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March 23, 2006: Big Man (Giambi & PEDs)

A new book came out today that details steroid abuse in baseball and which singles out three players in particular, Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, and Jason Giambi. Can you guess which of the three has admitted what he did?

Now, in the interest of being honest and open (which is the moral of this story after all), I must say that I like Jason Giambi. He was my favorite non-Yankee player in the American League when he was with the Oakland A’s, and I continue to like him despite the controversy. This is a guy I want to see succeed, and not just because the Yankees need him.

But today I feel he deserves to be lauded for what he has done, especially in light of what Bonds has not. It was a year and a month ago that Giambi convened a press conference in New York to apologize for his involvement in the steroid scandal. Now, I know you can say he was backed into a corner by the leakage of his grand jury testimony in which he admitted to using steroids. But bear with me a minute.

Giambi sat in front of a grand jury and actually told the truth. He explained where he went to get steroids initially, then how he became involved with BALCO. He gave dates, names of drugs, sources, the whole works. Isn’t that remarkable in and of itself? Bonds, by contrast, said he didn’t know bupkus. So there is a pretty stark contrast right there.

Giambi’s reaction to everyone finding out was then not to refute the evidence, spin it, nor lay the blame on a trainer or other scapegoat, but to call a press conference. Fears about contract situations made him unable to utter the words “steroid abuse” but his apology to the fans, the media, and his teammates was remarkable nonetheless.

He went into the 2005 season with the apology still fresh on his lips, but determined to move on. At the start of the season he was so awful, the Yankees considered asking him to go to Columbus to work on getting his swing together, but he wanted to stay with the big club under the tutelage of Don Mattingly. Turned out to be the best thing for him. By the time the season had ended, Giambi had racked up impressive numbers and the Comeback Player of the Year award. If he had not had the rough start, it is likely his offensive output would had rivaled AL MVP Alex Roddriguez’s.

Today in the Legends Field clubhouse, Giambi talked about the decision to handle things the way he did and concluded it was the best thing he could have done. “You know to be honest I had no idea what was going to happen,” he told reporters about making the apology. “I just did what I felt needed to be done and never looked back. I just tried to go forward and get my career back on track.”

I’d say Comeback Player of the Year counts as sign that his career in on track. The fans, too, though have come back. “It’s incredible the way the fans have come around,” Giambi told us, with his usual earnest, little-boy expression. “I don’t think I could ask for anything more. To have their respect and the response they’ve given me, it’s pretty incredible.”

It also means that while Gary Sheffield scowls at reporters who ask about steroids and the book’s allegations, spouting various versions of “No comment,” Giambi has already been through it. “I understand you have to ask about it,” he said to the group of reporters clustering around his locker, “but I handled it and I’ve gone forward and I’m worried about winning a World Series now.”

Since we already knew about Giambi and steroids, the only “news” that prompted the lockerside chat was a report in the NY Post that the book claimed that a reason Giambi turned to steroids was to please his perfectionist father. Giambi was offended at the thought that his father needed to be dragged into it. “Pathetic, that’s the word for it,” he said. The authors of the book have since come back saying that although Giambi’s father is mentioned in the book, they didn’t blame Giambi’s seroid use on his father. Which is good, because after all Giambi has done to shoulder the responsibility himself for what he did, no one else should be trying to lay the blame at someone else’s feet.

Now if only Barry Bonds would get that message.

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