NEW YORK – His long hair trimmed and his goatee shaved, Jason Giambi stepped into Yankee Stadium wearing a three-piece suit and looking like a new man.
As in, the kind of guy who puts on pinstripes for a living.
After weeks of anticipation, the prime free agent and the New York Yankees made it official Thursday: He signed a $120 million, seven-year contract.
“This is my best fit,” said Giambi, who briefly choked up at the podium. “This was the team I was hoping would come after me.”
Once he became a free agent, Giambi seemed destined to sign with the Yankees. But the A’s had their chance long ago to lock him up.
Last spring, Giambi turned down a $91 million, six-year extension offered by the Athletics because they refused to include a no-trade clause.
“The A’s never moved where they stood,” Giambi said.
On Thursday, Athletics co-owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann tried to explain how such a popular player got away.
“The Oakland Athletics made Jason a solid offer that would’ve paid him more than one-third of our team’s annual payroll,” they said in a statement. “This is just another example that the economic problems of major league baseball are out of control.”
About a dozen fans met Giambi outside the ballpark when he arrived on a cold, damp afternoon. The slugging first baseman signed autographs and showed off his wild side, engaging a spirited bit of give and take.
“You know you’ll hear me screaming,” one man playfully shouted.
“I better!” Giambi shot back.
The 2000 AL MVP, Giambi was runner-up for the award this season after hitting .342 with 38 homers and 120 RBIs for Oakland.
Giambi, 30, also led the league in on-base percentage (.477) and slugging (.660) last season.
From City Hall to the Bronx, people were buzzing about the new big bopper.
“Jason Giambi has a star quality that fits in New York,” Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said.
“He’ll add a dimension to the Yankees that’s terrific as a slugger, the way Reggie Jackson did and Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth –– all left-handed power hitters.”
Giuliani, Berra and manager Joe Torre were among several luminaries who called Giambi, trying to lure the first baseman to New York. Former first baseman Don Mattingly wrote him a letter.
Berra was at the park to greet Giambi. While the entire Yankee Stadium field was torn up to work on the drainage system, the legacy of greatness was intact.
“I told him there’s a tradition here,” Berra said.
Not that Giambi needed to hear about all the history. He already knew it after growing up in California as a Yankees’ fan, idolizing Mantle.
Unable to wear the No. 16 he sported in Oakland – the Yankees have retired it to honor Hall of Famer Whitey Ford – Giambi put on his new uniform with the No. 25.
Giambi picked the number because the digits added up to the Mick’s No. 7.
“Well, pop, it’s not 7, but it’s pinstripes,” he told his dad.
His father, John, sat a few feet away and could hardly stop smiling. Also a lifelong Yankees’ rooter, he was momentarily speechless when Berra came over and introduced himself.
Giambi joined a team that has won four of the last six World Series. His contract includes a club option for an eighth year.
“You have the most incredible surroundings to win,” Giambi said. “Besides the money, all the other things, the intangibles.”
One thing that was very visible: a clean-cut Giambi, who said, “I wanted to make sure it was cut and shaved.”
His hair was free flowing and hung almost to his shoulders when he starred for the Athletics. That’s not the Yankees’ style, and Giambi seemed comfortable with his hair well above the collar.
“I’m just very happy to have him,” owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. “He’s one great kid and I know he’s going to be a great Yankee.”
After losing Game 7 of this year’s Series to Arizona, New York swiftly made changes.
The Yankees traded for third baseman Robin Ventura and outfielder John Vander Wal and signed free agent Steve Karsay. They have reached preliminary agreements with outfielder Rondell White and pitcher Sterling Hitchcock.
But Giambi was the biggest acquisition. He became part of team that has not had someone hit even 30 home runs in 10 of the last 14 seasons.
Giambi’s left-handed power stroke is ideal for Yankee Stadium, with its short right field. He is a career .245 hitter at the park, with just one home run in 102 regular-season at-bats, but that was against New York’s stellar staff.
The Yankees chased the A’s from the playoffs in the last two seasons, both times in a decisive Game 5. Last October, Giambi went 4-for-4 while Oakland lost 5-3 in the final game.
Giambi takes over for first baseman Tino Martinez, who hit 34 homers.
“I know I’m replacing a great Yankee,” Giambi said. “He’s a winner. He’s got World Series rings to prove it.”
Torre said he was not sure where Giambi would hit in the lineup.