There is a sympathetic profile of Jason Giambi by Nate Penn in the latest issue of GQ magazine. Giambi is anything, if not well-liked by those who know him:
On a visit to Yankee Stadium a couple of years ago, Bastion, Giambi's high school coach, toured Monument Park with an usher: "He raved about Jason—how he wasn't a complete asshole like Reggie Jackson and Barry Bonds. He said Jason is one of the nicest guys who's ever come through Yankee Stadium." Bastion falls silent for a moment. "And I really liked hearing that," he says softly. Former A's executive and current Blue Jays general manager, J. P. Ricciardi, says, "If you don't like Jason Giambi, you don't like M&M's." Indignant at the way the press has treated him, many of Giambi's friends came forward for this story to defend him. Tony Phillips: "He was a good guy before he did steroids, he was a good guy when he was doing steroids, and he's a good guy after he's not doing steroids." Mike Thalblum, Oakland's visiting clubhouse manager: "There's a handful of great players who are even better people. We named our first son after [former A's pitcher] Dave Stewart, and I would name a kid after Jason Giambi in a heartbeat." Barry Zito: "I can't say enough about who he is as a man. He did something that our former president didn't even have the balls to do, which was to come clean and admit to his mistakes. He knew that all the stuff that's happening was gonna happen, and he still did it. I fear the day when we find out that people possibly perjured themselves just to save their name when G didn't."
Several weeks after the grand jury leaks, Derek Jeter spoke out on Giambi's behalf. They later saw each other in Vegas, during Super Bowl weekend. "Jeter's support throughout the off-season has been something I will never forget," Giambi told me. "I know that he didn't have to take a stand publicly, but he did, and I can't thank him enough."
Giambi’s greatest flaw seems to be his need to be a good boy, who wants to please everyone, all of the time. I can identify with this because I struggled with the same kind of need for years. Growing up, I wanted people to like me more than respect me. I thought that if I could get people to like me enough, all of my needs in life would be met. Well, I eventually accepted the fact that this was a fantasy. A nice fantasy, but a fantasy all the same. The truth is that I am a nice guy, so I don’t need to bend over backwards trying to constantly prove it. It's exhausting, and not necessary. And I've come to the opinion that, as difficult as it feels at times, it's better to be respected than liked.
I believe that Jason Giambi is a nice guy. But in trying to accommodate everyone, he left himself vulnerable. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the luxury of being able to move through his growing pains in private like the rest of us. He has to make the transition from entitled adolescent to an adult under tremendous public scrutiny. Penn concludes:
Giambi trusts that if he works hard enough, he can make things go back to the way they used to be. But that's a little boy's dream, and he has to be a man now. "I hope that there will be a time when I can answer everyone's questions," he says, and you can tell he means it. That day—and Jason Giambi's future—is unimaginable, because no other athlete has ever gone through anything like this: "I really haven't thought about what it would be like." On his retirement day, he wants people to say "that I gave the Yankees my best and that I came back from a disappointing '04 season and was an important part of the team for the remaining years of my career—and that we won several World Series."
...To win the approval of his father, Giambi, a natural righty, made himself into a left-handed hitter. To win the approval of the A's, he made himself into a pull hitter—one of the most extreme in the game—when he'd been taught to go the opposite way. Now, to win the approval of the fans, he will, like a penitent, travel from stadium to stadium to be mocked and jeered. He seems convinced something better lies on the other side of all this.
Of all the players who ever cheated this way, how strange that Jason Giambi is the first to be exposed. How troubling that he, the star least suited by temperament for this turbulent moment, must learn to bear it. And, finally, how sad to realize that it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
Sometimes you've got to learn the hard way. I don't feel sorry for Giambi, but I am pulling for him.