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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 3:12 a.m., Wednesday, January 7, 2009

MLB: Giambi ought to return with an apology

By Mark Purdy
San Jose Mercury News

Jason Giambi is apparently coming back to Oakland.

Ready or not.

And when I say that, I am not talking about Giambi. I am talking about the paying customers of the Bay Area. And at the Oakland Coliseum in particular. They might not be entirely ready to forgive him if, as expected, the A's sign him up Wednesday for a return engagement.

Giambi is not a horrible human being. Because of his genial and honest nature including truthful grand jury testimony and an apology afterward he was one of the few baseball steroid users to pass through the BALCO fire without getting scarred for life.

But as we learned with Giants fans and Barry Bonds, the steroid stuff has not always mattered when it comes to consumer approval. Know what does matter? Hypocrisy and a perceived lack of loyalty. Giambi should not expect that he will be showered with rose petals and unconditional wild standing ovations in April when he walks to the plate in an Oakland uniform.

Throughout the past decade, followers of the A's have been trained to watch their best players leave town for free agency. But in their minds, Giambi sparks the worst possible memories. He's the one who began the whole cycle-of-loss and insulted his East Bay fans in the process. After the 2001 season, Giambi rejected an A's contract proposal of six years and $91 million the richest deal ever offered by the team to that point and accepted the Yankees' bid of $120 million over seven years.

But that was only the start.

"It wasn't the money," Giambi said at his introductory New York media conference. "It was the things about playing in New York the fans, the city, the chance to win, the manager, the front office and an owner that wants to win."

Those remarks infuriated then-A's owner Steve Schott, who pointed out that in the previous two seasons, the A's had accumulated more victories than the Yankees. But insulting an owner is one thing. Insulting the entire A's electorate is another. And over the following weeks, Giambi kept dissing his former address.

For example, Giambi told the New York Post: "The West Coast differs profoundly from the traditions of the East Coast. I want to experience the incredible people and the lifestyle."

Worst of all, he went on the David Letterman show and read off a Top 10 list of reasons he signed with the Yankees. One of the reasons: "Have you ever been to Oakland?"

Thus, when Giambi showed up at the Coliseum in a Yankees uniform the following April, he was met with more scorn and loathing than any opposing player this side of Roger Clemens. Fans booed. They threw fake money toward Giambi. They chanted: "We hate Jason" or "Sellout, sellout." A banner was unfurled: "Jason Is Dead To Us."

Answering questions from reporters that night, Giambi was on the defensive. He shrugged off the Letterman episode by noting that he had merely been reading a script penned by one of the show's writers. But as reporters kept pressing him about abandoning Oakland, Giambi finally snapped.

"When's the last time they won a World Series around here?" he asked.

It was a fair question back then. But so is this question, today: How many World Series titles did the Yankees win with Giambi during his subsequent seven seasons with the team?

Answer: Zero.

Over the years, Giambi's reception by A's fans has grown far less hateful. But to many, he still has some explaining to do. It is easy to imagine that, if Giambi had taken that $91 million to stay in Oakland for just another year or two, he and Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez and the "three aces" pitching staff would have combined to win themselves a World Series ring. Instead, Giambi made a different choice.

And now? This could be a swell, successful homecoming. Giambi turns 38 on Thursday, but last season hit 32 homers and drove in 96 runs. He is taking a pay cut from $23.5 million in 2008 to a reported $4 million in 2009. In today's baseball, that passes for humility.

Still, when Giambi greets his once and future constituency in a few days, he would do well to start with these words: "Know what? I probably made a big, fat mistake leaving the A's the way I did. Hope you will accept my apology."

Hey, the guy says he is used to reading scripts. I won't charge him for this one.