- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Jason Giambi is the feel-good story of this steroid-tested baseball season.

But Bud Selig and Major League Baseball can’t admit it. That acknowledgment would come with too much baggage, too much explanation.

Last season, Giambi was a symbol of baseball’s steroid problem. He came to spring training as a waif of a slugger, hit .208 with 12 home runs in 80 games for the Yankees and was left off their postseason roster.

Oh, and he could have died. Giambi was diagnosed with an intestinal parasite, and doctors reportedly found a benign tumor in his pituitary gland.

Then things got worse. The San Francisco Chronicle did what Selig couldn’t and found a steroid user in baseball when it reported Giambi’s admission of steroid use during grand jury testimony in the BALCO trial.

This spring, Giambi started slowly, apologizing over and over for something without ever mentioning steroids. During the first three months of the season, he hit .257 with five home runs and 22 RBI.

The Yankees begged him to accept a demotion to Class AAA Columbus. Giambi, making more than $13million this season, refused. He chose instead to figure it all out with hitting coach Don Mattingly.

Giambi found his power stroke and began turning on the inside pitch again. Since the beginning of July, he is hitting .282 with 26 home runs and 61 RBI.

So this is what happened: Giambi made a mistake.

He used steroids. He had a parasite in his stomach and tumor in his pituitary gland. The Yankees tried to dump his onerous contract and send him to the minors.

Giambi has overcome all of that to lead the league in on-base percentage at .436 and rank eighth in slugging percentage at .537. That’s a comeback — by any measure in any league.

OK, so Giambi’s downfall was his own making. Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were celebrated when they overcame self-induced substance abuse to help the Yankees win.

Selig and baseball also assisted in Giambi’s downfall by ignoring the steroid problem.

Selig cheered along with everyone else when home runs went up in the mid-1990s, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa duped baseball fans in 1998 and when Giambi was named American League MVP in 2000.

Baseball’s commissioner was complicit in the whole shame. When baseball was on the juice, Selig was hiding under his desk.

When Giambi held his apologetic press conference in the spring, Selig should have been sitting right next to him. Selig should have apologized to fans for at least a decade of steroid-enhanced numbers and to Giambi for his failing health.

In fact, when Giambi had a parasite in his stomach, Selig should have driven him to the doctor.

But Selig isn’t a stand-up guy. He could never muster the strength Giambi has shown this season.

Selig can never place an asterisk next to anyone’s name, not in good conscience, not unless there’s also a note saying the Steroid Era directly coincided with the Selig Era.

In a season of three steroid stars, when Barry Bonds has been the reclusive Garbo and Rafael Palmeiro lied convincingly like Clinton, Giambi is Willy Loman. There is something pitiful and yet admirable about his comeback.

Giambi has overcome his own poor decisions — and baseball’s negligence.

And the best Selig can do is list Giambi among the six American League nominees for Comeback Player of the Year on MLB.com (presented by Viagra). But it’s an impotent gesture from baseball, coming too little and too late.

Granted, Giambi’s comeback isn’t easy to embrace. But just get a load of next season’s feel-good story: Bonds’ pursuit of Hank Aaron’s home run record.

Just 48 more home runs before Selig is cheering again.


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