Friday, December 3, 2004

The One about Giambi

So Jason Giambi, All-Star first baseman for the New York Yankees, used performance-enhancing drugs.

That’s an understatement. Giambi injected human growth hormone into his stomach, testosterone into his buttocks, rubbed a steroid cream over his body, took the female fertility drug Clomid, and placed drops of a liquid steroid under his tongue.

If steroids were heroin, this guy would rival Courtney Love.

I feel a bit guilty making fun of Giambi. I’m a big Yankees fan – heck, my son’s nursery’s going to be done in pinstripes. And I love baseball. My senior thesis in college was about baseball. The bookcase in my bedroom has five shelves of baseball books dating back a hundred years. And I dutifully attend my hometown Brewers games, even though they haven’t had a winning season since Lincoln was in office.

But I really, really hope baseball gets screwed on this one.

Why? Because I’m sick of everyone pretending the game’s on the up and up. For ten years we’ve seen players put up numbers that belong in a video game. You know how many times someone hit 50 home runs in a season in all the years before 1995? Eighteen. How many different players have reached that plateau since then? The same number: eighteen. Up until the mid ‘90’s only the occasional freak would hit above .320. Now, for anyone outside the Brewers organization, that’s bare bones adequate.

A juiced ball you say? Smaller parks? I’ll buy it to a point. But in exchange don’t ignore the fact that some of the guys that step to the plate look more like linebackers than baseball players. Yeah, yeah, Sammy, I read your book. You didn’t really grow until you immigrated and had proper American nutrition – you know, McDonald’s, KFC, the sort of places that promote a hundred pounds of new muscle in your twenties.

And Barry Bonds? [full disclosure : I have been accused by some to irrationally despise Barry Bonds. They’re wrong. I don’t think it’s irrational at all.]

Please note that Giambi obtained his drugs directly from Bonds’ personal trainer, the same guy Bonds felt so indispensable that he fought Giants management when they wanted him banned from the locker room.

Until the mid ‘90’s Bonds was a thin, athletic outfielder. One ofthe best players of the era, and a two time MVP, he hit more than 40 home runs in only three of his first fourteen years.

Then, well into his thirties he had a massive growth spurt, emerging as a huge, muscular power hitter. Now I’ve hear this explained away by saying that people naturally get thicker as they get older. Uh, yeah. But for most people I know ‘thicker’ means around the middle and in the caboose, not the biceps and chest. [note to self: If Barry is exonerated, rejoice. In 2.5 years you too will experience naturally induced muscle growth and finally kick the butt of the guy that kicked sand in your face at the beach]

Now what worries me is that MLB is at the mercy of the players union. Players like Bonds can say ‘test me’ all they want, because they know the union won’t allow it. Maybe it’s time MLB said enough. If the union wants to strike, let them. See how much goodwill they generate by striking to avoid a drug test.

Baseball is a game that depends on its statistics and records for continuity, far more than any other sport. Let too many fall courtesy of steroids and the game will be harmed forever.

Without realizing it, Giambi may just save the game he tried to swindle.

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