The unlikeliness of Jason Giambi, hero and elder statesman

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Giambi, you magnificent bastard.

Giambi is baseball's favorite lumbering veteran now that Jim Thome isn't around, and on Tuesday, he lumbered some magic in the American League Wild Card race:


The Indians were an out away from losing their lead in the Wild Card race. Their last hope was a 42-year-old man with a .276 on-base percentage. Goodness.

Nick Swisher called it "The greatest win of my life", even though this is a picture of Swisher winning the World Series. Jason Kipnis used salty language to express his glee. I'm sure a bunch of Rangers fans used some, too. It was one of the most indelible September moments so far.

Which brings us to Jason Giambi, elder statesman. It seems normal until you take three seconds to think about it. Then you do a comically exaggerated jowl-shaking. Brrmrrmbbb, wait, what? Jason Giambi is an elder statesman now? How in the …

It was unlikely for Jason Giambi to become the the oldest player to hit a walk-off home run in baseball history. How unlikely? Let's count the ways.

Aging and expectations

"Party like a rock star, hammer like a porn star, and hit like an All-Star."

You might remember this as a Buck O'Neil quote, but it was actually Jason Giambi. Jason Giambi. The quote has a Twain/Disraeli thing going on with it, but I'm happy to clear the air. It was Jason Giambi.

And, boy, what a quote. Giambi used to be a fuzzy, funky feller who had a lot of fun. And, hey, we're not here to judge at Baseball Nation. I drink my bourbon from a stein, so I'm not about to cast stones.

But considering that Giambi liked his fun and had a wider frame and has a has an extensive history of bumps and bruises, is there an unlikelier 42-year-old hero? Giambi was born in the same year as Raul Mondesi, who was the personification of all five tools. One player couldn't make it out of 2005. Another one is still around in 2013

Scandal!
Here's the lede from a New York Times article from 2006:

It may never end. Jason Giambi understands that now. Even after a vague apology, an award for comeback player of the year and the attempted restoration of his public image, Giambi remains tethered to Barry Bonds and the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroids scandal, though he is not the primary subject of the discussion.

A calm, measured New York Post headline from 2004:

Giambi13_medium


This was his legacy. He applied cream to his buttocks to get better at his job. Let's see you get caught doing that once where you work and see if anyone thinks of anything else for the rest of your tenure.

He didn't make the un-bro mistake of besmirching an innocent urine collector, so it's not like we should expect the same kind of elder-statesmaning for Ryan Braun in a decade. But Giambi was a villain. He was attached to Bonds at the hip. It was like Maddux and Glavine, Trammell and Whitaker. You couldn't mention Bonds without Giambi for a while.

Time healed those wounds. Time's healed a lot of those wounds. But it's possible that no one's climbed out of the PR abyss quite like Giambi, save Andy Pettitte.

Not moralizing. Just pointing out that if you were picking players in 2004 who would last another 10 years for their clubhouse presence and likeability, you would have cycled through dozens of players before guessing Giambi.

He was almost a manager
Giambi was vying to be the Rockies manager. This is amazing because of the two headers up there. But that's how close he was to not being around right when the Indians needed him on Tuesday. Another reason he probably shouldn't have been around is ...

He's been quietly terrible for a while
Since 2009: .216/.342/.405. Which isn't that bad, considering the on-base percentage. But remember that he fields like he's forever holding a pound of delicious, sticky taffy. Remember that he runs like a Molina. Since 2009, he's been a replacement player. He's on this list of shame, surrounded by players who have been released or designated for assignment at some point.

The Indians could have cut him at any point this season. As bad as his current numbers are, he's hit .130/.200/.222 over his last 60 plate appearances, a stretch that started Aug. 3. He's hit .162/.270/.318 since May 9. He's not Rob Deer; he's Carlos Zambrano without the arm.

But you put up with a player like that when he's a clubhouse presence. An elder statesman. That's what he is. So here we are.

It's possible the Indians could have had the Wild Card lead without Giambi. It's probable, even. But it's improbable that of all the players in all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, it's Giambi who is still around to make a difference on the 2013 pennant race.

For more on the Indians and Jason Giambi, please visit Let's Go Tribe

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