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Giambi hasn't been exactly what Yankees paid $120 million for

March 04, 2007|Shaun Powell | Newsday

TAMPA, FLA. — He is 36, feels 46 on certain mornings, had his share of injuries, did his share of performance-enhancing drugs (based on his grand-jury testimony), suffered some bad PR and comes to spring training as a designated one-dimensional baseball player. This is hardly what life in pinstripes was supposed to be like for Jason Giambi when he signed his seven-year contract in December 2001 and became the symbol of New York Yankee excess.

He got choked up that day when he told his father, a big Mickey Mantle fan, that he was finally a Yankee. Giambi believed he'd arrived as a player and a star. He had every intention of being Mantle-like and hitting tape-measure home runs and charming the city. Well, in retrospect, he never really became the heart and soul of the ballclub, nor a legend, and five years later, Giambi is just another familiar name in a lineup with plenty, nothing more or less. And that's fine with him.

"All those things that I could've done differently or could've done better, you've got to find a way to let go of it," he said. "I have no regrets. I'm happy I came here. It's been great, actually. And I hope it's gonna get better."

Here's the deal: Giambi hasn't been exactly what the Yankees paid $120 million for, his production has been decent yet spotty in big moments, he's been a bust defensively at first base and he had a starring role in the biggest drug scandal in modern sports history.

Based strictly on that, he should be feeling the wrath of Yankeeville.

Maybe not to the level of Kevin Brown or Randy Johnson, but close.

And yet: Giambi is proving to be difficult to dislike.

His teammates love him and on some levels, respect him. Joe Torre doesn't have issues with Giambi. Fans are still buying No. 25 jerseys and cheering when he walks to the plate. The media have given him a pass, for the most part, on the drug stuff after he apologized without revealing what he was apologizing for. Even the feds sifting through what's left of the drug mess aren't trying to shake him down or treat him like Public Enemy No. 1, Barry Bonds.

Everyone, it appears, seems to have found peace with Giambi. Even Giambi.

"I'm fine with everything as it is," he said. "I'm just looking forward to another year, you know? I'm expecting big things."

Nothing seems to stick to Giambi for very long. His ability to recover has probably been his greatest asset since becoming a Yankee.

Two years into his Yankees career, the BALCO scandal hit and baseball was leveled by steroids. Giambi's testimony, graphic and extensive, was leaked. But he largely escaped the public pummeling issued to Mark McGwire and Bonds, partly because Giambi was never in their league as a player, and partly because Giambi sort of came clean.

Even now, as another drug probe develops in Orlando, where some ballplayers are being implicated in the sale of steroids through the Internet, Giambi's past is almost forgotten, if not forgiven.

"I've gone forward, to be honest," he said Wednesday. "I've said all there is to say about it, or all I can say about it. I've moved on."

He had a number of illnesses and injuries in 2004 and his production diminished to the stage where the Yankees tried to stash him in the minors. It was the ultimate insult and low point for a player who was league MVP four years earlier and runner-up the following season. But last season, Giambi rediscovered his power stroke and finished with 37 home runs and 113 RBIs, numbers that would have been greater had he not injured his left wrist in August, which led to a September slump.

If his resiliency remains intact, then Giambi should flourish as a designated hitter, his new role for 2007. At least that's the hope of the Yankees, who believe the DH will keep Giambi healthy and turn him into their version of David Ortiz.

"I knew as I got older, I'd end up doing this," Giambi said. "Staying healthy and helping the team offensively is my role and my focus. I'm excited. I had my time at first base. I just want to do my part to help win a championship, something we haven't done since I've been here.

"After all that's gone on, that's what I want people to remember."

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