Yesterday, Jason Giambi announced his retirement after 20 Major League seasons spent with the Athletics, Yankees, Rockies and Indians. The past two seasons spent with the Indians saw the former AL MVP take on a very reduced playing role, serving almost as a de facto bench/hitting coach to manager Terry Francona. Giambi being able to stick around on the Indians roster well past his days as an effective hitter is testament to his ability to contribute in other valuable ways to a Major League clubhouse.
Francona has offered only glowing praise of Giambi, when asked about his impact on the team.
“I’d be lying if I said he’s not special. … I’ve already gone to him two or three times with questions about things. It’s just the way he is. He’s a manager-in-waiting.”
Across all sports, there has been a growing acceptance of freshly retired players into coaching or managerial roles. In the Major Leagues, Brad Ausmus, Mike Matheny and Robin Ventura come to mind as players turned managers who did not follow the traditional winding path to a Major League manager’s post. Ausmus and Matheny have both led their teams to the postseason, and Ventura appears to have the White Sox pointed in the right direction.
Previous baseball logic held that to be a successful manager, dues had to be paid managing in the minor leagues or serving as a bench coach. Now, there has been a realization that logging thousands of miles on minor league buses is not a prerequisite to manage in the Major Leagues. The introduction of analytics and advanced metrics have made it easier for young blood to assume the role of manager. Without advanced statistical analysis, there may have been something to the notion that years of experience managing a bullpen or lineup were needed before managing at the highest level. Now, that notion is thrown out the window.
Ausmus and Matheny were regarded as cerebral players during their respective playing careers. Hard to believe that the player who once posed on the cover of Sports Illustrated, hair greasy, muscles flexed and skull tattoos blazing, could become regarded as a wise baseball sage, but that is exactly what Giambi has become.
Jason Giambi could step in as a hitting coach for any team in the league and have an immediate impact. His knowledge and understanding of the art of hitting and the strike zone are incomparable. Giambi is ready for more, however. He has been a leader and team favorite at every stage of his career. He endeared himself to fans, teammates and media alike throughout his career. During the height of the Steroid Era, he was the lone player to truly accept blame for his actions and decisions, a contributing factor to the high regard in which he is held in league circles.
His experience, honesty and approach to hitting make Giambi an excellent candidate for future managerial positions. The value of his time spent at the side of Terry Francona mentoring and guiding the Indians young players the past two seasons cannot be over stated. The role of manager is changing, as analytics become increasingly present in decision-making. Young managers like Ausmus and Matheny succeed not only because they have a strong understanding of the game of baseball, but because of their ability to gain the respect and trust of their young players. The ability to connect and build strong trusting relationships in the clubhouse is a key to success in this sport, all sports and life itself.
I believe this is a quality that Jason Giambi has in droves. He is a ballplayer’s ballplayer. It is only a matter of time before he takes control of a team of his own.