GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — The relationship between Jason Giambi and Terry Francona started with a joke between them.
Francona was managing Double-A Birmingham in the White Sox organization in 1994 when the 23-year old Giambi was rising in the Oakland Athletics farm system. During one encounter, Francona told Giambi he would play for him some day.
After the 2012 season, Francona took the manager’s job with the Cleveland Indians just as Giambi interviewed unsuccessfully for the managing job with the Colorado Rockies, who hired Walt Weiss.
“When Jim Tracy stepped down, they wanted a man with a little experience,” the 43-year-old Giambi said. “I called (general manager) Dan O’Dowd and asked if I could interview. I didn’t get the job but I understood why. I had just played with those guys the year before.”
The Rockies were interested in hiring him as a coach on Weiss’ staff.
“I didn’t want to do that,” Giambi said. “Walt was a mentor to me when I was coming up through the A’s organization. It was his team. I didn’t want him to feel that I was standing over his shoulder.”
That’s when the Indians got involved.
Giambi’s presence in the Cleveland clubhouse was a help to Francona. Giambi batted only .183 but had some important hits. He led the team with 54 starts as the designated hitter. Giambi became the oldest player to hit a game-ending home run when he connected off Ramon Troncoso of the Chicago White Sox on July 29.
He also had a game-ending homer run off Addison Reed of the White Sox on Sept. 24, during the Indians’ run at a wild card spot. Giambi tied the Cleveland record with three pinch-homers.
“G helped us win games,” Francona said. “He did that in a number of ways.”
Cleveland re-signed Giambi to a minor league contract and gave him another chance to extend his career in 2014.
“When the season ended, we talked about my feelings about coming back,” Giambi said. “When my contract with the Yankees ended at 37, I wanted to play a couple more years. I feel honored that they wanted me back.”
Giambi again has to play his way onto the roster.
“With my age, it gives them the opportunity to protect a younger player,” Giambi said. “I am really excited about this team. I’ve been lucky. I am blessed. I really love this organization. I love every minute of it.”
Giambi will be evaluated like everyone else in his quest to earn a roster spot.
“Guys have to help us win games,” Francona said. “I’m concerned with evaluation of players. Sometimes you can’t even do that in spring training. The older guys have history that you can fall back on and take longer to get started. We need to see them play. You have to be realistic. We’re not going to ask Giambi to play three or four games in a row.”
“He brings huge leadership,” Francona added. “He is very good at helping guys. He has the demeanor that guys like to come to him for help and advice.”