RIP to Jeremy Giambi, one of the key acquisitions in the “Moneyball” era of the Oakland A’s. He died on February 9 at his parents’ house in California. He was 47 years old. Giambi played for the Kansas City Royals (1998-99), Oakland A’s (2000-2002), Philadelphia Phillies (2002) and Boston Red Sox (2003).
No cause of death was initially announced, but the San Francisco Chronicle and other media outlets have reported Giambi’s death as a suicide. Among the former teammates who mourned him was pitcher Barry Zito, who texted the following message, per journalist Susan Slusser: “I am completely shocked by the news about Jeremy. He was an incredibly loving human being with a very soft heart and it was evident to us as his teammates that he had some deeper battles going on. I hope this can be a wake up call for people out there to not go at it alone and for families and friends to trust their intuition when they feel somebody close to them needs help. God bless Jeremy and his family in this difficult time.”
“He was an underrated player that would have been appreciated far greater today than he was then,” said A’s executive and Moneyball architect Billy Beane to the Oakland Mercury News. “He could take a teasing and give it back. It’s a tough shadow when your brother is Jason Giambi, and he wore that with pride. He was well-liked and fun loving.”
Jeremy Dean Giambi was born in San Jose, Calif., on September 30, 1974. He was four years younger than Jason Giambi, and the boys learned baseball from their father John, who was drafted by the California Angels but went into the banking industry when a knee injury ended his career before it started. Both brothers attended South Hills High School in West Covina. Jason knew from the start that he wanted to be a baseball player. Jeremy eventually decided the same thing, but it took him a little while longer to specialize. He played football, basketball, baseball, golf and bowling at South Hills, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. He was an All-Southern Section Division 4-A first-team selection in 1992, as a utility player. He played first base and the outfield and batted .400 in his senior year. That fall, be began attending Cal State-Fullerton, and baseball coach Augie Garrido had him redshirt his freshman season. When school wasn’t in session, he played summer ball and, in 1993, helped guide the Topeka Capitals into the NBC (National Baseball Congress) National Tournament. He drove in 5 runs to defeat a team in Wichita and clinch a spot for Topeka in the tournament.
Giambi wasn’t the star of the Fullerton team — that honor would go to Mark Kotsay — but he was a strong hitter. He was on the second-team Big West team in 1995 and was one of the offensive leaders (.349 average, 4 home runs, 37 RBIs) on a team that won the College World Series. That June, he was drafted in the 44th Round of the June Amateur Draft by the Detroit Tigers. He elected to not sign, and brother Jason was one of the people who encouraged him to stay in college a little longer. It ended up being a wise move, as the younger Giambi came into his own in the 1996 season at Fullerton. He batted .396, drew 59 walks and remains one of Fullerton’s all-time leaders in career on-base percentage. He improved his baserunning and outfield defense and also established himself as a clubhouse leader. “It’s more of an upbeat, fun approach to the game, and I think that’s healthy,” said George Horton, associate head coach. “But he’s also been more consistent with his work ethic.”
The Kansas City Royals took Giambi in the Sixth Round of the 1996 Draft, and he began his professional career with Spokane of the Northwest League. He got off to a solid start, with a .273 batting average and .440 on-base percentage, and he hit 6 home runs and stole 22 bases. It didn’t hurt that, by then, Jason Giambi was hitting 20 homers as the A’s starting first baseman, and the Royals were dreaming about their own Giambi in the majors soon.
“We never got to play on the same team growing up,” Jeremy said. “Every time I would start, like in high school or college, he would be just leaving. It would be incredible for our dad if we get to be on the same field.”
Giambi continued to make strides up the Royals’ organizational chart. He batted .326 in 1997 while splitting the season in Class-A Lansing and Double-A Wichita. He also started to develop a little power of his own, with 11 homers in Wichita and 16 overall. On the down side, some of his immaturity also showed up, especially in Lansing. The 22-year-old was taken to task for trash talking the opposition and nearly starting a bench-clearing brawl. “Has strong potential to crack the majors, needs to first curb at-times raging ego,” is how the Lansing State Journal put it.
Giambi battled a hamstring injury in 1997 but still tore up the Pacific Coast League, with a .372/.469/.634 slash line for Omaha. He was voted Triple-A Rookie of the Year and reached the majors in September. He got his first major-league hit on September 2, doubling against Toronto pitcher Kelvim Escobar. His first home run game off Texas’ Tim Crabtree on September 8; he was 3-for-5 with a double in that game. His season highlight was most likely on September 14, when the Royals played Jason Giambi and the Oakland A’s. Parents John and Jeanne flew from California to Kansas City to watch the game. Jason hit a 3-run homer, his 25th of the year. Jeremy didn’t get a hit, but he walked 3 times and added a sacrifice fly as the Royals scored in every inning to win 16-6.
Jason was clearly proud of his brother. “When he was growing up, he had to hear, ‘Oh, you’re not as good as your older brother,’ so he had it kind of rough. It’s real exciting for him to show everybody that, ‘Hey, I can play this game, too.'”
Jeremy Giambi played in 18 games for the Royals as a designated hitter and left fielder. He hit .224 and had an on-base percentage of .343. He also had 4 doubles and 2 home runs. The Royals planned to use him as their starting DH for 1999, but Giambi injured his left hamstring and was ruled out of the Opening Day lineup. He stayed in Triple-A until June. When he came up, he served as a DH, a first baseman and occasionally a left fielder. But wherever Giambi played, he hit. The Royals played a 3-game series in St. Louis when he was brought back up, and Giambi got 6 hits in the series, including 2 doubles. He topped .300 by the end of June and finished the year with a .285/.373/.368 slash line. He homered just 3 times, so he didn’t bring a lot of power to what is supposed to be a power position at first base. Then again, he wasn’t supposed to be a first baseman. When he was called up, Jeff King had retired and Larry Sutton was out with elbow surgery, and the only other alternative was catcher-turned-DH Mike Sweeney. Giambi got a crash course in playing first base in Omaha before coming to the majors. He had a good .991 fielding percentage, but he lacked the range to snag errant throws that were charged as errors to the other infielders. “The game’s tough as it is. Learning a new position at the same time makes it even tougher,” he said.
Giambi was traded to the Oakland A’s in February of 2000 for pitcher Brett Laxton. Beane, the Oakland general manager, was thrilled to have the Giambi brothers reunited, but it was more than that. He felt that Giambi’s hitting and his ability to take a walk were valuable tools. “I don’t like spring training trades as a rule, but I didn’t want to lose this player,” Beane said. “I didn’t feel like having Jeremy go back to Kansas City so they would watch him hit and have Kansas City fall back in love with him.”
The expectations were realistic: Giambi was brought on board to back up John Jaha at DH and Matt Stairs in right field. Sure enough, Jaha got hurt, and Giambi stepped in. He hit the ball hard, but the hits just didn’t fall in for him, and he was sent to Triple-A Sacramento with a .179 batting average in late April. He took it with maturity, noting that the team was struggling and had to make some moves. “I happened to be the odd man out. I felt I was hitting the ball hard but not getting anything for it. I’ll go down, keep playing hard and put the pressure on them to bring me back up. I’m not mad. I’m disappointed, but that’s part of the game.”
Jason, on the other hand, was mad. “This is a situation that, especially because it deals with your family, is hard to swallow. And I’ll leave it at that,” he told reporters. Clubhouse insiders said that the older brother was irate, and there was a fear that the move would damage the relationship right before Giambi was to become a free agent after 2001. One player said, confidentially, “It’s not a good idea to piss off your best player.”
In the end, things turned around. Jeremy’s demotion was a short one, and he returned to Oakland to have a pretty fair season. He played in 104 games, hit .254, and popped 10 homers while taking 32 walks for a .338 on-base percentage. Jason hit .333, led baseball with a .476 on-base percentage and clubbed 43 homers, winning the AL MVP Award. Oakland as a team won 91 games to win the AL West. The A’s fell to the Yankees in the AL Division Series. Jeremy Giambi hit .333 with a run scored and an RBI.
Giambi had his finest season in 2001, slashing .283/.391/.450 in 124 games. He had 12 homers and drove in a career-high 57 runs. He had a 10-game hitting streak in July and hit .452 in that stretch. One of those games was a 4-for-4 performance against the Twins, with 6 RBIs. “I’m swinging the bat as well as I possibly can. I’m seeing the ball, taking my walks and driving in runs,” he said. “I’m hitting for extra bases… Hopefully, I can maintain it for as long as I can.”
Oakland once again finished first in the AL West and lost to the Yankees in the ALDS. Giambi had a great series, batting .308 with a couple of RBIs, but there’s only one play that gets talked about. In Game Three with the A’s losing 1-0, Giambi was on first base when Terrance Long doubled to right. Third base coach Ron Washington waved him around, and as he chugged home, right fielder Shane Spencer uncorked a wild throw that sailed past two cutoff men. Shortstop Derek Jeter speared the wayward throw and flipped it behind his back to home plate, where catcher Jorge Posada caught it and tagged Giambi out as he passed by. The play has been analyzed as one of Jeter’s finest moments, and critics say that Giambi would have been safe if he had slid into home. See for yourself, but it looks like Giambi was out either way. The real question is why a player who hadn’t stolen a base in four big-league seasons was sent home in the first place, but in the playoffs, you have to take chances. This chance didn’t pay off, and it doesn’t seem like there’s much that Giambi could have done to alter the outcome.
Jason Giambi departed Oakland via free agency in the offseason, and Jeremy was give a starting role in left field in 2002. For a month and a half, he made the most of it. He hit .274 with 8 home runs and 17 RBIs in 42 games. Because of his ability to take pitches and get on base, he was moved to the top of the lineup, even though he was one of the slowest players on the team. The move prompted manager Art Howe to grumble that he was the only manager who needed a pinch-runner for the lead-off hitter. However, on May 22, Giambi was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for utility player John Mabry. It was just one of a flurry of moves that a frustrated Beane made to try and reinvent the roster seemingly overnight.
The move caught everyone off-guard. “Evidently, things are kind of messed up out there in Oakland,” commented Jason Giambi, who had signed with the Yankees. “When things happen, hopefully it’s for a reason,” Jeremy said. Oakland would eventually win 103 games and finish in first place again, but at the time of the trade — 44 games into the season — the team was in third place and 10 games out of first. In Giambi’s last game, he went 2-for-6 with a solo homer, but the A’s lost in 14 innings to Baltimore, leaving them with a 4-14 record to that point in May.
Beane said at the time of the trade that he was concerned that Giambi was too “one-dimensional.” As reported in Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball, there was more happening behind the scenes. Giambi, known for having fun in the clubhouse, was still having fun in the midst of a losing streak, which incensed the general manager. Before the season, he had been caught with marijuana in Las Vegas and was cited. Coaches reported that he drank too much on airplanes. The deal was as much a warning shot to the remaining A’s players as it was a move to acquire an elite pinch-hitter in Mabry.
The Phillies, while welcoming a power hitter like Giambi to the team, had established players at all of his positions. So his playing time dwindled, but he still hit 12 homers in 82 games, giving him an even 20 on the season. He homered in his first two at-bats with the Phillies, on May 25 in Montreal. He batted .244 in Philadelphia but had a tremendous .435 on-base percentage. In the offseason, the Phillies traded Giambi to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for pitcher Josh Hancock. It moved Giambi back to a league with a designated hitter, and it also ratcheted up the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, with a Giambi brother on each side. Both of them were excited about the clashes in 2003.
“On the field if’s going to be no holds barred,” Jeremy said in spring training. “And then after we’ll go out to dinner and rag on each other.”
Giambi joined the Red Sox in spring training with the idea that he would be the regular first baseman. However, Kevin Millar ended up filling that role. Giambi was tried as a DH for a time, and when he failed to hit, David Ortiz, recently arrived from Minnesota, was auditioned. He put on a power display that he had never shown while with the Twins and kept the DH role until his retirement. That left Giambi as a backup corner outfielder and DH. For the first time since his rookie season, he struggled to hit and was even briefly demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. He batted .197 in 50 games and hit just 5 home runs, though his on-base percentage of .342 was on par with the Red Sox starters. He also stole the first base of his career on July 26, against the Yankees. It helped win the game, as the steal came in the ninth inning after he singled off reliever Armando Benitez. Giambi started running when Jason Varitek struck out swinging on a full count and barely beat the tag by shortstop Jeter — a bit of revenge for Jeter’s World Series flip play. Ortiz won the game a couple batters later with a single that bounced off the Green Monster.. A shoulder injury ended Giambi’s season in August.
Giambi never returned to the majors. He signed a minor-league contract with the Dodgers for 2004 but barely played because of shoulder surgery and a herniated disc in his back. He played in 9 minor-league games for the White Sox organization in 2005, which were the final games of his career. Off the field, he became a part of the PED cloud swirling over Major League Baseball. Both Giambi brothers testified in front of a grand jury as part of an investigation into a nutritional supplements lab in 2003. One year later, Jeremy Giambi testified that, prior to the 2003 season, he had injected himself with banned performance-enhancing drugs. He had obtained human growth hormone and testosterone from trainer Greg Anderson of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (aka BALCO).
Giambi became the first major-leaguer to discuss his steroid use — in general terms at least due to ongoing legal issues — when he spoke with the Kansas City Star in March of 2005. “It’s something I did. I apologize,” he said. “I made a mistake. I moved on. I kind of want it in the past.”
Giambi had lost most of two seasons to a surgically repaired shoulder and a bad back — injuries that he didn’t have until after he started taking steroids. “They’re not good for you. I think we need to reach out and let teenagers know they’re not good for your body and not good for your health,” he said.
In his 6 seasons in the majors, Giambi had a slash line of .263/.377/.430. He had 372 hits that included 75 doubles, 3 triples and 52 home runs. He drove in 209 runs and scored 219 times. He walked 251 times as well and had an OPS+ of 111.
The Giambis testified in the 2011 Barry Bonds perjury trial, stating that Anderson (who was Bonds’ trainer) supplied them with PEDs and was upfront with them about what they were. By and large, Jeremy Giambi became remembered for his tangential relationships with some of the era’s greatest stars — his brother, his role in Jeter’s flip play, his competition with Ortiz for playing time before Ortiz became “Big Papi” and slugged his way into the Hall of Fame. What gets forgotten is his incredible plate discipline and the hitting tool that had the Royals convinced he would win a batting title someday. As Beane noted, his skill set would be very much in demand in today’s game, particularly with the upcoming expansion of the designated hitter to both leagues.
In the years prior to his death, Jeremy Giambi began working with younger players and had been a hitting instructor at a baseball facility in California.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
For more information: The Philadelphia Inquirer