Saturday, August 8, 2009
Jason Giambi: What Is His Legacy?
After 8 turbulent years with the Yankees, the Giambino went back to the Oakland Athletics this season. In 98 games, he hit 11 home runs, but batted just .198, and they released him. He's 38. Whether he's done is not quite clear, but what is clear is that the 2 teams with whom he's spent his entire career no longer want him. Unclear is who would want him.
A broken-down, heavy 1st baseman with a checkered past, and occasionally a bad attitude, plenty of power but strikes out too much, no speed and not much defense... Are you thinking what I'm thinking? I'm thinking Jason Giambi may be about to meet the Mets!
If Giambi isn't done, then done is now within view. Chances are, his career stats are not going to improve by much, so let's examine them:
Lifetime batting average, .282. Good, but hardly great.
Four times batting over .300, with a peak of .342.
On-base percentage, .405. Very good.
Slugging percentage, .527. Great.
OPS, .932. Very good.
OPS+, 143. Great.
Hits, 1,864. Good, but not even very good.
Eight times hit at least 30 home runs in a season; three times, 40; peak, 43.
Seven times at least 100 RBIs, including six straight; peak, 137.
Five times hit at least 30 doubles; peak, 47.
Seven seasons of 100 or more strikeouts -- but also seven seasons of 100 or more walks, which explains why his batting average isn't Hall of Fame-worthy but his on-base percentage is.
Five-time All-Star. Nice, but hardly evocative of HOF worthiness.
Most Valuable Player in the American League in 2000, and finished 2nd in the voting in 2001.
Postseason play: Reached Playoffs 8 seasons, all in a row: 2000 and 2001 with Oakland, 2002 through 2007 with the Yankees. Won Pennant with Yankees in 2003. Batted .289, on-base .405, slugged .489, OPS 909, 7 homers, 18 RBIs, in 42 games. Batted .286 and .353 in his two postseason appearances for the A's, so don't blame him for their losses. Nor for the Yanks' loss in the 2002 ALDS, when he hit .357. Batted .231 in the 2003 ALCS, but hit 2 homers in Game 7, making the 4 straight doubles of the 8th inning and Aaron Boone's homer in the 11th possible. But, in his only World Series appearance, batted .235 with just 1 RBI, on a solo homer. His various ailments kept him off the 2004 postseason roster entirely, not the biggest reason the Yankees didn't win the Pennant but a noticeable one. Batted .421 in the 2005 ALDS, but just .125 in the 2006 ALDS. Overall postseason record: Mixed, and except for one game not especially heroic. In other words, he doesn't help himself much here.
In an entry on June 26, 2008, I tried to judge Giambi's worthiness based on his career home run total, then at 381, comparing it to other players, both in the Hall and not. Let's try it again, with his current (final?) total:
Home runs, 407. Same number as Duke Snider. Looking at other players in the Hall of Fame, that's more than Al Kaline, George Brett, Rickey Henderson, Robin Yount, Roberto Clemente and Paul Molitor -- but those guys all had over 3,000 hits.
It's more than Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter, Roy Campanella, Gabby Hartnett, Bill Dickey and Ernie Lombardi -- but those guys were catchers.
It's more than Ryne Sandberg, Joe Morgan and Brooks Robinson -- but those guys were elected for their defense as much as for their offense.
It's more than Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Mize and Hank Greenberg -- but those guys each missed 3, and in Hank's case 4 , seasons due to serving in World War II.
It's more than Orlando Cepeda, Ralph Kiner, Kirby Puckett and Joe Medwick -- but those guys, as well as Campanella, DiMaggio and Greenberg, had their careers shortened by injuries.
It's more than Hack Wilson -- but he shortened his own career with alcoholism, and he's really only in the Hall because of one season, 1930, when he set a National League record with 56 home runs (presumably only broken by Ryan Howard with 58, unless he proves dirty, too) and a major league record with 191 RBIs.
It's more than Al Simmons, Rogers Hornsby, Chuck Klein, Earl Averill and Jim Bottomley -- but those guys started out before the Lively Ball Era really took hold; and besides, Simmons and Hornsby had almost 3,000 hits, Hornsby batted .358 lifetime, and Klein was a lefthanded hitter who had a 280-foot right-field fence at Baker Bowl in Philadelphia, something even Giambi didn't have at Yankee Stadium (314 at the time).
And it's more than Larry Doby -- but, like Campy, he was elected with the full knowledge that he missed some potentially big seasons due to the color line.
That leaves Tony Perez and the newly-inducted Jim Rice -- and would you take Jason Giambi over either of them? Even if you didn't know about his, uh, problem?
We know Giambi used steroids. He apologized -- without really admitting. Do we take that into consideration?
Here's my take on Giambi, and what I think should be Yankee Fans' take on him: He does not deserve the Hall of Fame, or Monument Park, or even, though his story is compelling, a Yankeeography.
But he was a really good hitter for a long time, even without steroids. And he never acted like an ass, which is not something you can say about a lot of players, not that I'm going to mention any names, not even the one who hit the 15th inning homer to win it last night.
For the Yankees, the Giambi experiment failed. But that doesn't mean he was a failure. He had a fun career, and that's more than we mere mortals who were not blessed with that kind of talent can ever have.
And Giambi appreciates this. For that, alone, he has my appreciation, and (sometimes) my respect. Not a bad legacy to have.