Gio’s Pizza and Spaghetti House sits on West Napoleon Street in Metairie, Louisiana. It’s a nondescript building in an unassuming suburban neighborhood. Their website talks of the restaurant’s thirty-year history, nestled in the community. It references the arduous endeavor of original proprietor Arthur Sr and his wife Rosa. This is an establishment proudly founded and maintained with hard work. Long hours were devoted. The site name checks each extended family member who has contributed to the eateries success. Amongst the roll call of cousins and siblings they mention Johnny. He is given no further prominence. He is one of the family. Perhaps his role was minor. There is no reference to his non-culinary career.
Johnny Giavotella plays baseball. He is a second baseman. He is currently without a club.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim elected to cut Giavotella in mid-August 2016. As the Major League Baseball season gathers pace towards the play-offs the Angels found themselves outside the vying scrum of contending teams. As preparations were underway to expand to the full 40-man roster — as is the norm in September — Giavotella was still considered expendable. His removal from the team wasn’t particularly surprising. The writing had been on the wall.
The Angels are a team not without challenges. Their active roster includes Mike Trout — the undeniable and wholly deserved face of the franchise. He is one of the premier talents in the game. But with his talent comes expectation. A team with this level of superstar, with supporting cast members such as Albert Pujols, should be in serious pennant contention. In recent years they have been plagued with inconsistent pitching from a core group that has been routinely ravaged by injury. Their farm system of prospects is generally considered among the worst in baseball. They have to juggle a ‘win-now’ mentality with a desire to improve and develop their future standing.
Giavotella was contracted through to the end of the 2016 season. With the backdrop of continual roster reassessment and restructuring he wasn’t deemed a foundational player. The economics of baseball suggested he — and his production — could be adequately replaced for a favorable price. Removing him from the equation would also provide others increased playing time and opportunity to stake their claim. As his contract ran toward its natural expiry there was a sense his release was more a product of timing than any perceived deficit in talent. There were multiple players he was in direct competition with that were on longer contracts. In a rapidly diminishing season, where all but the most remote hopes for success were gone, these players were to be given their chance. The Angels had to see what they had in the locker room. They had seen enough of Giavotella.
Baseball, more than any other sport, is reliant on statistical analysis. The season is long and grueling. Every plate or field appearance provides recordable data for statistical output that is available for scrutiny and comparison. When you research MLB second baseman stats Johnny Giavotella’s name doesn’t feature at the top of any list or chart. There are many websites and newspaper columns that can give incredible insight and analysis to baseball statistics. Not the Face of the Franchise is not the place for such evaluation. We can appreciate the importance of a positive batting average and high on-base percentage. A sport that sees teams compete in 162 games each year lends itself to number gathering. Simple win-loss records aren’t enough. How can we differentiate between players on 30 teams over a season ? What is the measuring stick that defines the under-achieving, the altogether average and the elite ?
Statistics fill a gap for fans and franchises. We have to assume Giavotella’s stats weren’t enough to persuade the Angels he should be offered an extended contract.
But baseball is more than statistics. A visit to any ballpark can convince most of that. It can be more than a sport — it’s a communal event. The game is steeped in history and team allegiances are deep-rooted. The game rejoices in its designation as America’s favorite past-time.
It is perhaps on the most human of levels that we can relate to Johnny Giavotella. We can root for him.
He is the little guy.
The modern prototype baseball player is enduringly powerful. Scouting networks, on an international level, are looking for athletes who have explosive speed, requisite arm-strength and can crush fast-balls into next week. The rigors of a MLB season can dismantle even the most well-prepared physique. It’s a demanding professional game and the phenomenal specimens are sought.
Giavotella is 5-foot-8.
He played football in high school. His regular selection at linebacker, despite his diminutive frame, can be attributed to his ferocious competitiveness and heart. Perhaps the terminology is slightly demeaning but its inescapable : He is plucky.
When evaluating Giavotella’s defensive work on second base his height doesn’t seem to impair him. He may have a smaller catch radius than most in the league but he repeatedly demonstrated an admirable spring. His diving catches and throws on the run were replayed on highlight reels throughout the year. An additional positive spin would suggest his closer proximity may favor him when dealing with ground balls.
Ever since Giavotella was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in 2011 his batting performance and metrics have been reasonably steady. He looks comfortable at the plate. His swing is smooth and measured. He was slotted into almost every spot on the Angel’s batting order in the last year. When he is called upon to run the bases he does so with an infectious determination.
Ultimately this year, as other Major League players were gearing up for the playoffs, he was taking the field for the Angels’ minor league affiliate the Salt Lake Bees. It was a final port of call rather than a development opportunity. Upon the closing of the Bees’ season Giavotella headed back to his family in New Orleans.
The future is unclear for Johnny Giavotella. As a five-year veteran with no contractual obligation he may find himself in demand when spring training rolls around next year.
He is professional in his approach. He is willing to work hard and strive to improve. It is this focus and diligence that keeps fringe Major League baseball players — and traditional family restaurants — in demand.