NEW YORK -- Despite spending only two years together in Oakland, Athletics first baseman Jason Giambi still credits much of his success to Mark McGwire.
So it came as no surprise that one of Giambi's first calls after winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award went to Big Mac.
"I wanted to thank him first before anybody else because what he meant to me and my career," Giambi said Wednesday. "He was so excited for me. We have such a special friendship. He is everything from a mentor to a big brother and everything else."
Giambi got 14 of the 28 first-place votes to finish with 317 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America and edge out Chicago's Frank Thomas. Giambi also got 11 seconds, two thirds and one fifth.
Thomas, a two-time winner, rebounded from his worst season as a pro to finish second with 285 points and 10 first-place votes. Seattle's Alex Rodriguez got the other four first-place votes to finish third with 218 points.
"This is a boy's dream come true," Giambi said. "This has been nothing but a fairy tale for me this year with my brother (Jeremy) here and the A's winning the division."
Giambi came up to Oakland early in the 1995 season, when McGwire was entrenched at first base and served as a tutor for the young player.
Two years later, McGwire was traded to St. Louis as the A's began a rebuilding process that turned into this season's division title. Oakland also took the Yankees to a deciding fifth game in the division series before being eliminated.
"A couple of years ago we almost lost 100 games," Giambi said. "We've really turned the corner. (GM) Billy Beane did an unbelievable job putting together this machine we have going now. Hopefully we can take it to the next step."
Giambi is the biggest reason why. He spearheaded the team's run to the AL West title by hitting .396 with 13 homers and 32 RBIs in the final month.
"I knew when I came to the ballpark that it wasn't a question if I would get a hit -- it was how many and if I'd have a home run," Giambi said. "I had never been so focused in my life. It is something you dream about to have that kind of September to get your team to the playoffs."
Not that he was shabby the rest of the season, either. He finished with a .333 average, 43 homers, 137 RBIs and 137 walks. He led the league with a .476 on-base percentage and was third with a .647 slugging percentage.
"This kid, if you look at him the last couple of years, he's gotten better each year," Oakland manager Art Howe said during the playoffs. "For me, he's the MVP of this league, hands down."
The next step for the A's will be how to keep Giambi in Oakland beyond next year. He is eligible for free agency following the 2001 season and it could be difficult for the low-budget A's to keep Giambi.
"We're trying do this as soon as we can," Giambi said. "I'd like to end my career here in Oakland."
Beane said his top priority is to keep Giambi.
"There's no getting around the question that Jason will be paid a lot, and he deserves to be paid a lot," Beane said.
Toronto's Carlos Delgado was fourth (206), followed by Boston's Pedro Martinez (103), Cleveland's Manny Ramirez and Seattle's Edgar Martinez (97 each), Anaheim's Darin Erstad (94), Boston's Nomar Garciaparra (66) and the Yankees' Derek Jeter (44).
Thomas, the winner in 1993-94, rebounded from career lows of 15 homers and 77 RBIs to lead the White Sox to the best record in the league. He hit .328 with career highs of 43 homers and 143 RBIs.
Rodriguez, the top free agent this winter, hit .316 with 41 homers and 132 RBIs while playing shortstop. He led the Mariners to the wild card spot and within two wins of their first World Series appearance.
Delgado might have been the best hitter in the AL this season, but was hurt in voting because he couldn't get the Blue Jays to the postseason. Delgado hit .344 with 41 homers and 137 RBIs. He also had a league-leading 57 doubles and was second in on-base percentage (.470) and slugging (.664).
Martinez, the unanimous choice for the AL Cy Young Award this week, went 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA, but was left off eight ballots -- in part because of the bias some voters have against pitchers.
Giambi received a $100,000 bonus for winning on top of his $3 million salary.