Giambi is a special kind of PED abuser, though. Since he always looked like a beer league softball guy who won some kind of sweepstakes just to get on the field, people more or less forgave him for his sins, and since his PED use came after plenty of other guys had admitted to the needle, he ducked some of the usual anger and angst. He was also forthright about it, hit after he got clean, and didn't suffer a relapse, all of which helps. The biggest issue for Giambi was that limited nerd metrics liked him better than the actual game did.
By the numbers, Giambi avoided making outs better than nearly every player in his era, and his power was significant, especially with the platoon advantage. Depending on how you judge these things, there is a case for him as one of the best 100 hitters ever to play the game, and maybe even in the top 60. It was legitimate power, too, with not a lot of help from his home fields before he got to New York, and he had good timing with some of the big flies, and his presence in the Frat House A's Rebirth clubhouse always seemed to be a positive... but he clogged the bases and didn't help his teams with limited range and defensive ability at first base.
He was a championship level player, but never led a team to a championship, so even if he hadn't the PED blemish, he doesn't really look like a guy with a plaque. Even the most nerdist numbers don't make him a lead pipe cinch, which is something that they'd really need to do. And without October heroics, he's no David Ortiz, which is the guy that his numbers look a lot like, in retrospect.
He also, frankly, doesn't seem like a guy who really wants to leave the game, and probably won't. He was a finalist for the managerial job in Colorado in 2013, and given how wacko that franchise is for morality, it says something that the man who once said his ethos was to "Party Like a Rock Star, Hammer Like a Porn Star, Rake Like an All-Star" was looking like managerial timber. Someone's going to hire him to sit in a dugout and keep people loose.
But there's one thing, I think, that might have gotten him to Cooperstown. Staying with the A's.
When Giambi left Oakland, it wasn't the first time that the franchise had cut bait on a home-grown superstar that had gotten too expensive for the town... but it still cut deep as bone, and it signalled the domino rally that was the rest of that club going away to greener towns. It even led to the ruinous all-in shove on Eric Chavez, who profiled as a better player but could never stay healthy, and tarnished Giambi's image. Once he signed the big deal in New York, he was a mercenary, when he was so much more fun as a pirate. (And yes, I know, they are the same thing, but you get the point.)
Had he stayed for the necessary hometown discount, maybe the far less intense Oakland media presence misses the PED usage -- heaven knows the A's have had any number of chemical achievers over the years, most of who only got nabbed once they left town. Maybe he stays healthier outside of the Bronx pressure cooker. And maybe he gets lucky in an A's playoff series, gets a hot month, and has one of those memorable stretches that MLB- teams remember so much more than the constant sequence of Yankee Octobers. Wrap it all up with one team on the plaque, he gets the Robin Yount / Cal Ripken treatment, and lots of warm fuzzies from the sucker media.
Instead, he got paid, and caught, and hated by a solid percentage of the Yankee faithful, who noted that the team never won while he was there. He was just one more shiny toy that seemed a lot less fun outside of the box, and by the time he got back to Oakland at age 38, he was pretty much done, with 396 of the career 440 already hit.
There's a lesson here for future players, not that they are going to learn it. And if he had stayed and didn't win, maybe we tell some other negative story of how he would rather lose in comfort than win in pressure.
Oh, and then there's this. Of the $133mm that Giambi made in the majors, $110mm was made in New York.
That plaque costs, folks. It costs a lot.