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Former Dirtbag Jason Giambi: Comeback Player of the Year?


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Welcome to Dirtbags Baseball blog! I was introduced to Long Beach State baseball in 2002 when my nephew, Neil Jamison, joined the team (and university) as a freshman. I started the blog in March of 2004, and generally discuss the team, current players and those that have moved on to professional baseball - as Neil has done in the San Diego Padres organization. Living in San Diego County, and with Neil moving to the next level, I won't be attending as many Dirtbags games. But, mostly from a distance, I'll remain a Dirtbags fan. I welcome tips on stories and information concerning the Dirtbags (current, past and future). I can be contacted at


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Friday, September 09, 2005

Former Dirtbag Jason Giambi: Comeback Player of the Year?

Jason Giambi is a leading candidate for American League Comeback Player of the Year. And that has baseball columnists across the country apoplectic. On the one hand, I agree with the prevailing view that performance enhancing substances - primarily steroids - are the scourge of sports in general, and baseball in particular. But I also believe in redemption (within limits - Sadam Hussein, you need not apply). One of those columnists is Tom Hanson at the Naples (Florida) Daily News, who writes:
Comebacks should be inspiring. They should be grandiose feats of beating incredible odds. They should be special.

Comebacks shouldn't be controversial.

Ken Griffey Jr.'s performance in 2005 epitomizes the true essence of the word. He's, without question, the NL Comeback Player of the Year.

Jason Giambi's story, however, only makes a mockery of the adage. In no way should the New York Yankees first baseman get any consideration for the American League Comeback Player of the Year.

Comebacks should be reserved for feel-good stories - not scandalous tabloid-esque headlines.

Stories such as Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins returning to hockey after chronic back problems and a battle with Hodgkin's Disease or Sean Elliott coming back to the NBA after receiving a kidney transplant from his brother.

Baseball has had its share of these stories.

From Andres Galarraga returning from cancer in 2000 to pitcher Tommy John in 1976 coming back from a rotator cuff shoulder injury that, until then, ended a career, we have cheered and anticipated these comebacks.

In Cincinnati, Reds fans are tired of losing, but seeing Griffey return to the form that made him the best baseball player in the 1990s gives them something to be excited about.

Overcoming chronic hamstring injuries, which eventually needed surgery, doesn't sound like much.

But with every home run this season - 35 to date, which gives him 536 for his career, tying him with Mickey Mantle - Griffey has given his Hall of Fame career validation.

But Giambi's comeback is as gray as his Yankees road jersey.

What exactly did he overcome?

Giambi admitted in a federal investigation that he used steroids. He said he was sorry.

But does that mean honoring him is the ultimate forgiveness?
Of course not!
Sure, Giambi went from being the American League MVP to a reincarnation of Mario Mendoza in four years, hitting .208 with only 12 home runs and 40 RBIs last year.

Giambi's 2004 downfall can be attributed to being diagnosed with an intestinal parasite and a benign pituitary tumor. But can we be assured that these unfortunate illnesses weren't caused by using illegal substances?
I guess Mr. Hanson's presumption is that they were. I don't have any idea - and they may well have been related. But, with my limited medical knowledge, it seems strange that a parasite would be caused by abuse of steroids.
The fact that Giambi used steroids overshadows any of his recent accomplishments. He went from hitting .198 in May with three home runs to .280 and 27 home runs now. In July, Giambi carried the Yankees by hitting .355 with 14 home runs and 24 RBIs.
So, if I understand Mr. Hanson correctly, whatever Jason Giambi accomplishes for the rest of his life will be tainted by his use of steroids. How many of us would want our failings to so define us that the good we do doesn't matter?
But do we know that he didn't have the help of some juice?

His manager, Joe Torre, thinks Giambi deserves the award - steroids or not.

"I think (the steroid issue) works to his advantage if you consider that the player he was and the player he is right now are not that different," Torre said last weekend. "If people think he was that player because he was on steroids, well they know that's not the case now."

Yet, comebacks should be incredible. They shouldn't be incredulous.

True comeback players, like Griffey, help paint baseball as a perfect place to be reborn. They shouldn't be like Giambi or 1994's AL winner Jose Canseco. They shouldn't taint the game's image.
Don't get me wrong. What Jason Giambi did was cheating, a very bad example for young people, bad for baseball, and probably bad for his own health - some of his health issues last year may well have been related to the substances he took. Being the Comeback Player of the Year is not about forgiveness. It hasn't been in the past, and it needn't be in the future. But I also don't think the use of steroids is an unforgivable sin. Mass murder, child molesting - unforgivable. Cheating at baseball - don't think so.

Giambi admitted his wrongdoing and apologized. Even if it was at least partially self induced, Giambi went through a living hell last year. Earlier this year, it looked like his baseball career was about to end. But he worked hard. He overcame a kind of pressure that would have crushed most of us. Under the best of circumstances, playing for the New York Yankees - with the most demanding media and fans in the country - is like sitting on top of a powder keg.

And Jason Giambi is no Ty Cobb. This is a guy with a good heart. As I posted here, he recently jumped in to help his former coach with the Oakland A's, Ron Washington, who lost his home (and his mother lost her's as well) in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Jason hasn't played for the A's since 2001.

I won't forget Giambi used steroids. If he does it again, he should be banned from baseball. But I can forgive. Tom Hanson's self-righteous rant is half right. Comeback Player of the Year stories should be "feel-good." Where he misses is that Jason Giambi's story is "feel-good." The man did wrong, but he's making it right. As Barry Bloom put it: "He did the work to redeem himself as a player. And there's nothing more human than his rise, fall and redemption."

posted on 9/09/2005 by Jeff Agnew

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