The 2000 Oakland A's have been one of baseball's better-kept secrets this year. And their below-the-radar status is not that hard to decipher.
|Giambi says he could make very good use of a little extra strength.|
They are a young team, with the amazing Jason Giambi seeming like an old man at 29. The Giants, the other Bay Area team, won their division as well and have the best new park in baseball. Because the A's have a paltry $32 million payroll, it was hard to imagine in April or May that they would be around in October. But they won their first division title since 1992 with a September to remember.
By going 22-7 in the final month of the season, the A's blew the lid off on how good they are. There are many great stories on this team, up and down the lineup.
For instance, Terrence Long and Giambi could be the first teammates to win Rookie of the Year and MVP since Walt Weiss (rookie) and Jose Canseco (MVP) did it in 1988 for these same Oakland A's. Since being called up 20 games into the season, Long has hit 18 home runs and driven in 80 runs while playing great defense in center field.
But Giambi has been other-worldly.
On Sept. 1, Giambi was on the periphery of the MVP race. I consider him now the favorite. Giambi is like a great movie that comes out near Academy Award voting time, while Frank Thomas is more like that first "must-see" movie of the year.
Thomas' division was wrapped up a while ago, but Giambi's headlines are fresh in the mind. He consistently delivered for his team over the final four weeks and ended up with numbers that are hard to dispute: batting average, .333; HR, 43; RBI, 137; Walks, 137.
Only two players in history have reached those categorical levels over a season: Ted Williams (1949) and Babe Ruth (1920, '21, '26, '27, '30).
Giambi learned how to lead from former teammates like Rickey Henderson, Dennis Eckersley and Dave Stewart. But his most important mentor has been Mark McGwire.
||Giambi's most important mentor has been Mark McGwire. ”
The two speak often, with Giambi more than happy to learn the ropes of leadership from a future Hall of Famer. Just the act of sharing his experiences with Giambi tells you all you need to know about McGwire. And what he has done with his lessons tells you all you need to know about Giambi.
Giambi's showed his stuff when he was out of action with shoulder problems. He didn't talk about it or make excuses. After he rehabbed it a bit, he just played through the injury. His attitude was, "Nobody wants to hear about it." He just went back to work, which is the most eloquent form of leadership.
Another eventual Hall of Famer that Giambi reminds me of is Kirby Puckett. Giambi's A's, like Puckett's old Twins did, kind of sneak up on you. You have to take a second look before you realize how good they are.
Puckett led his young team without a lot of big names to World Series titles in 1987 and 1991. We'll see what Giambi does.
The A's start out with the sputtering Yankees, who have lost seven straight games to end the season, part of an awful 2-13 record in their last 15 games.
But the Yankees are a veteran team with a sharp, steady manager. There are a lot of rings in the Yankee clubhouse. The first game will reveal a lot: Are the Yankees really out of gas? Are the A's ready to compete in the postseason?
The Yankees will be a tough opponent. Their collective pride alone is worth a game. But I fully expect the A's to battle fearlessly, as they have all year.