Lost in Tuesday’s talk surrounding the National Baseball Hall of Fame announcement are the players like Rich Aurillia, Troy Percival and Eddie Guardado. Also in the mix of names taking a back seat to the likes of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz is former Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Brian Giles.
Now, despite appearing on this year’s ballot, simply put, there’s no way that the former 17th-round pick of the Cleveland Indians is a Hall of Famer. That being said, he’s another one of those players who should not be forgotten – especially not by Pirates fans.
Giles spent his first four big league seasons in Cleveland, but never put it all together. In those four campaigns, the outfielder put together a slash-line of .284/.391/.485, while adding 39 home runs and 117 RBI in 299 games. However, in Nov. 1998, the Indians dealt Giles to the Pirates in exchange for left-hander Ricardo Rincon, bringing him to the Steel City and setting the stage for a breakout 1999 campaign.
As the temperatures warmed that year, so did Giles’ bat. In March and April, he batted a respectable .270 – and from there, he took off. Over the next three months, his average climbed to .302 and .329 before peaking at .341 in the month of July. From there, Giles’ power stroke took over – in the month of August, he clubbed a dozen home runs and drove in 31 runs before reverting back to driving the ball all over the diamond. In the season’s final month, the outfielder batted .377/.487/.738 – putting the finishing touches on one of the best seasons of his career.
1999 would be the first of four straight 30-homer seasons for Giles, who finished 19th in the National League MVP voting that year – due largely in part to his 39 home runs and 115 runs batted in. He ended the year with a slash-line of .315/.418/.614 – showcasing a devastating combination of power and approach at the plate – in just 141 games.
The next season, Giles showed that 1999 was no fluke, earning his first All-Star selection of his 15-year career, hitting 35 homers and driving in a career-best 135 runs across 156 games for the Pirates. Once again, he combined power and a sound approach at the dish, putting up a near identical line to the year prior – .315/.432/.594 – while leading the club offensively.
Giles truly epitomized consistency during his time in the Steel City, as showcased in his second All-Star season, 2001. The left-handed-swinging slugger hit 37 bombs, narrowly missing out on the century plateau in terms of runs batted in, driving in 95 runs while adding 37 doubles for the second consecutive campaign. Once again, he received votes in the National League MVP voting – but wasn’t seriously in the running for the honors.
Heading into 2002, his future with the Pirates was clear – he was the face of the franchise. Again, Giles did not disappoint. He narrowly missed the 40-homer mark once again, hitting 38 long-balls, also driving in 103 runs. However, once again, Pittsburgh languished in the NL Central, finishing at 72-89 – fourth in the division, despite Giles’ All-Star caliber performance.
From 1999 to 2002, Giles drove in as many runs as Giants’ slugger Barry Bonds.
In 2003, the outfielder took his first step backward since his arrival in Pittsburgh. That season, his power numbers took a dip given he appeared in just 134 games – his lowest total since joining the Bucs. After hitting 16 homers and driving in 71 runs, while posting a 2.3 WAR (as opposed to a 5.3 clip the year prior) – Giles was traded on Aug. 26 to the San Diego Padres for Jason Bay, Oliver Perez and a player to be named later, ending his tenure in Pittsburgh.
From 1999 to 2002 – his tenure with Pittsburgh (his half season with the Pirates in 2003 not withstanding) – Giles ranked sixth in all of baseball in terms of WAR (25.2) – trailing only Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Sammy Sosa and Andruw Jones. In those four seasons, he actually drove in just as many runs as Bonds (436) – although he did appear in more games than the San Francisco Giants’ slugger. Regardless, he provided value to the Pirates that one could have hardly anticipated at the onset of his career in Pittsburgh.
The team struggled during those years, going 281-365 (.434) – but it was in no part due to the work of Giles. After leaving the Pirates, he went on to spent the next seven seasons on the West Cost with San Diego. During that stretch, he was no longer the dominant power threat we was with Pittsburgh, but still put together a respectable .279/.380/.435 line in 833 games. In 2005, at age 34, Giles led the league with 115 walks – while also hitting .309 and driving in 83 runs – good enough to finish ninth in MVP voting.
Tuesday afternoon, several players will get the call they hoped for. Brian Giles will not be one of them. That being said, for Pittsburgh Pirates fans, he emerged at the turn of the century as one of the best offensive weapons the team had seen in some time. And for that, he will not be forgotten.