The skewed perspective of a conservative Catholic employee-side employment lawyer living in the most exciting city in the Milky Way, Las Vegas, Nevada USA, who listens to a lot of really strange music and who, for some reason, lives and dies St. Louis Cardinal baseball

5/13/2005

Jason Giambi: no cautionary tale here

Sportswriters, being prone to the pack mentality, are jumping on the idea of slumping New York Yankees 1B/DH Jason Giambi as some sort of "cautionary tale." Here, for example, is an editorial writer in USAToday opining that Giambi's example is a "huge steroid deterrent" and, yes, predictably, a "cautionary tale." But is it?

Going into tonight's road game against the Oakland A's, in which manager Joe Torre gave him a "pity start," Giambi was hitting .192, with three home runs and a measly six RBI, in 28 games. (Over the course of an entire season, that projects to a .195 batting average!) Quite the come-down for a man who as recently as 2001 hit .342, with 38 HR's and 120 RBI (.660 SA), while playing half his games in a pitcher-friendly park. And that was arguably a down year from his 2000, where he hit only .330, but with career best 43 HR's and 137 RBI. Giambi cashed in on those monster years in Oakland when he signed a seven-year, $120 million contract with the New York Yankees.

Then, in 2003, Giambi testified before the BALCO grand jury, reportedly admitting to steroid use, and his numbers have not been the same since.

Giambi never was a particularly well-conditioned athlete (in other words, he's no Barry Bonds). He's shrunk up like a leaky balloon since the BALCO testimony, which is consistent with one getting off the 'roids. He's also 34 years old, an age that it is not unexpected for a professional athlete to noticeably decline. And he has not even completed the halfway point of the obscene long term contract the Yanks gave him in response to losing the '01 World Series to the Arizona D-Backs.

Giambi had a remarkable six-year run from 1998 to 2003. Triple digit RBI each year. OPS over 1.000 in 2001, 2001, and 2002. Not a long enough stretch to be Hall of Fame worthy, but it got him a $120 million contract, TV commercials, fame and (I would guess) babes. So, at age 34, he no longer can cut it as a major leaguer. And that's supposed to be a cautionary tale?

More like a walking billboard for the juice, unfortunately. Giambi represents a Faustian bargain that many many young players will still find inviting. And if we can't be honest about this, then how do we ever expect to discourage steroid use when Giambi is horribly miscast for the role of "cautionary tale." Steroids may have dangerous long term health consequences, but Giambi's not yet a canary in this particular coalmine. He's merely a ballplayer who's declining numbers happened right on schedule, but perhaps a bit more steeply.

And, by the way, he's not coming back. He's 34. This is the second terrible year in a row for him, even worse than the last (.208 BA and 12 HR's in just 80 games). It's over.
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