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Shut Up, They Explained
Tom Verducci
June 04, 2007
Baseball brass want to muzzle the one player willing to be frank about his drug use
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June 04, 2007

Shut Up, They Explained

Baseball brass want to muzzle the one player willing to be frank about his drug use

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NEW YORK YANKEES designated hitter Jason Giambi was called on the carpet last Thursday, summoned to stand before the suits at Major League Baseball headquarters. His crime? Talking about steroids. Meanwhile, the same suits are not happy that active players have refused to meet with former senator George Mitchell, who was appointed by the commissioner's office last year to investigate The Steroid Era. And what would the suits like the players to be doing? Talking about steroids.

Confused? You shouldn't be if you've been following baseball's awkward attempt to put The Steroid Era behind it. Baseball, with its thin blue line of mutually enabling players and its executives guided by public relations more than a moral compass, has been trying for years to turn the toughest double play in history: They want closure and no accountability.

Giambi never intended to cause trouble. He's a likable galoot who calls people "buddy" when he doesn't know their name—a galoot who, according to grand jury testimony uncovered by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2004, pumped steroids, HGH and other performance-enhancing drugs into his body. Since then Giambi had been careful never to directly acknowledge steroid use on the record, including a famously unintentionally funny "apology" in which, like a contestant on Password, he dared not say the magic S word.

But on May 16, between games of a doubleheader, no less, Giambi oddly told USA Today, "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.'"

Two sources close to Giambi said he never intended for those comments to be published—a stance he repeated to the major league officials who grilled him. Giambi did not, however, disavow them. (Selig is expected to decide in the next week or two if he will punish Giambi.)

Hundreds of major league ballplayers have used steroids, especially in the period starting in the early 1990s and lasting until 2003, when the first testing program was instituted. If you believe the experts who say that steroids can help an athlete perform beyond his body's natural boundaries, then the game in those Wild West years was played with a degree of fraudulence. And yet among the hundreds—and the many more in the game who knew or simply did not want to know—Giambi joins a short list of people who have taken responsibility that includes former MVPs Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco, Mets pitcher Guillermo Mota (who fessed up when he was busted last year) and San Diego G.M. Kevin Towers (who was promptly slapped down by MLB for admitting baseball people had suspicions of the steroid culture).

Given his chemical malfeasance, Giambi is hardly your ideal spokesperson for stand-up behavior. Indeed, the New York Daily News reported last week that he failed an amphetamines test "within the last year." (Giambi refused to make a comment to SI about the report.) But the message is more important than the merits of the messenger.

Two years ago a high-ranking baseball official stressed to me that MLB knew few specifics about a steroid culture that, out of necessity, had grown underground. But the official added, "If you want to criticize us for being late to the party, that would be fair."

So why didn't baseball, as Giambi suggested, take responsibility years ago and issue a public apology? We were late to identify and understand the proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Though it stands as an unfortunate part of the game's history, it is one that has moved us to vigilance in crafting a strong testing program to make certain that such a chapter is never written again.

Instead, otherwise sharp baseball people such as Yankees G.M. Brian Cashman and owner George Steinbrenner ("He should have kept his mouth shut") and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, an adviser to commissioner Bud Selig, jumped on Giambi for daring to say that responsibility should be shared. Weren't they watching what the rest of us were? And if they weren't, how is being that out of touch a valid defense?

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