The facts may not all be in, but the story that the San Francisco Chronicle broke Wednesday that Jason Giambi, and his brother Jeremy, both admitted to taking steroids obtained from Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds' personal trainer, during the BALCO investigation, has taken a hot button story, and elevated it above the typical 'Hot Stove' issues that usually dominate the off season.
By now baseball fans, and most everyone else, has heard the news. Giambi, the 2000 AL MVP, has admitted to injecting hGh (Human Growth Hormone) and using a testosterone based cream and liquid. To some, it comes as no surprise, the steroid use in Major League Baseball has been rumored for years, and since Jose Canseco admitted to taking steroids in the '80s the cloud has followed baseball, and its record makers and breakers, like a well trained dog. Earlier this year Gary Sheffield admitted using a steroid based cream, but claimed he was unaware at the time that the cream was steroid based.
This is different though. This is a major star, one of the faces that MLB has actively used to market their product, one of the highest paid players in the league, admitting to knowingly taking, injecting, a steroid. This is a player who was given the highest honor, MVP, apparently during (as a result of?) his steroid use. This is a player that few, if any, have made a 'target.' There are those that would claim that much of the speculation about Barry Bonds' potential steroid use comes from jealousy or flat out dislike. That those accusing Bonds are doing it out of spite, rather than knowledge. Giambi has been one of the most popular players in baseball for five years, a player who projected the 'working class' ideals baseball loves to sell. A guy who, while with the Oakland A's had long hair, was a prankster, a great clubhouse guy, a guy most of America could identify with, an 'everyman'.
He will now, and forever, be identified as a cheater.
Worse yet, a drug abuser.
Giambi was given immunity in exchange for his testimony in the BALCO investigations. He asked for that immunity, he needed it, he knew what he had done was more than wrong, it was illegal. This 'everyman' player is no longer just a regular guy who worked hard. He has lied, lied in print, lied on ESPN, in clips that have been run over and over and over, and will continue to be run.
Pete Rose bet on baseball. He was banned for life.
Jason Giambi cheated. He took performance enhancing drugs. He has done far worse than Rose could possibly be accused of doing. Youngsters looked up to this player, who was supposed to be too small, too slow to ever be a star, and worked his way to the top. Now it appears maybe he was too small, was too slow, and for all those youngsters the road to success has become very clear.
And that is what we should be talking about.
Naturally it isn't what we're talking about. We're talking about, 'Who else?' We're talking about Bonds and Sosa and voided contracts and collective bargaining agreements. We're talking about the power of the Major League Baseball Players' Union and toothless drug testing policies. We're talking about the scar this will leave on baseball, about asterisks and records and whether Jason Giambi will ever play again, will ever be great again.
We should be talking about the scars that needles leave on 15 year old boys who know that 'Chicks Dig the Long Ball,' and more to the point that 'Scouts Dig the Long Ball.'
Giambi has yet to comment on the reports. He should apologize. He should quit. He should go into a room with a tape recorder and stop protecting people. If he wants his legacy to be anything other than a player who cheated to reach the top and then fell all the way down to the bottom then he should start naming every name.
Baseball needs a bath. It needs to be treated like the host of a disease. Poked and prodded and tested and cleaned. It needs a complete overhaul, because if MLB thought a player strike drove people away, wait until it sees what this will do. There are already reports of people canceling their season tickets. There have already been rumors that FOX is looking into suing baseball and renegotiating its broadcasting contract. The biggest stories in baseball this week should have been Pedro Martinez to the Mets and the Yankees breaking off trade talks concerning Randy Johnson. Those won't even be secondary stories now. The only story is this story, and unless Bud Selig and the Players' Union do something, something drastic, this will be the only story all year, and for years to come.
When the Red Sox play everyone will look at David Ortiz. When the Yankees play everyone will talk about Giambi. The Cubs will center on Sosa. Giants games have always showcased Barry Bonds, but now the question will not be 'Will he break his own record?' but instead 'Will his record be voided?'
And again, the 15, 13, 12 year old kid in Little League looks at his heroes and thinks, "Is that what it takes?"
And then he thinks, "I use their baseball glove, I drink their sports drinks, I wear their jersey, their shoes, socks, underwear, hats. But is this really what I should be doing? Is this what it really takes."
If he gets away with it. If he just goes back to playing. What is the example? What is the consequence? What keeps the kid from saying "Yes, he's got a patella tendon injury, and he's also got $120 million dollars?"
This goes beyond what is fair and unfair. It goes to what is fit and unfit. What is healthy and unhealthy. If Baseball ever hopes to be 'America's Pastime' again it has to start thinking about America, and not simply about Baseball.