The time was May 1995 when a 24-year-old kid from West Covina, Calif., Jason Giambi, made it to the bigs with a last-place Oakland Athletics team consisting of the remnants of once three-time AL pennant winners and Tony LaRussa still managing.
Giambi was a third baseman by trade, but the A’s were set at the hot corner with up-and-comer (and eventual ’98 World Series MVP and ’99 Gold Glove winner with the Yankees) Scott Brosius, on a team that still had Rickey Henderson in left field, Terry Steinbach catching, and Mark McGwire at first base.
In 1996, Giambi saw fulltime duty as a “utility player,” starting 138 games at left field, first base, third base, and designated hitter where he hit .291 and belted 20 HRs with 79 RBIs.
Since he had proven himself at the plate, starting the 1997 season, Giambi was a fish-out-of-water as the A’s regular left fielder. After a .982 fielding percentage in the outfield, it was the McGwire trade to the Cardinals that year that landed Giambi a stable home at first base – where most A’s fans know him best.
Giambi repeatedly has given credit to McGwire, also a converted third baseman, for teaching him the ins-and-outs of the position.
After a few seasons in the cellar of the AL West, the A’s eventually began to build around their young superstar with player debuts of Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, Ben Grieve, and Ramon Hernandez and a youthful pitching staff of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder. For the first time in eight seasons the A’s saw playoff action in 2000 with a first place standing in the AL West. The A’s went on to lose the ALDS to the Yankees in five games, even after taking a 2-0 game lead.
Giambi was awarded for a 2000 season effort of a .333 BA, 43 HRs, and 137 RBIs with the AL MVP for 2000.
In 2001, the A’s once again saw postseason action after going an amazing 102-60, but again lost to the Yankees in five games of the ALDS (thanks, in part, to a “non-slide” by Jason’s brother Jeremy and Derek Jeter’s flip in Game 3 with a two game to zero A’s series lead).
At age 30, Giambi (.342, 47, 147), was runner up as the MVP went to the A’s shortstop, Miguel Tejada.
After seven seasons with the A’s where he was a two-time All-Star, Giambi, a fan favorite and team leader, opted for the glitz of New York and the Yankee winning ways, leaving for the Bronx Bombers with a swaying $120-million, seven-year deal for the 2002 season.
As a Yankee, Giambi spent the next seven years appearing in three All-Star Games, but only saw one World Series, losing to the Florida Marlins in 2003 in six games.
At the beginning of 2009, Giambi returned to the A’s – who were again in the cellar – but was released in August after playing 83 games with only a .193 BA and 11 HRs.
Over his 20 seasons Giambi also wore unis with the Rockies and Indians and in those 20 seasons finished his career batting .277, with 405 doubles, 440 HRs, 1,441 RBIs and a .516 Slugging percentage – definitely impressive numbers.
And now at age 44, he retires.
To you, Jason; thanks for all the memories in Oakland. (There’s a personal story of my then 90+ year-old grandfather and him both talking about their ailments in the Diamond Level in 2001, but that’s for another time.)
You were always a favorite, I wish you the best.