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September makes the difference
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
Oh, my soul
You can git what you want
It is the unofficial anthem of Most Valuable Player -- not Player of the Year or Player's Choice or Rotisserie Top Dawg. There are those who walk onto the field every September day humming Shawn Colvin's masterpiece, and that is what the award is. Circumstantial? Yes. But the only thing that should count is winning. When you're in a race and one man steps forward and offers his backbone, it defines the award.
Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Barry Bonds in 1990 and 1992. Chipper Jones in 1999.
"There's a difference between doing it for yourself, and doing it for everyone on the team with the pressure of 25 guys on your back," Mike Pagliarulo once said. The former third baseman for the Twins was referring to that unforgettable Game 6 of the '91 World Series when Kirby Puckett walked into the clubhouse, his team down 3 games to 2 against the Braves, and told his teammates, "Relax boys, have a good time, because Puck's done (nothing) for five days, and it's time for him to put the rest of you guys on his back."
Three hits, three runs batted in, a spectacular game-saving catch and an 11th-inning homer later and the Twins had lived for Game 7, the famous duel between Jack Morris and John Smoltz that Morris won in of the greatest World Series games ever played.
Circumstance dictates that Vladimir Guerrero, Jeff Bagwell and even Frank Thomas aren't in that sort of position, because the former two are out of it and the Big Hurt is on a team that won too easily. But that's why baseball's MVP isn't the Player of the Year, why it's subjective as well as objective, why voters were right when Kirk Gibson won in 1988 over Darryl Strawberry.
And it's why Jason Giambi is the American League MVP.
Carlos Delgado may have slowed down as he's been pitched around in September, but he's had the best pure slugging season of anyone in the the league. Alex Rodriguez has had another mind boggling season, but zipped in the crucial series against the A's. Pedro Martinez probably has had more impact on the race than any individual, but the chaos of the Banana Dictatorship at Fenway Park was insurmountable. The fact that the Anaheim Angels went to the last six days before getting eliminated despite lacking a starting pitcher winning eight games might beg the argument that Darin Erstad's back was as broad as The Badlands.
Because the Jays and Angels had second-division starting pitching, however, this is a Thomas vs. Giambi argument, and in some ways Thomas is a victim of life's circumstances, namely that the Sox are so good. All their numbers are virtually the same; to those of us who live and die by OPS, Giambi is slightly better, while Thomas leads in several other categories. Dan Patrick, who has uncanny genius when it comes to these things, pleads that Thomas shouldn't be punished because he played for a team he made so good that it was out on the horizon by August, and that's a strong argument.
But Giambi is the one player that grabbed the moment. In their hours of need, he homered in three straight games, Sunday in Seattle and the next two days against the Angels. He leads the league in homers (11) in September and is second to Manny Ramirez in RBI (28). When Scott Schoeneweis retired the first two batters Tuesday, Giambi's at-bat and walk set the tone, setting up a five-run rally. He did the same Wednesday, walking three times in a 9-7 victory. He was so beaten up in August -- and they went 2-6 without him -- that he needed a cortisone shot in his shoulder after their August 30 game. He's hit close to .400 since then.
September is the first argument. Number two is leadership.
Thomas took a lot of cheap shot hits this spring, and he is a good man, a consistent star and a megaforce. It's just not in his nature to push others, and he had to be pushed by his manager in spring training. Tuesday, Kevin Appier had one teammate older than 25 in the starting lineup. At the start of the month in Boston, when Appier gave up seven runs in the first inning then railed at the umpires about the baseballs, Giambi got in Appier's face between innings.
The third argument for Giambi is his radically improved, passionate defense against Thomas' DH status.
He learned his baseball values, his work ethic and his center of gravity from Mark McGwire, and now Giambi has grabbed the microphone. Greatness is often defined by the moment, and at the moment when a bunch of grad school-aged kids didn't know exactly what to do, they climbed on the back that's strong -- Jason Giambi's back -- and so the poorest and youngest team in the American League is hours away from joining the rich kids' Octoberfest.Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
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