Jason Giambi (cont.)
When Beane talks about Oakland's other top pitching prospects -- Trevor Cahill, a 21-year-old sinkerballer from outside San Diego; Brett Anderson, a 21-year-old lefty whose father, Frank, is Oklahoma State's baseball coach; and Vin Mazzaro, a burly 22-year-old righthander from Rutherford, N.J., who has the strongest arm of the lot -- he flashes back to former A's starter Tim Hudson in 1999, striking out 11 batters over five innings in his debut at Qualcomm Stadium against the Padres. For Beane, seeing young pitchers on the verge is almost as rewarding as seeing them in the playoffs.
The A's gave up the third-fewest runs in the American League last season, and other than 31-year-old ace Justin Duchscherer, they do not have a starting pitcher older than 25. Cahill, Anderson and Mazzaro are probably still a year away, and the Angels remain entrenched as favorites in the American League West. But by failing to re-sign first baseman Mark Teixeira and closer Francisco Rodriguez, they have left the door open. "When the A's got Holliday, I was like, Ho-hum, he'll just be trade bait at the deadline," says new Angels closer Brian Fuentes. "But then they got Giambi, and I started looking at some of their young pitching. It could get interesting with them."
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With Giambi around, it will at least be interesting even if Oakland falls flat. Making him the leader of 21- and 22-year-olds sounds a little risky, considering that his wife likens him to "a room full of kindergartners hopped up on Red Bull" and that he believes the only job outside of baseball for which he is qualified is "bouncer at a strip joint." But Giambi is best when surrounded by young players, whether it was Joba Chamberlain in New York or Chavez in Oakland. Even though his appetite for the nightlife is legendary, he may be happiest sitting around talking hitting. "This is a great place to be a young player, and a lot of that is because of Jason," Chavez says. "There are other teams where veterans will yell at you if you go into the wrong side of the room. When I came up, I didn't have to worry about any of that. Jason creates an atmosphere where everyone is able to relax and fulfill their potential."
The A's of the late 1990s and early 2000s were built in Giambi's image. Sure, they were wild -- a relief pitcher named Jeff Tam once burned his glove in the shower after booting a comebacker -- but they were also endearing. When a player tried to needle pitching coach Rick Peterson by pasting his less-than-stellar minor league statistics on the wall, Giambi threw a beefy arm around Peterson and said, "You O.K.? You know these guys love you."
"That was G," Peterson says. "He is the one who always wore the cape."
The goodwill that Giambi built in Oakland might have served him well when his steroid use came to light in New York. His initial attempt at a public apology was every bit as clumsy as Alex Rodriguez's, but he escaped the same level of criticism, in part because he has a quality that Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and McGwire do not: a casual likability. Asked how he developed such a trait, Giambi said, "You're just born cool."
The last time he played for Oakland, the A's cool quotient was immeasurable. Can they re-create what they had, six years after Moneyball, in the midst of an economic crisis, with a new generation of pitchers and a familiar old slugger breaking out the cape? As Frank the Tank puts it, right after he fires those imaginary pistols, "You know it."