Giambi Continues to Defy Father Time
Craig Gifford | On 16, Aug 2013
Most Major League Baseball players who bat under .200 and hit for average power are not in the big leagues for long. Clearly, Jason Giambi is not like most players.
When the Indians signed the 42-year-old veteran to a minor league deal in February, many fans wondered just what team management was up to. For the first time in years, ownership was showing a willingness to spend money on free agents. The club seemed to have a good, young nucleus with the addition of some quality proven veterans and two-time World Series winning manager Terry Francona. So why on Earth did this team need a past-his prime player who could no longer take the field?
The reasons became pretty apparent, pretty quickly. Tribe brass wanted to bring in a guy who had been through it all as a player. Management wanted to add a veteran to an inexperienced squad who had an extensive postseason resume and strong understanding of how to win in the majors. Cleveland wanted to someone who could be as much a leader in the clubhouse as Francona would be on the management side.
Giambi fit all of those things, especially the leadership aspect. The veteran’s knowledge of the game is so well respected that he received an interview with the Colorado Rockies for their manager vacancy over the winter. When he was selected for the post, Giambi decided to put retirement on hold and try to catch on with one, possibly last, team.
For all of the above reasons, the Indians became that team. They also became that team because of a huge mutual respect Francona and Giambi have for each other. For seven seasons, they were on opposite ends of the game’s greatest rivalry – Francona as Boston’s manager and Giambi as the power-hitting force in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup.
While his intangibles are nice, the Indians were not simply looking for a guy to take up space. They wanted someone who could still produce. That is where all the major concerns lied in the preseason. Giambi had not had one of his huge campaigns since 2008. Though he did contribute 13 homers to the Rockies as recently as 20011, he looked washed up in 2012, belting just one homer in 89 at bats.
Still, the Indians wanted to take a flier. He showed just enough in spring training to make the Major League roster. It helped that utility players Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles also made the squad. Raburn and Aviles can both play multiple positions, allowing Cleveland the luxury to have a designated hitter/pinch hitter-only player on its bench.
The decision has not been a regretful one. Granted, Giambi is hitting only .190. However, He has done much more than your typical paltry batting average guy. Not only has Giambi been a major asset for a good club house dynamic, he has also been a clutch hitter. Without the league’s third-oldest player, the Indians would likely have lost a few of the games they won. Instead of having hopes of a Wild Card playoff spot, discussions would be squarely centered on how the team could improve next year.
Giambi’s ability to still get the job done was on full display in the Tribe’s 9-8 road win over Minnesota on Wednesday. In the afternoon tilt that allowed the Indians to pick up some ground in the wild card standings, Giambi had a pair of hits. The biggest was a three-run, eighth-inning home run that turned a 7-4 deficit into a 7-7 tie. Without the Giambino channeling his younger self, the Tribe would not have taken the game to extra innings, much less won it.
That was by no means Giambi’s first big time hit. On July 29, he set the Progressive Field crowd home happy when he delivered a game-winning blast against the White Sox. In doing so, he became the oldest player in MLB history to hit a walk-off homer. On July 2, he delivered what proved to be the game-winning RBI on an eighth-inning jack against the Royals. At the moment, that bomb is keeping the Indians ahead of Kansas City in the division and, more-importantly, tight Wild Card race.
Giambi has been proving all year, that Father Time has not quite caught up to him. In one of his first game with Cleveland, he mashed a long ball and collected five RBI against Houston on April 20.
The veteran’s numbers stand at 8 home runs and 28 RBI. Certainly those are not great numbers. For a younger or lesser-caliber player, they would be a ticket out of town. Giambi’s worth, however, cannot be measured in pure numbers. The hits he has put up have come in important times. Having become one of the most popular players in the Tribe clubhouse, he is setting positive example the other guys are very willing to fallow. When Giambi does come through it is an igniter for the rest of the team as it seems to wake everyone up.
Without Giambi, the Indians are probably not making a push for the postseason. He is well worth having on the team and is likely one of the biggest reasons the team has not yet wilted in the August heat as it did the last two seasons.
Photo: Mark Duncan/AP Photo