Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 6/27/13
CLEVELAND -- The temptation is to say that JasonGiambi has changed.That there was the guy with the Oakland As whohad the long greasy hair and the scraggly beard and the flaming skull tat onhis left arm and the Frat House attitude. The guy who proudly wore the T-shirtthat read Party like a rock star, the guy who appeared on the cover of SportsIllustrated in July of 2000 looking more fearsome than ballplayer.The easy thinking would say that that Giambi wasdiscarded like a snake discards its skin that a new Giambi emerged in recentyears. The veteran presence, the voice of wisdom with short hair and gray inhis beard, the guy whose mere presence benefits a team because of his attitudeand sage advice.Except the easy thinking, as usual, would bewrong. Because the only thing that has changed about Giambi are the externals.Hes always been the caring teammate and leader. Hes always been the team guy.Hes always been who he is.It was just wrapped differently.Ive lived lifetimes, Giambi said recently ina candid sit-down where he talked about all the many things hes been throughas a baseball player that led him to this stint with the Cleveland Indians.Ive been on top of the world. Ive been in the gutter. Ive been trying tochase greatness. Ive touched greatness. Ive fallen from greatness. Ive doneit all. Ive had business succeed, Ive had business fail. Ive had this wholelifetime of things.Now I get to live the lifetime of also beingwhere Im at right now, having a 19-month old and then Ive _got a little babyboy on the way. Ive had this evolving life. The kid with the hair falling inhis face to Dad with gray hair still playing baseball.Giambi has garnered much from the spoils of beingan excellent hitter. An apartment in Manhattans Upper East Side. A house inLas Vegas. Several cars, including a Lamborghini. Business interests in theHard Rock Hotel and Vanity, a 14,000-square foot club in the Hard Rock inVegas. He has an MVP award, a Comeback Player of the Year award. Hes hit 435home runs and earned respect from his peers and manager that at first blushseems out of place with the rock star who enjoyed himself in Oakland.I was a very hard charger, he said. Theresno doubt. I was a hard charger.Giambi quit drinking three years ago, notbecause he had to but because he had enough. Hes now focused on being a Dad,which he calls a blessing, and on continuing his career in baseball -- eitheras a player, coach or manager (the Rockies interviewed him last offseason tomanage there).With his business interests and family, hedoesnt need to be in baseball. He wants to.I love it, he said. I love everything aboutit. Theres no other place on this planet that youre gonna get this, righthere.At that, he pointed to the Indians clubhousefrom his corner locker, where some guys were jawing back and forth, some weregetting ready to play that nights game and some were playing cards. He wantsin some way to stay in that atmosphere, be part of it for as long as he can.And if that is 20 years Then its 20 more years and Ill never lookback, he said.Giambis career started in 1995 in Oakland,where he joined a team that at various times included Mark McGwire, Miguel Tejada,Terry Steinbach, Jose Canseco and Eric Chavez. He was a Billy Beane kind ofplayer -- get on base, take walks, score runs, hit home runs -- three yearsbefore Beane arrived in Oakland. The As knew how to win, and knew how to havefun.I had long hair and rode motorcycles and wewere just kind of wild and had a good time Giambi said. Guys were running(battery operated) toy cars around the clubhouse. It was like a frat house. Itwas like mayhem. Every day.But when game time arrived the mayhem stopped.We came with it, Giambi said. We couldnt wait for game-time to start.Giambi won the MVP in 2000, and finished secondin 2001. When the As clinched the division in 2000, his teammates carried himoff the field, an experience he called the most humbling and gratefulexperience Ive been through.That was the same year the SI cover shotappeared, and Giambi does not run from it.I love it, Giambi said. That was such a rawphoto when it was taken. It was in Anaheim. I can still remember the day. Thephotographer who took it said, You know what, I want to do something raw. Ihad the cutoff shirt. I kind of had my hair in my face because I got it wetbecause we were working out or something.He was like, Thats it. Sit there. And hetook the photo.Hes well aware of the rebel image it projected.He gets how people might view it. But that was him in those days, and heshonest enough with himself not to run from it.At that time, I was young and loving the game,he said. Just loving life. I was just really loving life. But then I think youget to a point where you grow up and you see other attributes that are moreimportant.When free agency arrived, the As did not try tore-sign him, so Giambi wound up in New York. It was a wildly lucrative120-million deal, but he said it was the only offer he had. In 2003, he becameembroiled in baseballs PED scandal when his name surfaced as part of the Balcoinvestigation.But instead of running from it and fighting it,Giambi decided his best approach was simply to be truthful.I could have drug it out like everybody elsedid, but I didnt, Giambi said.Giambi went in front of the Grand Jury inDecember of 2003 and admitted he had taken steroids from 2001-03. His testimonyincluded the same candor he uses today when talking about himself. When it wasover, baseball didnt want him to talk about it publicly, but the fact that hewas one of very few who came clean became public a year later.I look back, it was the greatest thing thatever happened to me, Giambi said. It opened me up to be truthful. At the timeit was like ripping off a bandaid. It was terrible and miserable and hard andone of the toughest things I ever had to do in my life. But now I have so manypeople coming up to me saying, I really appreciate you telling the truth. Itell my son and my daughter, when you make a mistake you tell the truth.Granted I didnt like going through it -- trustme it was miserable -- but the image that it portrayed I stand firmly on andIm happy about and excited about how it came through.Giambi missed half the 2004 season because of anintestinal parasite, another brutal experience.I wasnt even functionable, he said. Maybe itwas a manifest of everything that was going on and me trying to start to purgethat person and get rid of it.He also had a benign pituitary tumor. In 2005,free of PEDs and with a free mind and healthy body, Giambi hit 32 home runs andwon the Comeback Player of the Year Award.You felt this weight of the world thateverybody wanted me to fail, to go, A-ha, youre not that good a player, hesaid. That was probably one of the most gratifying things that Iveaccomplished in this game.Giambi told the Grand Jury he didnt feel thatmuch of a difference with the PEDs. He hit 43 home runs in 2000, the year hewon the MVP. After he met Barry Bonds trainer he hit 38, 41 and 41 in NewYork, then 32 after coming clean.He gets how it looks, how a guy who loves andrespects the game so much can be viewed. But he knows he cant do much morethan hes done: Admit he was wrong, he made a mistake and move on being thesame person he always has been. At this point, he has a 17-year career, 10years of further growth and peer respect and the fact he was honest on his sideof the ledger.Compare his experience to Rafael Palmeirowagging his finger at Congress, then testing positive. Its not anunderstatement to say that Giambis career hung in the balance. He let himselfget caught in a wave, but didnt deny the truth after. Fans and media werepoised to attack him the way they attacked Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire andSammy Sosa and Roger Clemens. But instead of being coy and dodging the way somedid, Giambi decided hed be honest. It became an example, a way for athletes tohandle situations like that. Giambi didnt have to come clean; he wanted to.Because he did, the public accepted him, and he was free to just play baseballagain.When his contract expired in New York, Giambireturned to Oakland, hoping to rekindle what was once there. It didnt work,and midway through the season Giambi and Beane agreed itd be best to releasehim.I didnt know if I was going to get anotherjob, he said. Baseball might have been over.Colorado called, and told a former MVP and20-million-a-year-player it would love to have him as a role player, but itdidnt want to use a roster spot on him until after the September callups.It was then that I said, Hey, can I put theego in the back pocket? Giambi said.He did, and the man the Indians have now startedto develop. The guy who would accept being a part-time player, who would mentoryoung players, who would fill a role and be a veteran his teammates could leanon.It just gave me a chance to take a step backwardto go forward, he said. It just was the perfect fit for where I wanted to goat that point in time as a human being.Four years in Colorado led to a call thisoffseason from Terry Francona, who told Giambi he wanted him to fill the samerole on the Indians. Cleveland the past two years was a team with a lot ofyoung talent, but no veteran whose resume and reputation demanded attention,and whose character demanded respect.Giambi accepted, knowing full well he had toprove in the spring he could still play. (They werent going to let me go sitin a locker.) Three spring home runs and a slugging percentage of .552provided the answer.Giambi now provides a left-handed power bat offthe bench for the Indians. Hes 42, the second-oldest player in the league(behind Mariano Rivera). Hes hitting just .200, but Francona focuses on what aplayer can do, says he doesnt pay attention to that number because he wantsGiambi to do damage, i.e. produce runs. Six home runs and 21 RBI in 95at-bats produces runs.But his influence goes beyond runs and hits.Without prompting, Michael Bourn credited Giambi for keeping the team thinkingthe right way on its 16-of-20 losing stretch. SI.com told the tale of theclubhouse stopping its pregame hijinks and preparation to watch Giambi appearlive on MLB Network and hear what he said. Wednesday he contributed in a largeway to a ninth-inning win with a ninth-inning double that ended with himsliding headfirst into second, the same way he slid into first in April in agame when the Indians had a big lead.That slide is memorialized with photos on thewall outside the Indians clubhouse, a spot where other photos includecelebrations for game-winning hits. Giambis is the only slide into first.And its autographed (presumably by Giambi) withthe phrase, To the boys. Live like you play. Hard!When first-round pick Clint Frazier made hisfirst appearance in Cleveland, Francona arranged for the 18-year-old to spendtime with Giambi. He called it the best 20 minutes hell ever have. Giambiwas everywhere with Frazier, including jogging with him before battingpractice.I get this gift, Giambi said. Tito calls andsays, I want you to come and help these young kids. To have this opportunity,to have this chance, its unbelievable.Giambi also called his decision to stop drinkingsignificant.I just woke up one day and said, Thats it,he said. Like we were talking about, I dont want to be that guy that was onthe cover of Sports Illustrated. Not that there was a problem, I just didntwant to be him anymore. Or to be I dont even know the words maybe be mytrue self.I just woke up and told my wife and told mybuddies and said, Done. Thats it. Im not drinking anymore. My buddieslaughed. Im sure my wife laughed. I am sure I said it a bunch of other times.That was it. One day turned into two, two intothree. Before I knew it its three and a half years later.Giambi now talks about how proud he is to be afather, how much he enjoys being sober, how much he loves being with theIndians. All the while he embraces his past, the ups and the downs.You come to find out thats who you really are all thistime, he said. I just think I evolved into this person that I wanted to bethat was always down there deep inside.Lifehas come full circle.
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