This week marked a moment that Tribe fans have been waiting for since the season started – the return of Jason Giambi. The veteran ball player has been out and rehabbing this season since he broke a rib after being hit by a pitch during Spring Training in mid-March.
Giambi was one of the most suprising and beneficial pickups that the Tribe made during the 2013 off-season. He was signed as a free agent with the Indians in February of 2013 after playing with the Colorado Rockies, and was re-signed by the Indians in November 2013. What made Giambi’s signing so noteworthy was the amount of time that he has spent in baseball. Giambi was initially signed in 1992 by the Oakland Athletics in the second round of the amateur draft, and made his Major League debut in 1995, putting him at more than 20 years of baseball service.
At first glance, it may seem that signing and obtaining a player of Giambi’s age – he is 43 years old – is not the wisest move to make. Teams should be focused on younger players and guys with more potential for longevity, right? And it can be argued that signing someone as old as Giambi is really just a recipe for disaster because he will – inevitably – wind up injured and sidelined since he’s so much older than the rest of team.
These arguments are not unfounded – it makes sense to claim that older players have more of an opportunity for injury than others and their careers are, naturally, closer to their ends than their beginnings. While it seems to be a natural response to obtain younger players who have more playing years ahead of them, there are also benefits to having players such as Giambi on a team.
The strength that Giambi brings to a team surpasses more than just a numerical and statistical addition to the roster. He brings with him years of knowledge and understanding of the game, and he is able to serve as a mentor to the younger players who are still developing their mental and physical careers. He serves as a bit of a player/manager, in a less official sense of the phrase, giving younger players guidance as to how to react and deal with certain complicated situations faced during the game.
Furthermore, Giambi brings practical experience to the team, having been named an All-Star on five separate occasions, awarded the Silver Slugger Award twice, and named to the MVP list seven times. He knows what it takes to physically be a good, noticeable player, giving him the tools to pass on this knowledge to the players younger than him. Furthermore, having played in the system for so long gives Giambi an in-depth understanding of the players, teams, and other organizations faced throughout the league. He has likely batted against pitchers that younger players haven’t and has been privy to different organizational structures and team mentalities that, again, younger players haven’t had the opportunity to experience yet.
Giambi is not alone in his position as an older MLB player. Bartolo Colon in 40 years old and, despite the saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, he is returning to the National League from a 12-year hiatus, meaning he is also returning to the batter’s box. And while Colon’s at-bats do more from a humorous standpoint than from a talent-level point of view, he is not letting his age deter him. David Ortiz is 38 and hit 30 homers last season. Derek Jeter is 39 and one of the most well-known players in the game, and has already created a legacy that will follow him after his final season this year. Age is nothing but a number, and it’s the player behind the age that contributes to the success far more than the age itself.
And Giambi is far more than just a number. Last season, he was arguably the most valuable .183 hitter in the game. He hit nine home runs in 71 games and drove in 31 runs, a testament to his ability to still contribute on the field just as much as off.
During the Indians more difficult runs last season, Giambi was known to hold player-only meetings to talk to the team about what was needed in order to turn the season around. His seasoned judgment and wise words seemed to be the sort of encouragement the squad needed throughout the rougher parts of year.
Known for his golden good luck thong, Giambi brings an incomparable presence to a team, contributing both wisdom, knowledge, and a bit of fun to keep spirits high.
And, if nothing else, older roster players leave many opportunities for records to be set and acknowledgment and excitement to be had. Last season, Giambi became the oldest player to hit a walk-off homerun on July 29 – then broke his own record when he hit a walk-off on September 24 in what would become a season-saving win for the Indians and something broadcaster Tom Hamilton would come to refer to as “Mardi Gras in September.”
It’s excitement like that that makes older players an invaluable part of a Major League roster. Older players are old enough to understand when to take the game seriously, old enough to under the power of superstition and the power of a golden thong, but still young enough to know when to relax, have some fun, and let the game play out as it’s supposed to. Yes, he is nearing the end of his career and may not be on the field much longer as a player. However, Giambi is showing that a season doesn’t have to end just because age tells you it must. The Indians without Giambi is, quite honestly, not really a full team at all.
Photo: Tony Dejak/AP Photo