New York Yankees first baseman/designated hitter Jason Giambi made another statement to the press this past week, grabbing headlines all over the baseball world.
Given the past, it shouldn’t have been startling news, but to many, it was just that.
The slugger’s admission that he once used “stuff”, widely interpreted as a different “s” word, steroids, has again driven the self-righteous hypocrites out in droves.
For the record, Giambi was quoted by USA Today on Thursday as saying that he "was wrong for doing that stuff." He continued by asserting "what we should have done a long time ago was stand up - players, owners, everybody - and said: 'We made a mistake.' We should have apologized back then and made sure we had a rule in place and gone forward.”
Of course, Giambi is absolutely right. Anyone with half a brain knows that.
But, in this “kill the messenger” society we live in, those who share the guilt for years of looking in the other direction while the money flowed in were expectedly the first in line to attack.
The commissioner's office indignantly announced they are investigating Giambi's comments and will summon him to a meeting to discuss them. Likely Bud Selig’s glacial-moving investigation team led by George Mitchell will pile on, looking for a headline or two themselves.
Giambi’s remarks from last week could also lead the Yankees to make another attempt to void his seven-year, $120 million contract signed in 2001. He is slated to earn $21 million both this season and next, while the Yankees carry a $22 million option with a $5 million buyout for 2009.
A skeptic might wonder if there would be such a fuss in the Bronx if Giambi wasn’t one for his last 26 at the plate and struggling with heel spurs while his club is firmly under .500 and trails the Boston Red Sox by double-digits in the standings.
Sadly, MLB’s feeble responses to the entire set of steroid scandals carry about the same credibility as Rafael Palmeiro’s March, 2005 Congressional testimony.
Perhaps all these self-appointed investigators haven’t been paying attention to the news for the last five or ten years as the weight of evidence from the “Steroids Era” piles up.
Are they not aware of BALCO and the testimony resulting from those indictments, including Giambi’s? Most ironically, to the best of my knowledge, Barry Bonds has yet to miss a single baseball game or lose a single dollar of salary due to any use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Yet, Giambi is at risk of getting strung up here and now?
After all that happened previously, people are surprised that Jason Giambi would continue to speak out? Let’s face it. The only difference now is that Giambi had the audacity to note that his employers are also partially to blame for the steroid mess in their game.
And that’s the real problem, isn’t it?
Did they not read about the former New York Mets clubhouse attendant who pled guilty to supplying illegal performance-enhancing drugs to as many as 100 ballplayers over a ten-year period?
Where was he employed, again?
Perhaps they missed the special report from ESPN The Magazine entitled “Who Knew?”. A team of ESPN reporters spent six months holding more than 150 interviews and examining hundreds of pages of documents. The result was a series of telling vignettes looking at the steroids problem in Major League Baseball.
Jason Giambi had his own chapter, including mention of his BALCO grand jury testimony that he reportedly stopped taking steroids during 2003, at least a season-and-a-half after joining the Yankees. Yet, no action was taken against him at that time.
After a parasitic infestation and benign pituitary tumor weakened Giambi's health during 2004, a noticeably-thinner slugger made a vague apology from Yankee Stadium in February, 2005. He never said what he was sorry about. He didn’t have to.
"When I went into that grand jury, I told the truth," Giambi said.
"I know the fans might want more, but at this present time because of all the legal matters, I can't get into specifics," Giambi explained in 2005. "Someday, hopefully, I will be able to."
No further action was taken against him.
After Giambi apologized, so did his younger brother and former teammate Jeremy Giambi, who opened up to The Kansas City Star in March, 2005, directly admitting steroid use. Jeremy also helped to translate for his big brother.
"If you don't know what he's apologizing for," Jeremy Giambi then said about Jason, "you must've been in a coma for two years."
For all intents and purposes, Major League Baseball has remained in that same coma during the two years that have transpired since the younger Giambi’s statement and probably would like us to remain there, too.
Now in May, 2007, Jason Giambi opened up the aperture a little bit more and in the process, committed the crime of again acknowledging that unspoken truth.
“Steroids and all of that was a part of history. But it was a topic that everybody wanted to avoid. Nobody wanted to talk about it," Giambi explained last week, uttering that “s” word directly.
That last statement, “Nobody wanted to talk about it,” brings me to Giambi’s close friend and former Oakland A’s teammate, Mark McGwire.
As noted above, Giambi remains a productive Major Leaguer with tens on millions of dollars still on the line, yet was honest enough to again admit what most of us had accepted, anyway.
Yet, his pal Big Mac, with his money safely stashed away, remains firmly in hiding. Any time over the last two-plus years since his bungled Congressional testimony, the long-retired McGwire could have echoed what Giambi said, and taken a lot less risk in doing so.
Instead, McGwire apparently seems to think he would harm his changes for his crowning and final remaining career recognition – selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame - by speaking out, instead of understanding that he would likely be forgiven by a majority of fans and voting sportswriters if he simply came clean.
In doing so, McGwire could become the game’s most visible and effective fighter against steroid abuse in youth. In fact, he committed to do that once before while under oath, but it turned out to be a hollow offer.
During those infamous House Government Reform Committee Hearings in 2005, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland asked McGwire about baseball players as role models for high schoolers.
A squirming Mac tried to take the high ground, noting the benevolence of his foundation in dealing with the serious issues of child neglect and abuse. He then delivered a clear mandate as to his foundation’s future.
McGwire: “We have not talked about it, but I am going to redirect about this subject.”
Cummings: “Are you willing to be a national spokesman against steroids…?”
McGwire: “I’d be a great one.”
Cummings: “So, that means you would do it.”
McGwire: “Be a spokesman? Absolutely.”
Sadly, like Palmeiro’s famous denial issued that same day, McGwire’s statement wasn’t true.
An internet search for “The Mark McGwire Foundation” indicates that it either is non-existent or has gone miles underground. One 1999 press release by Yahoo touts a URL for the Foundation, mcgwire.kids.yahoo.com, which is no longer active. Another vintage-2001 McGwire site, which may or may not be directly associated with him, lists his causes as “working against Bed-Wetting with the National Kidney Foundation” and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation. The links from the former point to a 1999 press release.
If Mac was a true buddy to Giambi, he’d not let him take the heat alone. He would demonstrate courage by coming out and standing beside his friend. Sure, McGwire could only say what we may already believe to be true, but it would mean a lot to many to hear it from him directly after his years of ducking the truth. He might even salvage some of his displaced dignity in the process and if he tried, he could also again openly help more than a few youngsters along the way.
And maybe, just maybe, some progress toward healing could begin for Jason Giambi, Mark McGwire and for Major League Baseball itself. The alternative is to remain in that comfortable comatose state about which Jeremy Giambi reminded us over two years ago.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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