Jason Giambi’s days as a masher are mainly behind him. His muscular, tattooed arms are as carved as ever, but the hair around his temples is dusted gray. In the late innings of his career, he’s a mentor.
The stately slugger. And at 42, Giambi knows he’s down to his final swings as a major leaguer.
He’ll try to make them count with Cleveland.
After contemplating retirement and interviewing to be Colorado’s manager, Giambi signed a minor league contract this month with the Indians, who are confident the 18-year veteran can not only bring them some power as a part-time designated hitter but also help teach their younger players.
“He’s not just a veteran guy. He’s like THE veteran,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I truly feel like it’s an honor that he’s in our camp. That’s how strongly I feel about him.”
The feeling’s mutual. Giambi has known Francona since he played in the minors, which some days feels like a lifetime ago to the five-time All-Star, who may have lost some bat speed but not an ounce of his love for the game. He always wanted to play for Francona, who said the only time he didn’t like Giambi was “when he was in the batter’s box on the other side of the field.”
Giambi took an unexpected route to the Indians.
Limited to just 89 at-bats during his fourth season with Colorado, Giambi entered the offseason facing an uncertain future, possibly one that didn’t include baseball. With few options, Giambi considered calling it quits after hitting 429 homers and driving in 1,405 runs in 17 seasons for Oakland, the Yankees and Rockies.
“I have a 15-month-old girl. I finally grew up,” he said, laughing. “I thought if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I had some offers for a hitting-coach job and I thought maybe I would take a year and enjoy my family. But when I got the phone call from the Indians, I jumped right on it because it was Tito (Francona).”
Before the Indians contacted him, he nearly wound up as Colorado’s manager.
The Rockies were so impressed with how Giambi naturally interacted and affected many of their youngsters that they interviewed him for the job before hiring Walt Weiss. Giambi didn’t have any managerial aspirations, and he was shocked when the club approached him. He came away humbled by the experience.
“I thought I would probably get in the game as a hitting coach because I work really well with the young kids,” he said. “I was very lucky when I came into the big leagues because I had Mark McGwire and Terry Steinbach and Dennis Eckersley. Those guys took me under their wing and taught me the game. I always felt that’s how you pass it on to the next generation, that’s your gift back.
“I always enjoyed that, so it was definitely an honor to be thought of that quickly that, ‘Oh, he can handle this.”’
Giambi’s deal with the Indians will pay him $750,000 if he’s added to the 40-man roster. He can make an additional $200,000 if he stays on it.