Monday, May 16, 2005

Career Drainage

(JS Online Photo)

Jason Giambi stepped out of the batters box on a cold, rainy night at Yankee Stadium. He saw Monument Park, a glorious memorial to commemorate past Yankee greats. Someday Jason knew he was destined to have his name etched in marble and placed out in that park, he knew it was only a matter of time. He stared back at the Twins pitcher, then took a long, hard look at the right field bleachers. He eyed the remaining fans, the few that stuck around through rain delays and extra innings, and guaranteed to himself he would send them home happy. He was confident, cocky, ready to deliver…

This was May 17, 2002. The next pitch turned out to be the high point of Giambi’s experience as a Yankee, a towering grand slam walk-off homerun after being down three runs in the top of inning number 14. Time to jump around at home plate, high-five your teammates, tip your helmet to the fans of New York City, the greatest place on Earth. Nothing could stop Jason at that point, because nobody knew his real secret. Nobody knew anything.

There was some suspicion, but nothing worth arguing about. The headmasters that run this fine sport of ours kept it secret for long enough, why not keep this steroid situation private for another 10-15 years, just the right amount of time for another group of coddled, spoiled, rich superstars to move on. When Jason Giambi steps out of the batters box at Yankee Stadium this season, he doesn’t get the encouragement or cheering he got way back in 2002. Instead, Giambi has become used to the booing, the hissing, the cat-calling, anything else that links him to his exposed secret. He’s the goat, the poster child of a scandal that will undoubtedly taint the game of baseball forever.

In October of 2003, Jason Giambi got to experience his first World Series. Nothing could bring him down now, not after hitting two solo homeruns in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS to help keep the Yankees in the game, beating the Red Sox on an eighth inning rally, and keeping the curse alive for another season. They ended up losing the World Series, and Jason Giambi lost all of 2004. After a newspaper report in the San Francisco Chronicle that explained how Giambi testified in front of a federal grand jury was released, the buzz throughout baseball was unlike one ever heard before. The article exposed Giambi as a player that admitted he used “performance-enhancing drugs” to make himself a better baseball player, a fake player, if you will. Maybe the real reason he won the MVP in 2001, he hit that grand slam against the Twins, the solos against the Red Sox, and any other homerun in his illustrious career may have been helped by the steroids.

Immediately, the innocent and boyish Giambi stared in front of the cameras and choked on his own tongue. He first refused to talk to the media, all of this going on while hitting around .200 and not making the Yankees postseason roster in 2004. It’s really quite scary when you look at the situation- in 2002 when the Yankees grabbed Giambi for an enormous contract, you could just see the glow in his eyes when he held up that jersey, the same jersey so many baseball greats had the privilege of wearing. He smiled at the flashing cameras, shook hands with his new manager and owner, and immediately grabbed the hearts of New York Yankee fans. In early 2005, he held a press conference, telling all baseball fans that he was “sorry” for everything that he’s done. He wouldn’t get into any specifics, like his steroid pal Mark McGwire up on Capitol Hill. All he said was “I’m sorry.”

On this day, he seemed stunned with himself and stunned that everyone was treating him this way. All he wanted to do was play the game he loved, stare out onto those right field bleachers once again and hear the approval of the fans as they watched another hero show his talent. He blushed, fought back some tears, all while hoping for this day to come to an end. He just wanted to start over, it was easy to tell. Maybe he never realized what he was actually doing. He was cheating, cheating at the expense of opposing teams, players and baseball fans everywhere. And he knew it.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe one individual could come so far to accomplish his goal of being a star in professional baseball, only to see it all slip away so quickly. Once that report was leaked, he knew his career might never be the same. It’s worse, his career is practically over. There was rumor he would be sent down to the minors last week, then he was doused with a beer cup at the Yankees-A’s game two nights ago. You could describe the fall of Giambi as a dive down Niagara Falls, a spiraling hurdle from the top to the bottom. Cheating will do that to you.


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