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Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane, left, answers questions from a reporter at a press conference to announce the re-signing of former Athletics' slugger Jason Giambi, center, who spent seven years in New York with the Yankees before returning to Oakland as a free agent, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009 in Oakland, Calif. A's manager Bob Geren is at right. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

OAKLAND

JASON GIAMBI strolled in wearing his outlaw suit, from the black scarf wrapped around his neck, to the black wool coat over a plain white T-shirt, to the cowboy whiskers clinging to his tanned mug. He is, once again, a rebel.

Giambi is back in the West, back in Oakland, with the A's, where his razor will be neglected and his rowdy spirit will be embraced like a cool drink on a hot day.

He always was an odd fit in New York, where he spent seven seasons with the clean-cut Yankees. It was as if "G" had hopped off his Harley, shed his blue jeans, took a bath, slipped into a suit and slid into the passenger seat of a Town Car. And called himself Jason.

Introduced at a news conference Wednesday afternoon at the Coliseum, Giambi had the cheerful look of a man back in his comfort zone. He's G again, a California boy, married to a California girl, returning to the organization of his career infancy. His emotions were visible; if you looked closely, you could see the lump in his throat.

"It was a great seven years," he said, "but I'm excited to be home."

For Giambi, this was an easy call. It was an easier call, still, for A's architect Billy Beane.


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Indeed, the return of Giambi, who turns 38 today, documents another moment in the constant evolution of Billy's restless mind. He's always learning and he soaks up ideas. After years of questioning the intangible value of clubhouse leadership, generally defining it as nothing more than a productive player, Billy sees the bigger picture. He now concedes there is something to be said for a guy whose presence not only assuages the anxieties of his teammates but often inspires them.

This revelation is, perhaps, the most lasting lesson of 2006, the only season in Beane's 11 years that the A's managed to advance beyond the first round of the postseason.

They could not have done it, would not have done it, without Frank Thomas.

Thomas was the unifying force of that team, the one man comfortable enough and capable enough to whisper in Milton Bradley's ear at noon, stroke Eric Chavez at 12:10, tweak Nick Swisher at 12:20, laugh with Jay Payton at 12:30, counsel Mark Ellis at 12:40 and taunt Ron Washington at 12:50.

And then, of course, Big Hurt would yank one over the fence, giving the A's a 2-0 lead.

Though his bat was plenty loud, his regal bearing made no less of an impact. He had been to postseasons, won MVP awards. His every move carried weight. Thomas' presence was on display every day, even when he went 0-for-4. It made the A's better, gave them faith.

Seeing that play out over the course of a season, Billy couldn't help but understand that not all contributions lend themselves to statistical analysis. That leadership cannot always be quantified. As a general rule, a quality team has at least one member who offers a whole lot more than dry numbers.

Beane wants and needs Giambi to be that guy, calling his acquisition a "no-brainer."

Giambi last season hit 32 bombs and drove in 96 runs. He's still patient and powerful, a pitcher's nightmare. He's also an MVP and an ex-Yankee. Approachable and affable, he's a magnet for young teammates.

None of this is lost on Beane, who extolled the virtues of Giambi's offense as well as his overall impact.

"You have to combine the two," Beane said. "Jason brings it on the field and in the clubhouse. That's unique."

G's leadership skills didn't translate well to the Yankees, a veteran-rich clubhouse environment, where Derek Jeter is Alpha One. Oakland's clubhouse can be and will be his — as it was before.

Some snapshots never leave the mind. G jumping Miguel Tejada for a bout of petulance. G going deep late to break a scoreless tie in Detroit, jogging into the dugout and immediately smacking Tim Hudson on the butt — to which Hudson responded by finishing off the Tigers.

Asked specifically Wednesday if he has a better appreciation for the emotional impact one player can have, Beane danced about the topic for almost a minute. He threw out gaudy numbers. He said that leadership must include production.

"The answer," he said, "is yes."

Proof yet again that when open to possibilities, the learning never stops.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.