CLEVELAND: Manager Terry Francona continues to be in awe of Jason Giambi, whose walk-off home run Monday night gave the Indians a 3-2 win over the Chicago White Sox.
At 42, Giambi became the oldest player in history to hit a walk-off home run, surpassing Henry Aaron, who was about 6½ weeks younger when he did it in 1976.
“As much fun as winning is — and some nights you feel desperate for a win — when the guy is rounding the bases, you wonder what is going through his head,” Francona said. “Because Giambi is so dear to everybody here, watching him get mobbed by his teammates was pretty cool.”
From the outset of spring training, Francona talked about the value of Giambi as a clubhouse leader and guru. But it’s difficult for a player to pull off those roles unless he can be of value on the field.
“I didn’t know [if it would work],” Francona said. “I didn’t know he was this special.”
Despite Giambi’s .194 batting average, he has been an impact player, producing seven home runs and 24 RBI in only 124 at-bats. He also has two game-winning hits from the seventh inning on.
Because Giambi no longer plays a position, Francona was hoping that Ryan Raburn would take the place of two position players on the bench. That is, it was important that Raburn could play left and right field plus second base and maybe first.
“We needed Raburn to work out,” Francona said. “Not every team can carry a guy like that [Giambi].”
This is not the first time Francona has brought in a veteran player to be a spiritual leader to a young team. When he managed the Philadelphia Phillies, Francona welcomed 36-year-old Rex Hudler on board for his final two seasons in the majors.
“That was a little bit different,” Francona said. “We knew that team wasn’t going to be good, which is why they hired [a young guy like] me as manager. If they thought they were going to be good, they would have hired someone like Jim Leyland. We brought in Rex for his leadership for a young club.”
The fact that Giambi long ago admitted to using PEDs had the effect of adding to enhancing his reputation.
“I think that’s part of what makes him endearing,” Francona said. “He owned up to it. He’s been up, down and in the middle. It’s hard not to like Jason. If you don’t like him, you’ve got to be really looking [for negatives].”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.