Thursday, December 02, 2004

Giambi's confession 

According to the local papers the big Yankee news yesterday morning was the team's declaration that they'd cut off trade talks with the Arizona Diamondbacks concerning Randy Johnson following the D-Back's outrageous demands. But that story was small potatoes compared to the headline that greeted San Francisco Chronicle readers almost 3,000 miles away:

Giambi Admitted Taking Steroids

The source of the confession was Giambi's grand jury testimony from last December's BALCO hearings. The testimony, which had been sealed for the past year and should have remained so, was leaked (curiously, back in June sprinter Tim Montgomery's testimony was also leaked to the Chronicle), but regardless of the legality or ethics involved in the acquisition of the information, it's now out there, and Giambi, Major League Baseball, the Yankees and their fans have to deal with it.

Back in January when Derrick Turnbow became the first "major league" ballplayer to test positive for performance enhancing drugs (he tested positive for andro on a U.S. Olympic team test) I wrote the following:
What really stands out about Turnbow's positive test is that, much like the results to the survey testing (which I discussed here), this is simply too perfect an occurrence for it not to be suspicious. Somebody had to be the first "major leaguer" to test positive. One can only imagine the firestorm should it have been an established, all-star caliber player. [emphasis added]

Well, we now finally have that first active "established, all-star caliber player" to be officially and publicly identified as having taken illegal performance enhancers. I wouldn't want to be the fan right about now.

Other than the two posts linked to above, I have not discussed the steroid issue facing baseball on this blog for the same reasons that I don't post about transaction rumors. This blog is concerned with only two things: the facts and my reactions to and interpretations of the facts. Before now we'd not had much in the way of cold hard facts concerning steroid use in major league baseball. Now we have the following:

* In 2001 Jason Giambi obtained the anabolic steroid Deca Durabolin from a source at a Gold's Gym in Las Vegas.
* In November 2002 Giambi approached Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds' weight trainer, who told him to stop using the detectable Deca Durabolin and supplied him with alternative performance enhancers during the first half of the 2003 season.
* During this period, from the beginning of the 2001 season through the 2003 All-Star Break, Giambi injected human growth hormone subcutaneously in his stomach, testosterone in his buttocks, and also used the undetectable sublingual "the clear" and topical "the cream," as well as Clomid, a female fertility drug that enhances the effectiveness of testosterone.
* Giambi stopped using performance enhancers in July 2003 because of concerns over the problems he was experiencing with his right knee, which required surgery following the season, and has not used them since.
* Jeremy Giambi also confessed to use of testosterone, human growth hormone, "the clear," and "the cream," all of which he, like Jason, obtained from Anderson.

So what does this all mean?

First of all, it is confirmation of all of our worst fears about steroid use in the major leagues. Think about it. Jose Canseco and the late Ken Caminiti were suspects, both confessed to steroid use after finding themselves out of the game in 2002. Mark McGwire was a suspect and admitted to using androstenedione, a product banned in international competition, during his historic 1998 season. Jason Giambi was a suspect and confessed to using steroids to the BALCO grand jury. What's more, Giambi stopped using the drugs when he developed the very same knee injury that ended McGwire's career in 2001, a piece of circumstantial evidence that implicates both men. And don't forget that during this year's ALCS, Sports Illustrated published an interview with Gary Sheffield in which he claimed to have unknowingly used "the cream," supplied by BALCO, in 2002. Then there are the positive 2003 Olympic tests of then minor leaguers Turnbow (andro) and Terrmel Sledge (anabolic steroids).

With this evidence mounting, it is increasingly difficult for an informed fan to remain convinced of the innocence of other players suspected of steroid use, especially that of fellow BALCO witnesses A.J. Pierzynski, Bobby Estalella, Armando Rios, Marvin Benard, Benito Santiago, Randy Velarde and, of course, Barry Bonds.

Exactly what effect the use of these drugs has had on the game is open to greater debate. Look at the list of players in the previous paragraph again. That's hardly a murderer's row. If they did use them, steroids simply kept these players from falling out of the league. A drug that allows a player to remain average for a prolonged period of time, or to achieve an average level of production in the first place, is not a threat to the integrity of the game. More troubling are suspicions surrounding career years by players such as Brady Anderson and Luis Gonzalez, which seem to echo that of confessed user Ken Caminiti. Of course, the most disturbing of all is the possibility that the unprecedented homer totals of McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Bonds from 1997 to 2001 were steroid-assisted, with Bonds' incredible production since 2001 being in part a by-product of his record 73 home runs that season.

There has been much hand wringing and brow furrowing over what baseball should do should it one day be proven that one or all of those players used illegal performance enhancers during their record-setting seasons. In an ESPN Nation poll conducted yesterday, some 72 percent of the more than 30,000 voters said that a player who is proven to have used steroids should be ineligible for the Hall of Fame. I have two words for those 23,000-odd voters: Gaylord Perry. For those readers (and Yankee fans) who think admitted ball doctor Perry should also have been ineligible for the Hall of Fame I have two more words: Whitey Ford. As for those who lean the opposite way, those who feel that pitchers doctoring balls is part of the game's grand tradition of cheating, I say cheating is cheating. Perhaps there is an art to standing on a hill in front of four umpires, 30 opponents and 30,000 fans and managing to illegally scuff, slime, or otherwise doctor a ball, but there's no art to corking a bat (regardless of whether or not doing so has any real positive effect), and neither practice is any more permissible under the rules of the game than doctoring one's own body, thus I see no reason to treat the records of steroid users an differently from the records of ball-doctors or bat-corkers.

Even if it is proven that a player was doping when he achieved a record-breaking statistic, it is impossible to prove to what degree the steroids effected that figure. The Chicago White Sox weren't awarded the 1919 World's Championship when it was proven that they threw the World Series, nor should any player's accomplishments be stricken from the record or affixed with an asterisk of infamy should it be proven that he was using steroids when they were achieved. Just because history was achieved by cheating doesn't mean history can or should be unwritten. Rather, it is baseball's responsibility to eliminate unchecked steroid use the same way they eliminated the spitball after Carl Mays killed Ray Chapman with one in 1920 (that is, as completely as is possible). Meanwhile, the records of juicing players should stand the same way Perry's 314 wins and 3,534 strikeouts, Ford's .690 winning percentage, and Norm Cash's corked-bat-aided 1961 season--among many likely others we don't know about--stand, unmarked but by supplemental history. That baseball allowed the steroid problem to reach the seemingly epidemic and record-breaking proportions it has is the fault of those policing the league as much as it is the using players who are simply employing whatever competitive advantage will keep them employed as players have always done (which is not to excuse the dopers, but to say that baseball players have never been shining beacons of moral purity).

Getting back to Giambi, according to his testimony, he did not start using steroids until after he won the AL MVP in 2000, thus I am unwilling to attribute his greatness as a hitter to his use of steroids. Quite the opposite, actually. Giambi confessed to first juicing during the 2001 season. Looking at his numbers, his production declined in each of the two successive seasons until he stopped using in 2003, at which point he was suffering from a knee injury often connected to the abnormal muscle mass that results from steroid use. By the time his miserable 2004 season arrived, he had developed a benign tumor that, according to The Daily News, was located on his pituitary gland, a side-effect associated with steroid use and the supplemental use of Clomid in particular. Thus it would appear that, if anything, the steroid use had a negative effect on his production, perhaps boosting it some in his excellent 2001 campaign, but slowly reducing his effectiveness in the years to follow. In his testimony, Giambi admitted that he didn't notice "a huge difference" in his ability as a result of the steroids.

Interestingly, this pattern can be seen in the rapid declines and injury-riddled careers of Caminiti, Canseco, and McGwire as well, with Sammy Sosa seemingly about to add his name to that list. Indeed, the image of a hobbled Caminiti falling on his rear after striking out against the Yankees in the 1998 World Series is eerily reminiscent of the site of Giambi flailing uselessly at high fastballs in the 2003 postseason. All of which is particularly curious given that the one agreed upon advantage of performance enhancers is their ability to help athletes recover from physical stress or injury.

That opens up a can of worms itself as cortisone, a synthetic steroid used to aid injured players, is both legal and in common use in major league baseball. That leads back to the slippery definition of "performance enhancing drugs" and the recognition that the use of amphetamines (the "greenies" made famous in Ball Four) to boost a player's energy and alertness on the field of play dates back to the 1950s if not beyond. Not to say that greenies were ever legal, but that people aren't talking about booting Roy Campanella out of the Hall of Fame or putting an asterisk on Willie Mays' 338 stolen bases because of his infamous "red juice."

As for Giambi's future, I think the first thing he needs to do is hold a mia culpa press conference. I know this information was leaked illegally and against his will, but now that it's out there, it would be best for him to throw himself on the mercy of the fans whom he has been deceiving for the past four years.

There has been some discussion in the papers about the Yankees possibly voiding his contract. According to Tyler Kepner in The New York Times team president Randy Levine met with Rob Manfred, MLB's executive VP of labor relations and human resources, soon after learning of the leaked testimony yesterday. According to Kepner:
The Yankees would probably cite Paragraph 7 (b) (1) of the uniform player's contract, which says that a club may terminate a contract if the player should "fail, refuse or neglect to conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship and good sportsmanship."

Paragraph 3 (a), titled "Loyalty," says, "The player agrees to perform his services hereunder diligently and faithfully, to keep himself in first-class physical condition and to obey the club's training rules, and pledges himself to the American public and to the club to conform to high standards of personal conduct, fair play and good sportsmanship."

The players union believes the clauses are superseded by the collective bargaining agreement, which stipulates that disciplinary powers rest with the commissioner.

Thus Levine's meeting with Manfred. However:
Neither the Yankees nor the commissioner's office has legal access to grand jury testimony and would probably not take disciplinary action, or any other kind of action, based on the article.

If the grand jury testimony is introduced in a trial, the Yankees and the commissioner's office could then decide that they could use it to take action against Giambi.

Despite a pre-trial hearing on Wednesday, a trial date has not been set. In fact, there is still a chance that leaks such as this and the resulting media circus could result in the case being thrown out as both sides have complained about their ability to receive a fair trail, accusing the other of the leaks while denying leaking information themselves.

Thus it appears that, despite this coming early in the off-season, the Yankees will not be able to make a move that would allow them to enter the market on a top-flight first baseman such as Carlos Delgado or Richie Sexson. It also appears that the commissioner’s office will be unable to act until the 2005 season is underway.

That being said, I’m not entirely sure what Selig would be able to do. Giambi has not violated the league steroid policy as he has not tested positive on a MLB drug test. Even if he had, there is no required suspension for the first offense, the policy instead calling for treatment, education and further testing. Giambi, of course, is already clean, so treatment would be pointless. A statement suspension from Selig would only put him in a position in which he’d be forced to hand out similar punishment to other players who might be implicated by leaked testimony, which could rob the Yankees of both Giambi and Sheffield, or in a much worse scenario for the commissioner, force him to suspend Barry Bonds as he closes in on or surpasses Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. Even if Selig was willing to set such a precedent, the players’ union will surely have something to say about a suspension issued without a single positive test under a mutually-negotiated drug policy that requires no suspension on first offense. As for the potential voiding of Giambi’s contract, that’s an even more frightening precedent than a suspension, and one the union would likely fight to its last breath.

With that in mind, I don’t expect any official fallout from all this. If it has any long-term effects, it will be in the relationships between Giambi, the Yankees, and their fans. As Giambi had a difficult task ahead of him before this leak as he attempts to come back from an injury and illness plagued 2004 season, I only hope the Yankees and their fans offer their support. He’ll need it.

As for the issue of steroids in baseball, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. If there’s any consolation, it’s that this came early in the off-season and there should be plenty of distractions between now and the time Giambi shows up in Tampa in March.

posted by Cliff at 10:07 PM

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Site Meter