Jason Giambi's Return to Oakland Comes to Sad Conclusion

Ray YockeContributor IAugust 11, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 23:  Jason Giambi #16 of the Oakland Athletics watches his 400th career home run go over the outfield wall in the fourth inning of their game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Oakland Coliseum on May 23, 2009 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Jason Giambi’s release last week likely signified the end of his career, his journey ending in the same place it started.

He never won a title, never fulfilled that final bit of promise expected of him. Just like Chris Webber, another star-crossed athlete who bitterly fled Oakland before making one final post-retirement return, Giambi never won a title, never fulfilled that last bit of promise expected of him.

And just like Webber, the Giambi that revisited Oakland was a shell of his former self. The 2009 Jason Giambi was a bad Hollywood remake, resembling the original version in name only.

Giambi’s release was embarrassing for both he and the A’s, who will save $5 million by not having to pay his salary next year. Considering all that he’s meant to this franchise, no one could have expected that Giambi would eventually represent a “Cash for Clunkers” opportunity for the A’s.

At the press conference announcing Giambi’s signing, Billy Beane joked that the signing was like reuniting with his ex-wife, but the arrangement ended up being more of a fling than a reunion.

When he returned, Giambi showed up sporting a grey goatee and a scarf-shirt. Immediately, it was apparent that this wasn’t the same person who left back in 2001. Giambi left Oakland looking like an extra from Sons of Anarchy, and returned a member of Project Runway.

The team tried to force-feed Giambi back to the fans, making him the most prominent member of their marketing efforts for the 2009 season. The A’s even hung a giant poster of Giambi above the main entrance to the Coliseum, as though he were a returning hero rather than a player whose loyalty disappeared at the drop of a checkbook.

But A's fans knew better than to vigorously embrace his return. The Oakland faithful have learned not to get too attached to individual players, knowing it’s only a matter of time before their favorite Athletics are cashing their paychecks elsewhere.

It was Giambi who taught them that lesson, betraying any optimistic fans who believed him when he said he was sticking around back in 2001.

At the time Giambi signed with New York, it was impossible to picture him as anything other than an Oakland Athletic. He’d worked hard to develop his reputation as a long-haired, beer-drinking, motorcycle-riding, stubble-growing rebel. Ever the non-conformist, Giambi was the leader of a young team who followed his every move.

That changed overnight, as Giambi instantly embraced all that he once seemed to oppose. He went corporate in an instant, and A’s fans hated him for it. Giambi became Robert the Bruce, going from hero to villain by choice, turning his back on something he had helped to create.

As one of the first big-money free agents signed by the Yankees in the Jeter Era, Giambi came to represent the excess which became New York’s calling card as they shifted away from homegrown players.

Giambi helped the Yankees to only a single World Series appearance, and it took him years before the town fully embraced him. It wasn’t until New York fans overwhelmingly forgave Giambi’s steroid use that he finally grew comfortable in pinstripes, a mere four years after he arrived.

In his final season with the Yankees, New York even held a Moustache Day to honor Giambi’s famous facial accessory, and he finally seemed to have the same connection with the Bronx that he once had with Oakland. But New York decided not to bring Giambi back in 2009, and he once again found himself leaving a situation seemingly tailor-made for him.

When Giambi bolted for the Yankees in 2001, he was undeniably an Oakland Athletic. But when he returned this winter, he was a New York Yankee through and through. For the second time in his career, Giambi ended up leaving town after establishing himself as a franchise leader.

Yet the saddest part of Jason Giambi’s career is that for being such a great player, he’s quickly become an afterthought.

As time passes in Oakland, he’ll be just another name on the list of players who grew too expensive for the A’s. Hudson, Mulder, Zito, Tejada, Damon, Dye, Haren, Harden—the list grows longer each year, making Giambi’s name resonate less and less.

Baseball as a whole won’t remember him for his MVP award or All-Star appearances. Instead, he’ll forever be associated with the infamous steroid scandals, joining Bonds, Canseco, McGwire, Sosa, and Palmeiro as premier sluggers who will be remembered for what they took rather than what they accomplished.

As more and more stars are Boston-Red-Sox-Examiner%7Ey2009m7d30-Bostons-Ostrich-Syndrome-Ortiz-and-Manny" target="_blank">linked to the juice, Giambi’s relevance will continue to diminish.

A player once so loud and boisterous is going out with a whimper, released on a Friday afternoon as though his team were trying to hide it.

The chances of Giambi hooking up with another team are unlikely: he can't field, he can't run, he can't hit, and he doesn't even walk anymore. Most teams don’t have an extra spot in lineup for players like that.

In Oakland, the A’s will go about building an entirely new offense to support their young pitching staff, the same course they traveled last winter.

With Giambi gone and Eric Chavez on his way out, the last vestiges of the Moneyball era are gone. It’s a new franchise now, but it’s once again built on a trio of young starters and a platoon of young hitters coming up through the system together.

That’s how Beane built the A’s 10 years ago, and it’s almost as though Giambi stopped by just to pass the torch in Chavez’s absence.

The most important Oakland player in more than a decade is now sitting at home, unwanted and irrelevant. Meanwhile, the A’s are mired in last place, hopeful that a new wave of young talent can learn to win before fleeing for greener pastures.

The A’s are back in the same spot where Jason Giambi originally found them. Now they’ll have to see if they can do it all over again without him.

The Oakland Sports Examiner: New columns every Tuesday and Thursday.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.