When it comes to famous brother acts, it's hard to top the
Ringlings, the Smiths or those Krazy Karamazov Kids. They've
stood the test of time. How about the Marx boys? That's
fraternal fun for everyone, even to this day. And don't forget
the Warner brothers--Jack and whatstheirnames. Pretty successful
siblings, all of them. You'd have to look hard to top these guys.
But the brothers we like most these days are lesser known,
without that brand-name cachet and not even the entertainment
equals of, say, Martin Sheen's kids. To tell you the truth, it
would take a mighty baseball fan to register the
lefthanded-batting Giambis as a brother act. There's 29-year-old
Jason, who last season hit 33 homers and had 123 RBIs as a first
baseman and designated hitter for the Oakland A's. A lot of
people know Jason, slugger and motorcycle daredevil. He's a
rising star in the American League, hitting for average (.315 in
1999) and distance.
He has a brother?
He does. His name is Jeremy, he's four years younger and he's
only now making it in the big leagues. In 1999, his first full
season in the majors, he had a .285 average and three home runs
in 288 at bats as a DH-first baseman-outfielder for the Kansas
City Royals. For the moment the Giambis' major league partnership
is decidedly unequal, along the lines of the Aaron brothers'
("You two fellows have a lot of home runs between you") rather
than the Niekros' ("You guys have a lot of victories between
you"). But if you can find a sweeter pair than Jason and Jeremy,
bring 'em on.
These two put the lie to every study that purports to find
rivalrous tension between brothers. Even with their age
difference and the psychologically risky decision little brother
made to follow in big brother's footsteps, they remain devoted
to each other. Jeremy, who has had to eat Jason's dust since
Little League, proudly recites his brother's numbers: "He tops
.300, 30 homers and 100 RBIs. This is a player who's at the
elite level." Jason beams and then tells a visitor that Jeremy,
at this stage of his young career, is actually more complete a
player than Jason was. "In fact, I was talking to [A's general
manager] Billy Beane about getting Jeremy on our team," Jason
says. "He's our kind of player."
The Bible gives us Cain and Abel, the major leagues give us David
and Ricky Nelson. That's a switcheroo, right? All the ugliness
baseball has produced, and here are these brothers who still live
during the off-season in their parents' Southern California ranch
house, acting out everybody's TV fantasy life. "We're close, all
right," says Jason. "First thing I did when I turned 21, I let
Jeremy use my I.D. to get into clubs with me."
Jeremy nods. "He was always taking care of me," he says.
Growing up together, which was a far more hazardous passage than
their parents ever suspected, the Giambi boys were tight as could
be, never mind the age difference. "Jason always included me,"
says Jeremy. "It was either I came along, or he didn't go." So it
was that young Jeremy was jumping off the roof into the family
swimming pool. "Doable," said Jeremy last week, eyeing the
distance between the edge of the roof and the water, "but, boy,
that is a lot of concrete, isn't it." Jason examines the roof and
mentally paces the distance. "How is it we're still alive?" he
It's one thing to run through the storm sewers of Covina together
("They did what?" asks their mother, Jeanne) as preteens, another
to remain best friends as major leaguers. Even now, during the
off-season, when more typical athletes enjoy a celebrity swirl of
golf and nightlife, the Giambis hole up at the old homestead, a
modest, four-bedroom house in a modest neighborhood, and behave
pretty much the way they always have. They work out together
during the day, go out together at night and generally do
everything they used to, except run through sewers and jump off
"It's not just them," says Jeanne. "It's the whole family. We've
always done everything together, whether it was bowling,
motocross, golf, camping. It seems natural that we keep doing
things together. They still call home almost every night during
the season, just to check in. Even when Jason got married, we
always made it possible for them to stay close. Then when he
separated from his wife, I just said, 'Jason, you know your room
is still here.' And back he came."
So it is that on New Year's Eve the two boys and their
21-year-old sister, Julie (a day student at nearby Cal
State-Fullerton, where Jeremy played for the 1995 national
champions), drove to Las Vegas to usher in the new millennium.
"Our parents would have gone, too," says Jason, "except that our
dad had to stay close to home for the Y2K thing." Their father,
John, is the president of a small chain of banks.
You may have a pretty clear idea of the social opportunities
awaiting major league players. Now picture the two boys going to
Disneyland with the rest of the Giambi family over Christmas. Or
imagine them sitting around the dinner table and one of them
getting an idea to go to a movie, and the whole bunch trooping
off to see Any Given Sunday.
This normalcy is impossible to explain. It's true that John, a
Mickey Mantle fan and former junior college ballplayer, placed
terry-cloth bats and balls in the boys' cribs soon after they
were born, but neither he nor Jeanne was a Little League monster.
They were supportive, in that exaggerated suburban way in which
parents chauffeur the kids to about 20 activities each week. Kids
who jump off roofs and run through sewers can be inclined toward
more organized sports as well. At South Hills High in West
Covina, both boys played football and basketball in addition to
It was a typical Southern California upbringing, with the bonus
that dad liked to throw BP. Even so, there was never a sense that
the kids were being groomed to be pro athletes. Jason, however,
had an inkling of his destiny. Throughout grade school, while
taking career-day surveys, he would raise his hand and ask his
teachers where the box was for baseball player. A lot of kids
probably wondered that, but not many of them would grow up to be
6'3" and 235 pounds. "A good thing I made it," he says. "I didn't
consider a fallback position."
Jason was the pioneer, going where nobody in his family had gone
before, hitting .397 during his career at Long Beach State and
then advancing through the A's system slowly but surely. He
wasn't a power hitter until he got into pro baseball. But once he
started wielding a wooden bat, he noticed that those checked
swings that had resulted in opposite-field singles at Long Beach
and on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team were producing dribblers and
leaving him with splinters in his hands. "So I started pulling
the ball," he says--all the way over the fence.
Jason has a knack for acquiring mentors. Oddly, among the
strongest influences on him was Michael Jordan, whom he met at
the Olympics and with whom he renewed acquaintances when the two
were in the Double A Southern League, Jason with the Huntsville
Stars and Jordan with the Birmingham Barons. "I remember standing
on third, and here comes Michael sliding into me," Jason says.
"He says out of the blue, 'Hey, G.'" They became frequent dining
partners, and their relationship intensified when each played in
the 1994 Arizona Fall League.
While Jordan taught Jason a lot about handling fame, Mark
McGwire, a star on the A's when Jason arrived in Oakland in 1995,
taught him to sit on a pitch. "He took me under his wing," Jason
says. "That really flattened the learning curve." Jason's at the
point now, says Tampa Bay Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild,
where "he doesn't get cheated in his at bats. He's going to find
a way to beat you, and it doesn't matter what pitcher he hits
This is the gospel, book of Mark. "He's a freak of nature, no
question," says Jason of McGwire, "but he's also the toughest guy
I know. He taught me a lot about baseball, when to let it loose,
for example. My confidence has grown to the point where I want to
be that guy, the one at the plate when it counts. Mark helped
But if he and McGwire were best buddies when they were together
in Oakland--and remain very close--it was despite some noticeable
differences in taste. Jason has gravitated toward an outlaw look,
with longish hair and, on his left arm, a bizarre tattoo (the
face of a skull with a sun around it, and a tribal band around
the biceps). He has become such an avid professional wrestling
fan that clubhouse boys have to tape the extravaganzas for him,
and he has cultivated some wrestlers as friends. "I've gotten to
know Goldberg," he says, in the manner of somebody who feels a
bit defensive about such flamboyant name-dropping. "Good guy."
Jason has also acquired a pair of custom-built motorcycles
(neither of which he is permitted to ride, by contract, but both
of which he rides) of such fearsome design that to see one in
your rearview mirror would cause you to immediately pull onto the
shoulder and allow certain death to pass you by. "Here, look at
this one," he says, pointing to the fuel tank, which depicts the
skeletal form of himself swinging the bat. "Oh, I'm a bad boy."
Really? "I've got some issues."
Of course, he's not a very bad boy at all, and in fact he's got
more causes than he does issues. Among the former is helping
children who are bed wetters to understand and find treatment for
their problem, part of the work he does for the National Kidney
Foundation. Jason, who was influenced by the work McGwire had
done with his foundation to aid abused children, says he'd been
looking for a way to make a difference with kids but didn't want
to just lend "my mug and some jack" to an obvious and already
well-represented cause. Although he knew nothing of bed-wetting,
in 1998 he learned from a friend who works for a pharmaceutical
company how damaging, and how correctable, the condition is.
Jason became an eager and earnest player in the cause. Last
season in 11 cities he invited afflicted children to the
ballpark; he met with them and talked to them about medication.
Like many volunteers, he has come to see that his work has helped
him as much as the children, particularly in early '99, when he
was struggling through his separation from his wife of two years,
Dana Mandela. (The divorce is pending.)
For Jeremy, Jason's choices have been as inspirational as they've
been instructive. While he doesn't expect to become the slugger
Jason is--"I'm more of a doubles kind of guy, a gap-to-gap
hitter," he says--he knows he can work just as hard. "I remember
visiting him in spring training, and the A's decided to try him
in the outfield," says Jeremy. "And there he was, after everyone
else had gone in, taking extra work. It reminds me not to take
anything for granted."
Jason's career also inflames Jeremy's ambitions. "I know I'm four
years behind him," Jeremy says, "but I want his numbers right
now." He'll probably have to be patient, although his bat (if not
his fielding at first base, where last season he lost the
starter's job to Mike Sweeney) showed flashes of promise for the
If Jeremy improves on last year's numbers even a little, American
League pitchers will learn to curse the absurd family values that
spawned this fraternal phenomenon. One Giambi at the plate has
been plenty; no need to replicate the experience. But for the
rest of us, well, it wouldn't hurt to look through the sports
pages next season, see the Giambi boys turning in a 3 for 4 here
and there and imagine them phoning their parents (and each other)
afterward, sharing in their amazing good fortune. It might be
nice to find so much brotherly love in a box score, reassuring us
a little that life can still be storybook good, that two real
brothers can give those Hardy Boys a run for their money.
He's Got Base
With 181 hits and 105 walks and having been hit by a pitch seven
times, the Athletics' Jason Giambi (above) reached base in 1999
more than any American Leaguer not playing for the Yankees.
PLAYER, TEAM TIMES ON BASE
Derek Jeter, Yankees 322
Bernie Williams, Yankees 303
Jason Giambi, A's 293
Albert Belle, Orioles 289
Roberto Alomar, Indians 288
"but I want his numbers right now."