.
I think Giambi has a pretty big problem on his hands:
Giambi looks a little too much like Jack Clark and Norm Cash, and not nearly enough like Harmon Killebrew and Willie McCovey.