When the A’s traded Mark McGwire to the Cardinals in July 1997, Giambi stepped in as Big Mac’s heir apparent at first base. The burly slugger posted his first 100-plus RBI season the following year and consistently improved his power numbers over the next three seasons, culminating in an MVP campaign in 2000 in which he set career highs with a .333 batting average, 43 homers, and 137 RBIs.
Giambi was not known for his defensive prowess. GM Billy Beane once said that watching him play third base made Edward Scissorhands look like Brooks Robinson.
Even though the McGwire trade cleared Giambi’s path to stardom, he still missed his former teammate. “The saddest day in baseball for me was the day of the Mark McGwire trade,” he told the Rocky Mountain News in 1999. “We spent every day together, from lifting weights to eating, everything. He helped me to become the player I am today.”
On February 18, 2000, the A’s acquired Jason’s brother, Jeremy, from the Kansas City Royals, making them the first siblings to play for Oakland at the same time since Jose and Ozzie Canseco teamed up in 1990. Jeremy, the less flamboyant of the two, did not share his brother’s passion for Harley-Davidsons, but he did participate in a bungee jumping expedition with his brother and Nolan Ryan‘s son.
Jason and Jeremy’s father, John, was a huge Mickey Mantle fan. Hoping that his sons would become switch-hitters, he taught them to bat left-handed as they grew up. Both were up to the task, but neither brother ever batted righty. “I’m scared to death to stand on that side of the box,” Giambi once said. I want no part of it.” This from a man whose hitting abilities terrified opposing pitchers, who won the 2001 Home Run Derby with a record 14 round-trippers, and who sported skulls tattooed on his biceps.
Underneath the whole macho-man appearance though, Giambi was just another nice guy. He called his brother his “very best friend” and spent much of the off-season at his parents’ house. “I call my dad after every game,” he once told reporters. He enthusiastically signed autograph after autograph during warm-ups, sometimes so many that his hand cramped up. As he put it, “This is all fun. The game, the stadiums, the fans, all of it. I get paid to have fun.”