Sunday, May 20, 2007

Giambi in the Hotseat

My apologies for neglecting the ol' blog. I recently moved into a new apartment and started new job. So I'm pretty tired and very poor.

If you play baseball in New York, it doesn't take much to say something that sends the baseball world into a frenzy. So when Jason Giambi said this to USA Today, you knew the excrement was headed for the fan:

"I'm probably tested more than anybody else. I'm not hiding anything. That stuff didn't help me hit home runs. I don't care what people say, nothing is going to give you that gift of hitting a baseball."
"I was wrong for doing that stuff.
What we should have done a long time ago was stand up -- players, ownership, 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. 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."

In response to this uniquely interesting comment, the baseball establishment has proceeded to light a fire under Jason Giambi.
Part of this is at least understandable. Giambi's comments amount to a tacit admission of steroid use, much stronger than his previous, evasive comments. And so there have been several rumors of possible repercussions. The Yankees are rumored to be considering a way to void Giambi's deal. These rumors popped up when Giambi was first implicated by the leaked grand jury testimony from San Francisco. The fact that the Yankee execs are even somewhat considering this shows just how much spite they have for Giambi and his salary. And of course, I'm sure that everyone was pissed off at his comments and there's more than a little thirst for vengeance here, I would say.

So while I don't think Giambi should really have to worry about any legal consequences from his statements, I can understand that everyone's busy trying to make something of it. The thing that puzzles and angers me the most is that Giambi is taking so much heat for his comments. It seems to me (and several others) that you can't exactly blame Giambi for anything he said. Giambi has committed a crime, by his own admission, several years ago, but he appears to be repentant and is apparently disgusted that the problem isn't being dealt with honestly. Instead of considering the real issues that Giambi raises, he himself is getting flamed. Why is that? Because everyone is willing to throw Jason Giambi to the dogs to avoid having the Lords of the Realm dragged through the mud.
The George Mitchell Investigation was supposed to have the credibility of Kennesaw Mountain Landis, but not it has all the moral authority of Floyd Landis. The moral fervor over the steroids issue has almost completely died down, leaving very few people interested in Mitchell's ad hoc investigation. This is exactly what baseball wants -- not for Mitchell to lose moral authority, but for people to just forget about steroids. Mitchell's report will please no one, because it will probably throw a few ballplayers to the wolves while letting the owners, executives, managers, trainers, etc. off scot-free.
Major League Baseball is very interested in making the steroids scandal an investigation into a crime by individuals, that is those individuals who used PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs). They do not want to extend the investigation into a broader look at teams and organizations, because that would create major embarassment and would ruin any team's attempt to claim the moral high ground.
The truth is that the problem of steroid use in baseball was a crime perpetrated by several individuals that was condoned, for the most part, by a huge number of club employees and league officials. And if they didn't know, it was probably willful ignorance. As Burt Lancaster once said, "If we did not know, it's because we did not want to know." I have no faith that the Mitchell investigation will probe these league officials with nearly as much zeal as they will the players. And so, while the Yankees medical staff and upper management get off scot-free, Jason Giambi is roasted by the media.
A great example of this is Buster Olney. Olney is a fine reporter, no question, but he might as well by the President of the Baseball Media Conventional Wisdom Society. Olney blames everything on Giambi, using specious evidence and faulty assumptions.
Olney's rebuttal of Giambi's statements come in three points. I quote:

1) You wonder now if Giambi was sincere, whatsoever, with his initial apology, because in this piece Giambi indicates that steroids did not help him as a hitter. If he really believes this statement, then why would he apologize? Was it simply a media relations ploy?
2) He still has never really been up front and honest about the issue, as much as he would like to maintain with his comments in this piece -- because he does not want to jeopardize his contract (which is his prerogative).
3) There is something mildly offensive about Giambi saying that others should apologize for the steroid issue. I mean, really, think about it: He was an OK but not great young hitter, a 15-to-18 homer a year guy, and at about the same time that he got very large, he became one of the best offensive players in baseball and landed a $120 million contract. So he committed the crime, so to speak, walked away with the cash, lied repeatedly about whether he used steroids -- until he was scared into speaking the truth before the grand jury -- and has never come clean, completely. And now he's saying others should apologize? Please.
There's no doubt that the entire institution of baseball shares the blame for what happened. But for one of the users of the "stuff" to criticize other players and owners, implicitly, reflects the arrogance of a burglar who got away with the goods.
And 4) The Yankees simply do not need any unnecessary distractions right now, as they fight for their lives as contenders. I'm sure there were folks within the organization are incredibly frustrated that Giambi would say this stuff at this particular time.

Now, I would like to rebut Buster:
1) Buster should know better than to ask illogical questions such as, "Giambi indicates that steroids did not help him as a hitter. If he really believes this statement, then why would he apologize? Was it simply a media relations ploy?" Whether or not steroids helped Giambi is irrelevant to his apology. He's apologizing for breaking laws/rules and violating peoples' trust. Whether or not steroids helped him is completely irrelevant to this apology. Buster enters the entire article with a strong prejudice against Giambi and a strong air of snickering disbelief at anything he says. Buster may have good reason for his prejudices, but he needs to let us know what they are if he wants us to buy into his very skewed view of Giambi's statements.
2) Olney simultaneously blames Giambi for not being forthcoming and then offers a perfect explanation as to why he hasn't been forthcoming. He tosses off the line about his "prerogative" in what seems to me a very dismissive and unfair tone.
It's true that Giambi has not been entirely forthcoming, but as this event clearly illustrates, he could very well lose his job and become a public pariah if he does give all the details. As it is, he's given enough information to put himself on the hot seat and put his future with the Yankees in jeopardy. And Giambi's silence hasn't been (in my opinion) a silence of total denial, scheming and deception; it has instead been a silence forced upon him due to legal circumstances which Olney himself acknowledges.

3) Here's where Buster runs afoul of the facts, as his description of Giambi's career is hideously inaccurate and slanted to make Giambi look like an ordinary ballplayer who made money only through malfeasance. The worst part is his description of Giambi as a "15-to-18 HR guy," a lie that's even more egregious since it's so easily disproven. Giambi's career HR line begin with 6 HR as a part-timer in 1995, and then go: 20, 20, 27, 33, 43, 38, 41, 41, 12, 32, 37.
In broad historical terms, there's absolutely nothing unusual about a HR progression like that. Giambi's power peaked late (as often happens), and he has maintained most of it through the present day. And Giambi was not Barry Bonds, a hitter whose HR explosion suddenly pushed him over the top. Giambi was a well-rounded offensive juggernaut. His career batting line is 291/413/539, which suggests someone who relies on a lot more than home runs to succeed. Giambi claims that steroids didn't help him hit home runs, and a lot of new research continues to back him up on that claim. But Buster (and most self-righteous sportswriters) still cling to this idea of some Joe Nobody taking steroids and becoming a superstar. Doesn't happen. Even Jose Canseco said that all steroids did was turn him from a good athlete to a great one, and even that point is debatable, scientifically. Steroids and HGH don't have nearly the effect on raw HR output that everyone thinks they do, and it's the job of people like Buster to correct this miconception, not encourage it.
Olney gives the token speech of, "Yes, major league baseball was to blame, and what a shame that is," without tying any of that into his savaging of Giambi, or perhaps examining if, love him or hate him, Giambi is right. Olney characterizes Giambi as someone who got into baseball, made a lot of money, and is now asking everyone else for an apology.
That's inaccurate. Giambi has issued the best apology he can without losing his job and going to jail. Olney makes it sound as if Giambi is trying to blame everyone else for his problems. It seems to me that the opposite is true: Giambi doesn't want to be the only one to accept blame. He feels that he shouldn't be the only one offering apologies. There are many other people, including some who Buster slobbers over in his columns, who really are using PEDs, getting away with it, and putting on a false display of indignance.
4) Buster says that Giambi should have kept quiet, because the Yankees don't need any more distractions now.


I'll resist the urge to go into a Jim Cornette rant and try to say this simply: if you have something important to say, you should say it. The idea that we should all shut up for the good of the whole is fascistic nonsense. I will say that Giambi should have considered the effect his remarks would have on the rest of the team and the Yankee organization. But no one should be stopped from saying what they want just because it might embarass upper management. And yes, I'm sure this has disrupted the Yankee clubhouse, but the disruption has come from the insane press reaction. If everyone handled this sanely, there would be no firestorm. Giambi should probably say to the team, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to involve the whole team in this. These were my comments, and I'm sorry they're affecting the whole team."
Buster is one of the worst at perpetrating the holy ideal of the Good Clubhouse. But really -- how great is a clubhouse where people have strong feelings about something but aren't allowed to talk about them? I seriously doubt the New York Yankees are going to go into a tailspin just because there's extra media attention on the team. Apparently, it was OK when the club public threw A-Rod to the dogs in Sports Illustrated, but when Jason Giambi calmly expresses a sensible point of view, he's vilified?

What the hell's going on here?

Bud Selig, who is apparently blissfully unaware of public appearances, will be meeting with Giambi soon. Good job there Bud on creating the public image of a commissioner who has to punish anyone who speaks out like they're a 5th-grader.

There are bigger problems in this world than Jason Giambi's request that everyone should apologize for the Steroid Era. But when it comes to putting problems in perspective, the American media establishment is horribly inadequate. And although I think Buster Olney is a wonderful reporter, his Giambi column was way off-the-mark on a number of points. Buster should climb down from the throne and think of these things realistically. He should be the one to point out the twisted "morality" and double-standards of baseball. He shouldn't be the one perpetrating them.


Branan Whitehead said...

I hope Buster reads this.

t ball said...

Amnesty. MLB should grant amnesty to any player willing to openly discuss use of PEDs before 2007. Keep testing players, suspending those who test positive for current use, but open up the floor for a frank discussion of the problem and work together with the MLBPA for a long-term solution.

I can wish, can't I?