Is the "Giambino" Era Over? A Definitive Look at Giambi's Rollercoaster Ride

Erik DianaCorrespondent IOctober 6, 2008

Just like that, it's over! That's what Giambi's seven-year, $120 million deal feels like. Remember back in 2002, Giambi was supposed to be the guy that was going to help the Yankees become invincible again?

The Yankees had just lost an incredible World Series and the only thing they seemed to be missing was a slugger that could not only drive in runs but could get on base and hit for a high average. Giambi was the very epitome of what the Yankees thought they needed!

The Yankees even released one of the main cogs in their dynastic run of the late 1990s in Tino Martinez to make room for Giambi. Joe Torre even gave his blessing to letting Martinez go to bring Jason Giambi.

This is sort of when the Yankees forgot what made them into champions and Steinbrenner tried to buy the heart and soul that those teams that won the 23rd-26th championships had.

Also, what hurt Giambi's arrival into the Bronx was the retirement of Paul O'Neill. He would have been the model Yankee for him to follow, along with Jeter and Rivera. O'Neill's influence on Giambi would have either further stifled him in New York or challenged him and made him better.

Giambi was not your typical superstar. He was accountable (for the most part), self-deprecating, and was a good interview for the many beat writers that cover the team.

Giambi started his career in pinstripes as an outsider and eventually became an endearing figure for Yankees fans. (And really who can't find that porn-stache of his amazing?)

The Yankees looked past the fact that he may have been a steroid user. There was really no reliable way to tell, and they couldn't have afforded to lose him to the Red Sox just because of these suspicions. What made Giambi vilified was the fact that Arn Tellem, Giambi's agent, had the word "steroids" removed from his slugger's contract.

It was not going to be a question of "if" Giambi would help get the Yankees over the hump, it was only a question of how many rings he would win in pinstripes. It was an afterthought for Giambi to be in the World Series every year now. (This sounds a lot like February of 2004, when A-Rod came aboard too doesn't it?)

The Yankees were riding the wave of all the years of making it to the World Series, there was no revenue sharing yet, and George Steinbrenner was dead set on plowing ahead with spending as much money as he could to get the Yankees back on top.

Steinbrenner was so dead set on getting Giambi that he probably would have fired Brian Cashman if he failed to sign him. Steinbrenner decided, midway through the 2001 season, that Giambi would be a Yankee and didn't care what the cost was.

He even bid against himself to get Giambi into the Bronx! Seven years and $120 million to a guy that was an offensive superstar from Oakland. (The signing was slightly reminiscent of Reggie Jackson—come to think of it, A-Rod's arrival into the Bronx was too, but I digress.)

Obviously, he would never admit this, but I think if Giambi had to do it all over again, he would have stayed in Oakland. Maybe, maybe not. Sure, the brief highs that Giambi experienced in Yankeeland were in the stratosphere, but the lows were equal to the depths that very few ballplayers have ever endured.

All in all, you would have to say that Giambi had one wild ride in pinstripes! He survived every moment of it and was professional about a lot of it.

In 2002, Giambi struggled with the enormous expectations that come with wearing those pinstripes. (It also didn't help that he wore the number 25, which is what Joe Girardi, a very popular Yankee player a few years back wore. If you add the two and five up, it equals the number seven, which is Giambi's dad John's favorite player: Mickey Mantle!)

Giambi seemed to breakthrough against the Twins in extra innings by unleashing a grand slam and finally bought some breathing room. In 2002, Giambi was great, slightly artificial, but great. His batting stats were a .314 average, with a .435 OBP, 41 home runs, 122 RBI, and a gaudy 1.033 OPS. Those numbers are insane for someone's first year in New York.

In 2003, Giambi's average dropped to .250, but he made up for it with two huge home runs against Pedro Martinez (the supposed best pitcher of his generation) in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS, arguably the greatest game that Yankee Stadium ever saw.

What a lot of people don't remember is that he was dropped to seventh in the order that night. (A-Rod wasn't the first superstar slugger that Torre demoted in the lineup.)

He also lost a lot of respect from his teammates and the organization for not playing Game Five of the 2003 World Series with a knee injury. (That was also the game that David Wells left the first inning with a back injury.) The Yankees ultimately lost that World Series. (Everyone sort of forgot that because of the way they beat Boston and the fact that A-Rod came bursting into town.)

2004 was the lowest of the low for Giambi. He left the team for a significant amount of time dealing with a tumor on his pituitary gland. He was so bad when he came back that Torre and the rest of the coaching staff elected not to put their slugger, who was making almost $20 million, on the playoff roster.

It only got worse for Giambi. His sealed grand-jury testimony was leaked, and he was now front and center in the steroids saga that engulfed baseball. He and Barry Bonds were the posterboys for the BALCO Era that baseball painfully waded through.

In 2005, Giambi began the season slowly, and it appeared that it would only get worse. At that point, Giambi was owed four years and around $82 million. A lot of people wondered if he would be designated for assignment. The Yankees made subtle efforts to have his contract voided (the MLBPA and the Players Union never would have let that happen!)

And he even humiliated himself by offering a lame apology (he never actually said what he was apologizing for either, the whole scene was weird).

Giambi did have one ally that may have kept him afloat in Derek Jeter. Jeter defended him publicly, not in a controversial way, which is a Jeter characteristic. Jeter noted to the press that what Jose Canseco and what Giambi did was different because of the ramifications that were in play in how both people admitted their steroid use.

He also promised to stick by his friend and fellow Yankee. (Many people, not me, thought he left A-Rod in the wind in 2006).

Through hard work and the Yankees hope, Giambi eventually put together a solid campaign that netted him the Comeback Player of the Year Award. (What exactly he was coming back from was widely mocked, but he still won the award.) And in the five-game playoff series to the Angels later that fall, Giambi batted .421 in that series. (A-Rod's flameout that year certainly kept a lot of the spotlight off of him, too. This time it would have been positive overall.)

In 2006, Giambi bashed 37 home runs and seemed to be a beloved fixture on the team. It also helped him out big time that A-Rod was getting lambasted and castigated by the fans and the press that year!

Giambi seemed to be in the clear when all of New York had their eyes set towards A-Rod. Most people forget that he batted .125 that postseason. (Again, he can thank A-Rod for taking the majority of the heat off of him!)

Giambi had an injury-riddled year in 2007 and only played in 83 games because of a foot injury. For most of the year, he was a non-factor. His deal thankfully appeared to be reaching an ending point, and he would be one of the many huge Yankee contracts coming off of their books. (A-Rod's amazing year kept the media scrutiny off of him again.)

In 2008, Joe Girardi implored him to show up in game shape and ready to play first base. Giambi did do that, and he had a year that you would expect from a 37-year old. He left many players on base and was terrible defensively sometimes. He did hit 32 home runs and almost got to the 100 RBI plateau.

He finally was accepted by the fans and organizations in 2008. The Yankees started a huge advertising campaign to get him to the All-Star Game. They gave away free replica mustaches to get the fans involved in online voting. (No one cared that he may or may not have been wearing a gold thong to the plate when he was batting.)

There's no way in hell that the Yankees will pick up Giambi's option! But he may be back at a lower price. If he does sign somewhere else, it would be kind of sad. Giambi's tenure as a Yankee has been a microcosm of what fame and fortune can bring: The highs were high and the lows were low! And it was in front of everyone. (It also could have been a lot worse too if people weren't killing A-Rod publicly, too.)

Jason Giambi probably changed the Yankees paradigms for signing players in their 30s to long-term contracts, too. You'll never see them ante up for a player that old ever again, now that the Steroids Era is practically over (except for A-Rod).

Jason Giambi never did help the Yankees win a World Series title in the life of this enormous contract. He failed in many big spots and bottomed out in many at-bats in the postseason. He came through in a few moments. Giambi's legacy certainly is a mixed bag.

It would be myopic to say that his deal is the worst deal ever. Carl Pavano's deal and Barry Zito's deal probably will be viewed as a lot worse. Hell, even A-Rod's deal could wind up being a lot worse!

Giambi was a great teammate for the most part. (It's still odd that he went into Torre's office and told Joe to quit coddling A-Rod in the summer of 2006.) Ultimately, his time, if it is truly over, was disappointing because the Yankees got older, slower, and regressed defensively, and Giambi seemed to resemble that.

He had some great moments and some really humiliating ones, too. He played on some great teams with amazing ball players next to him. I'm sure he'll look back on his time in the Bronx and be in awe of it when he's retired.

All in all, Jason Giambi had one wild ride in Yankee pinstripes!


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