Sunday, December 05, 2004

Week In Review: Yankee Blue

To begin with, I owe an apology to Mike Lupica. And Lisa Olson. And Ray Ratto. And Bill Madden. And Phil Mushnik. Everyone who seemed to have a hate-on for Jason Giambi, and against steroids.


OK, I'm back from the bathroom after vomiting up all the crow I just ate. Couldn't keep it down. Filthy stuff, that.

I've been on the run a lot this week, and was on the run to a court in the depths of Long Island when I heard the news. I was in a cab, on a ride that cost about the price of my regular commute for the entire week, when the story led off the newscast. Jason Giambi admits steroid use. This was leading the news not on one of the local sports radio outfits, but on the all-news station, WINS (I know, sounds like sports radio call letters, don't it?). This was the story of the day.

Now I was stuck on this long-ass ride now with a driver that couldn't stop talking about it. What the hell was Giambi thinking, that damn loser? Didn't he ever hear of Lyle Alzado? Why didn't Jason realize that he already had all the money he needed? What about the children, the poor little ones that look up to Jason as a role model?!?

The driver didn't know this, but I've defended Giambi in the past, and I've written a thing or two about steroids. Still, I didn't really have much to say on that long ride -- I chatted with the driver about MLB's steroid testing policy, agreed that it would probably get tougher, now, talked to him about Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco. But I didn't have much to say about Giambi. I was kind of in shock.

The thing was, this news wasn't really a surprise. Giambi's weight loss last Spring was suspicious, and a writer I admire very much said once that looking at Giambi in the Yankee locker room, you could see where he'd gotten "more tatoos to cover up the acne" that steroid use can cause. Giambi had been called before the BALCO grand jury in 2003, and had developed a variety of illnesses and injuries during his time with the Yankees that raised eyebrows -- patella tendonitis, intestinal parasites, staph infections in his eyes, and ultimately a tumor, allegedly in his pituitary gland. So I thought it was possible, maybe even probable, that Giambi had been on the juice at some point in his career.

But knowing something is different than suspecting it. Knowing is different than admitting it's possible. That's what Giambi's grand jury testimony means to fans -- we can no longer plead ignorance, or give Jason the benefit of the doubt.

He's a cheat, a knowing cheat, and a liar.

Before we go on on that path, let's say a few things about grand jury testimony. Revealing grand jury testimony is a crime, the exceptions mainly being if the testimony becomes part of the public record at trial, or if the grand jury witness tells their own story. As we've seen before with the Sheffield leak right before the playoffs, the BALCO investigation is leaking like a sieve. Grand jury testimony is being quoted verbatim, and the San Francisco Chronicle claimed to have seen transcripts of Giambi's testimony.

I'd love to see some prosecutions of the cretins who are leaking grand jury minutes -- although, since the leaks might just come from the Justice Department, I wouldn't hold my breath.

Ironically, right before I got in the cab where I learned about Giambi, I'd been reading an Op-Ed column in the New York Times by Eugene Volokh, about creating a "journalist's priviledge" that would protect both mainstream journalists and bloggers from being forced to reveal their sources in court. One of Volokh's ideas had some resonance to this situation, at least a day before the story hit the written media:

Lawmakers could pass legislation that protects leakers who lawfully reveal information, like those who blow the whistle on governmental or corporate misconduct. But if a leaker tries to use a journalist as part of an illegal act - for example, by disclosing a tax return or the name of a C.I.A. agent so that it can be published - then the journalist may be ordered to testify.
In this case, under Volokh's rule, a judge would be able to compel the SF Chronicle reporters on the Giambi story to testify and reveal the source of the illegal grand jury leak. He's got my support...

Back to Giambi -- a lot of great work has already been done discussing the Giambi situation, and I don't want to rehash it. The best blog entry I've seen so far on the subject comes courtesy of Cliff's Big Red Blog. Cliff Corcoran's take on the situation is balanced and fairly comprehensive; other good angles have been examined by some of the usual suspects -- Jay Jaffe, Alex Belth, Brother Joe at BP, Sean McNally at Replacement Level Yankee.

In the mainstream media, Giambi's public flogging is being executed with no small measure of vindictiveness. After all, Giambi, aside from being a steroid-shooting cheater, is The Man Who Dared Lie to the Reporters.

Oddly, the mildest rebuke of all may have come from Mike Lupica, who went easy on Jason as a tradeoff toward hunting bigger game -- Barry Bonds:

Giambi gets no sympathy for being the kind of drug cheat that Barry Bonds and all the others have to be, even if he deserved better than he got from these prosecutors who promised him his grand jury testimony would be sealed and then gave him up in front of the world. So Giambi, who wanted to take drugs so he could hit more home runs and make more money, takes the fall for everybody. By telling the truth. You wonder if Bonds, the one they've been after all along, will ever do the same.

Lupica's Daily News colleague, Bill Madden, won't even give Giambi credit for honesty in front of the Grand Jury, insisting that instead, Giambi was too stupid to lie:

In the face of all the adversity these past two seasons in New York, Giambi crumbled. Apparently, things weren't much different on the witness stand where, unlike Bonds, he didn't have the capacity to cleverly answer the steroid questions without actually answering them. (By contrast, it matters not that Giambi lied to the media all spring about the same issues - we're easy to lie to.)
Things get even more breathless when you listen to Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post:

He thought he'd fooled the world, Giambi did. Thought nobody noticed how a skinny singles hitter blossomed into a powerful home-run freak overnight. Thought nobody heard the whispers that tailed him. He's been lying the whole time.
If Mike paid any attention to the grand jury testimony, or Giambi's career, he'd have noticed that Giambi "blossomed into a powerful home-run freak" before he started using steroids in 2001 (heck, he won the MVP the year before he started using), and maybe even realize that Giambi had never been a "singles hitter". Don't let the facts get in the way of the story, I guess.

Over at Newsday, John Heyman unloads on Jason with both barrels, talking about the first baseman's carousing ways, and demanding that Giambi "Ask that any statistic or trace of him be expunged from record books, right down to his date of birth". In today's Daily News, class act Lisa Olson puts the smackdown to Giambi's dad, presumably because she thinks it's a fun thing to do, or perhaps as a measure of revenge for causing her "to blush" with his off-color tales of nights on the town.

Personally, the feeling I have about Jason is closer to sadness than anger. Sure, I'm ticked that Giambi denied using 'roids for over a year after he came clean under oath. I'm upset that the Yanks have this sack of damaged goods on the roster, with no defensive value, possibly no bat anymore, nothing but a black hole, owed $80someodd Million dollars over the next four years.

But mainly, I'm sad for the Yanks. It had looked like 2004 was going to be a good year for the team, and in many ways it was. But the way the ALCS ended, paired with the major disappointments presented by Kevin Brown and Javy Vazquez, and now an off-season dominated by steroids and Giambi -- well, it's all pretty depressing.

The worst part about all of it is there's a scent of doom around the franchise at this moment. The so-called Fall of the Yankee Dynasty, retrospectively marked by Buster OIney as the end of the 2001 World Series, takes on more life each time this franchise suffers a black eye like the one Giambi has given it. When these things happen, we're reminded that the "legendary, sainted" 1996-2001 Yankees would never have done low-class stuff like shoot up Human Growth Hormone. Those Yankees, the Real Yankees, also would have found some way to beat the Red Sox in the ALCS, and of course, they wouldn't have lost to the Marlins last year, so they'd be on course for a three-peat in 2005. Sure.

Right now, rumors abound of these "Real Yankees" making returns to Yankee Stadium. Joe Girardi is the bench coach, now, but you get the feeling he could be told to suit up at any minute. Ditto Luis Sojo. Mike Stanton has already returned to the Bronx (more on this in a moment), and this Giambi news only makes it more likely that Tino Martinez will return to lead the team at first base.

This phenomenon requires a more substantial discussion than I can give now, but here's a summary of what I think about it: in baseball, you have to move forward, you have to continually improve. Those 1996-2001 teams didn't stand still, they always made changes -- David Wells, Chuck Knoblauch, Roger Clemens -- and added kids from the minors like Spencer, Ledee, and Soriano. You can't go backward, as much as nostalgia and a few seasons where you don't bring home World Series rings might tempt you.

Speaking of going backward, the big call around town has been for the Yanks to void Giambi's contract for juicing. Unless someone had some foresight of this when they made up Giambi's contract (and I think we'd have heard of that by now, if they had) I don't see how this is possible. Set aside the "illegal grand jury transcript" evidentiary problem, and the "what did the Yankees know, and when did they know it" problem. Even then, you have the most simple problem of them all: the Collective Bargaining Agreement has already set out what the punishments are for steroid use, and having your contract voided isn't among them.

This is the downside of having a steroid policy. In 2002, when steroid testing wasn't in place, maybe the Yankees could have tried to void Giambi's contract, maybe Bud Selig could have used his "best interests of the game" powers.

But the same agreement that imposed steroid testing on players also established a regime for disciplining them for steroid-related offenses. You can say that the disciplinary measures of the 2002 CBA are too soft, but the fact of the matter is, no matter what disciplinary system they chose, it wasn't going to be "one strike, you're out" an automatic ban for a first offense.

The Yankees can still try, and they have plenty of lawyers with more experience, and more knowledge of the situation, than I have. The Yankees can also try to bully Jason, remind him how nasty Yankee fans can be, and convince him that he doesn't want to play out the rest of his career in pinstripes. Heck, maybe they convince him that he just wants to hang up his spikes, period, and wouldn't he like a nice 60 cents on the dollar buyout as a parting gift?

I wish them the best of luck in this. They can't trade Giambi, couldn't trade him even before he came out as a liar and a cheat. They probably can't keep him on the DL for the next four years, like the Orioles did with Albert Belle, or the Mets with Mo Vaughn. But they have to do something, because I have a hard time imagining how I could ever cheer for the man again.

Don't get me wrong. I wish Jason the best of luck, particularly for his health, but also for his game. It's not impossible that he could come back next year, healthy and steroid-free, and slug 30-40 homers on the season. But for purely selfish reasons, I hope it's not with the Yankees. As a fan, I have to wonder, how can you revel in someone's accomplishments when you can't stand to look them in the eye? I know I can forgive the juicing and the lies, but how can I ever like this guy again?

So I apologize to the mean-spirited representatives of the Fourth Estate, who tried to warn us this day was coming. I'm sorry, damn you.

Uh oh. I just realized I forgot to apologize to Selena Roberts. Oh, man, I think I'm going to be sick again.

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