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Giambi No Longer on 'A' List

Baseball: As expected, fans boo him in return to Oakland, but he helps Yankees to victory.

April 24, 2002|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — The long hair is gone, the scrubby beard is history and he looks more like a Brooks Brothers model than a poster boy for the Hell's Angels.

This is Jason Giambi?

He swears he still has all his tattoos and in fact says he has even added one, but when the newest New York Yankee played against his old team Tuesday night at the Coliseum, it just didn't look right.

Giambi doubled, singled and scored a run in a 2-1 Yankee victory over the Oakland A's, but there was something a lot more personal going on. It was all very awkward, as if something didn't match. After six years of seeing him in an A's uniform, the home team's fans might find that this Yankee thing is going to take some getting used to.

"Just another game," A's Manager Art Howe said.

Giambi knew better. He expected the fans to get worked up and that's part of the reason he showed up at the Coliseum almost five hours before game time.

"I knew today was going to be a circus act," said Giambi, who obviously knows as much about human nature as hammering fastballs.

They could have had a ringmaster, a guy on stilts and a couple of mean-looking lions and nobody would have blinked. Giambi signed a seven-year, $120-million contract with the Yankees in December, so the reaction of many of the 40,360 fans was predictable in his return to Oakland.

They booed. They booed when Giambi and the Yankees loosened up before the game, they booed when he took batting practice, they booed when he was introduced, they booed when he was in the field and they booed when he was at bat.

It was a classic reaction and one that Giambi said he understood.

"Hey, I've been booed at home," he said. "You don't take it personally."

Besides, said Giambi, "Everybody loves to hate the Yankees."

One Yankee in particular, it seemed, at least this time.

"SELLOUT" was painted on a sign hung in right field. Another sign read, "BENEDICT GIAMBI". Someone tossed a handful of dollar bills from out of the stands and they fluttered toward the screen behind home plate toward Giambi, who was being booed as he walked to the on-deck circle.

Before the game, the Yankees and A's arranged a news conference for Giambi in the Raiders' locker room.

"The Yankees ... it's as close to being a rock star as you can get," he said.

The A's are down to their last Giambi now and Jeremy is out-hitting brother Jason .353 to .263, but he is no rock star. Jeremy's success makes Jason happy, but Jason says he is even happier to be a Yankee. It has nothing to do with money, either, he insists.

Let's summarize Giambi's contract dealings. He wanted a no-trade clause from the A's coming out of spring training a year ago. He didn't get one, but got a six-year offer for $90 million. The Yankees offered him $30 million more than that. The A's then said they would throw in the no-trade clause that Giambi would have signed eight months earlier. So he signed with the Yankees.

"It was a business decision for [the A's], and the Yankees were over here with seven years and the A's were over here," he said. "I know everybody wants to bring money into it, but when I sat down and looked it over, the Yankees were the best fit."

And, he said, there is something else.

"When is the last time we won a World Series around here?" he said.

Fitting in with the Yankees hasn't been easy for Giambi, who said he "kind of tiptoed around" for a while, but got a lot of help from shortstop Derek Jeter and Manager Joe Torre. They encouraged him to just be himself. It is probably good advice since Giambi being Giambi is one of the top sluggers in baseball, the American League most valuable player in 2000 and runner-up to Ichiro Suzuki last season.

He said he is still learning about New York. Only last week, he drove his car to Yankee Stadium for the first time.

"This is definitely different, trust me," Giambi said. "Life has changed. I'm trying to become comfortable in my own skin."

He could not ask for anything more than being a Yankee, playing in Yankee Stadium and, if all goes right, playing in October.

As for the booing, Giambi takes it in stride, even at Yankee Stadium.

"Being the guy, they want big things," he said. "Subconsciously, I've been putting pressure on myself to produce, but everybody has confidence in me. I feel like I'm coming around."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Jason X

A look at where New York Yankee Jason Giambi ranked in the top 10 in 10 categories the last two seasons. The former Oakland first baseman won the 2000 American League MVP and was runner-up last season to Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki:

*--* 2001 2000 BATTING AVERAGE 2nd (.342) T7th (.333) ON-BASE % 1st (.477) 1st (.476) SLUGGING % 1st (.660) 3rd (.647) ON-BASE % +SLUGGING % 1st (1.137) 3rd (1.123) RUNS 6th (109) T10th (108) TOTAL BASES 3rd (343) 8th (330) DOUBLES 1st (47) NR (29) HOME RUNS 7th (38) T2nd (43) BASE ON BALLS 1st (129) 1st (137) EXTRA-BASE HITS T1st (87) NR (73)

*--*

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