Remember when Jason Giambi was a villain? Probably not, huh?
Nobody likes a cheater.
Especially not baseball fans, as you can tell by the way they treat players who have only even been linked to performance-enhancing drugs. For baseball fans, juicers are subhuman monsters.
But it doesn't necessarily have to last forever. Fans don't forget, but they have shown a willingness to forgive.
Case in point, there aren't that many fans who are still ticked off at Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte. They were revealed to be PED users a few years back and caught hell for it, but now they're both fan favorites.
Even Alex Rodriguez had his fair share of public support not too long ago. He sunk to a low in early 2009 when he admitted to using PEDs during his Texas Rangers days, but several months later he was riding the high of being a World Series hero.
There are lessons to be learned from these three guys alone about how those cast as cheaters can get back on the good side of the fans. It all boils down to a relatively simple four-step process.
Phase One: Own Up to It, and Do It the Right Way
For players who are linked to or caught using PEDs, there's no way to totally avoid outrage. The fans are going to be outraged no matter what.
But at the same time, there's that one word that everyone loves: accountability. Baseball fans are always going to scream and whine at mistakes, but they'll scream and whine a little more softly if mistakes are worn.
Pettitte's response in 2007 to being named in the Mitchell Report, for example, was perfect. The report alleged that he had used HGH, and Pettitte came right out and A) admitted that he had indeed used HGH on two occasions and B) apologized for it.
"If what I did was an error in judgment on my part, I apologize," Pettitte said in a statement to the Associated Press. "I accept responsibility for those two days."
Pettitte's explanation for using HGH also struck a few sympathetic chords, as he claimed to use it not to get an edge but to get healthy. He probably could have stopped and left it at that, but he chose to go one more extra mile when spring training rolled around.
The very first day Pettitte reported to spring training with the New York Yankees, he put himself in front of reporters and held court with them for an hour. Here's the Associated Press' account of the session:
[Pettitte] patiently spent 55½ minutes explaining what he had done and why he did it.
'I felt like I need to come out, be forward with this,' Pettitte said. 'Whatever circumstances or repercussions come with it, I'll take and I'll take like a man and I'll try to do my job.'
Other athletes have ducked tough questions about allegations of drug use, using evasions and nonspecific replies. Pettitte admitted his mistakes and several times patiently asked reporters, 'Did I answer your question?'
Pettitte's willingness to face the heat drew rave reviews from the Houston Chronicle, which wrote:
Andy is a man of such decency and humility that it’s impossible not to admire the things he has attempted to stand for. He admitted his mistakes and asked for forgiveness. What else can he do?
There are still people out there who hold a grudge against Pettitte, and there likely always will be. But Yankees fans certainly love him, and you generally don't hear boos raining down on Pettitte when he starts on the road. His villainy, which was iffy to begin with, has been largely forgotten.
Jason Giambi, another villain-turned-fan-favorite, also helped clear his name by being accountable.
When the San Francisco Chronicle leaked Giambi's 2003 grand jury testimony from the BALCO case in the winter of 2004, the world found out that he didn't try to hide anything. He talked about his relationship with the infamous Greg Anderson, and he didn't try to insult anyone's intelligence by saying that he didn't know what he was being given.
"I don't know if we got into a conversation about it, but we both knew about it, yes," Giambi said when he was asked if he knew the testosterone Anderson had provided him was basically a steroid.
This can be compared with what Barry Bonds told the grand jury. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Bonds admitted that he received and used "clear and cream substances" from Anderson, but then said that he just said "Whatever" when Anderson told him it was just flaxseed oil.
Plausible, but not the least bit believable.
Giambi first publicly apologized in 2005, but it rang hollow because he didn't specifically say what he was apologizing for. He couldn't due to legal complications, but promised that he would elaborate eventually.
Giambi finally did in 2007 when he spoke to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. He didn't try to hide behind the excuse that PEDs weren't policed and were simply part of the culture back when he was using them. What he did instead was take responsibility for that too:
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.'
We should have apologized back then and made sure we had a rule in place and gone forward. … Steroids and all of that was a part of history. But it was a topic that everybody wanted to avoid. Nobody wanted to talk about it.
Consider this next to what A-Rod told Peter Gammons when he came clean in '09:
Rodriguez did what he had to when he said he did PEDs because he was "young," "naive" and "stupid." In those words, he was telling fans what they wanted to hear.
But unlike Giambi, A-Rod also deflected some blame onto the era, calling it a "different culture" that was "very loose." He might as well have been shouting at everyone to stop singling him out, and that's where he went wrong.
Fans don't want excuses. They want sincere apologies and as much accountability as possible. If the fans get these things, they're going to be more inclined to ease up a little bit on the outrage.
Phase One isn't easy. It requires guts and more than a small amount of pride-swallowing.
Phase Two, however, is the hard part.
Phase Two: Do Something Awesome to Take Our Minds Off It
For players cast as cheaters, there's always going to be a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" element at work. If they perform poorly, fans will revel in it. If they perform well, fans will chalk it up to the juice and let the mockery rain.
But if cheaters perform really well, then they have a chance. As much as fans love to hate cheaters, there's really no overstating the power of a good redemption story.
Consider Giambi. His grand jury testimony was leaked in the winter of 2004, and it only added to what had been a brutal year for the slugger. The 2004 season had seen Giambi limited to 80 games due to a tumor in his pituitary gland and various other ailments. When he was healthy, he managed just a .720 OPS.
But the following year in 2005, Giambi was his old self again. He led the American League in walks and OBP and hit 32 home runs. His reward was the Comeback Player of the Year award, and he recalled in 2010 that he felt the approval of the fans.
Giambi told Christian Red of the New York Daily News:
You know, people sometimes don't like to talk about rough parts of their life, but that was a huge thing for me. I go in that town, come back and win (the award), have the fans accept me back.
Giambi's redemption story in 2005 was a good one, but what he experienced doesn't hold a candle to what A-Rod experienced in 2009.
Rodriguez couldn't have been much worse off after his big admission in 2009. He had the whole world against him, and then he had to go in for his first hip surgery. He wasn't just a cheater. He was a broken cheater.
But when he came back on May 8 of that year, Rodriguez belted a three-run homer on the first pitch he saw. Not a bad way to kick off a redemption story.
A-Rod finished the season with 30 home runs in only 124 games, and then put a cherry on top by vanquishing his postseason demons. He helped lead the Yankees to their 27th World Series title with a 1.308 OPS and six home runs in 15 games, and seemingly every hit he came up with was a big one.
While his main concern was pointing out how silly it was for people to view A-Rod differently just because of his World Series heroics, William C. Rhoden of The New York Times hit the nail on the head when he wrote:
When the news came out that Rodriguez had tested positive for steroids in 2003, one Yankees executive said: 'His legacy, now, is gone. He’ll just play it out. Now he’s a worker. Do your job, collect your paycheck and when you’re finished playing, go away. That’s what it is.'
Quite the contrary. Thanks to a solid season and a grand postseason, he has reclaimed his legacy. In fact, he has watched it grow.
It's easy to look back on what A-Rod did in 2009 as one great, big fraud. If what was in the Miami New Times about Rodriguez being supplied with PEDs from Biogenesis during the '09 season is true, then he was juicing the whole time.
But if any of us are being honest, we all had a different notion of Rodriguez at the time than we did when he first came clean earlier in '09. He was a despicable creature when he admitted to using PEDs in February, but he turned into such a conquering hero that you couldn't help but admire the guy to some degree.
That's the kind of effect that brilliant performances can have, hence the reason they're recommended for cheaters who are looking to get the fans back on their side.
But merely performing well isn't enough. Cheaters on a quest to rehab their images also need to act a certain way. That's Phase Three.
Phase Three: Become an Ultimate Team Guy
It's really not quite so black and white, but the consensus among fans is that players who juice are performing a selfish act. They're putting their own interests ahead of the integrity of the game, and that's no bueno.
The best way for cheaters to get around this stigma? Simple. All they have to do is pour all their energy into being unselfish.
Once again, Giambi's a perfect example to look at. He was a team leader when he was with the Oakland A's early in his career, and it's a mantle he took up again in a whole new way with the Colorado Rockies upon joining the team in 2009.
The following is the testimony of former Rockies manager Jim Tracy, as told to Tyler Kepner of The New York Times:
Giambi came to the Rockies in 2009 with an open mind, Tracy said, readily accepting a bench role. He compared Giambi’s presence to Robin Ventura’s on the 2004 Dodgers, a team Tracy took to the playoffs. Giambi, like Ventura, could reinforce the manager’s points in the clubhouse and teach younger teammates the nuances of the game.
So impressive was the way Giambi handled himself on the Rockies that he turned into a strong candidate to be the club's manager after Tracy left the organization. This despite the fact he still wasn't technically retired as a player.
Now Giambi is with the Cleveland Indians, once again serving as a part-time player and once again impressing everyone around him.
“He’s not a veteran, he’s the veteran,” Indians manager Terry Francona told Kepner.
Giambi is the best example of a cheater who remade himself into the ultimate unselfish player, but you might not recall that Rodriguez gave it a solid go of his own in 2009.
Before Sports Illustrated's infamous report forced A-Rod to come clean about his PED use, he was involved in another controversy that concerned his personality. The New York Times had published some excerpts from Joe Torre's new book in January of 2009, and one of the things that stood out the most was Torre's take on what A-Rod did to the Yankees' clubhouse.
“Alex monopolized all the attention,” Torre said. He also added: “We never really had anybody who craved the attention. I think when Alex came over he certainly changed just the feel of the club.”
Even though he had every right to be, A-Rod didn't sound much like an attention-seeker at the end of the 2009 season.
A-Rod told this to The Star-Ledger after the Yankees won the World Series: “I mean, it’s been a long time. I couldn’t be prouder of 25 guys. The coaches, the organization, it takes everybody. I’m just very proud.”
To which the author of that article, Brendan Pruntny, wrote this: "That has been typical Rodriguez this season, deflecting credit and accolades to others."
Again, it's easy to look back on this as nothing but a farce now, but at the time it was all very much part of what seemed to be a new A-Rod. While he was busy redeeming himself on the field, he was doing everything he could to convince everyone that it wasn't about him.
Had things worked out a little differently, we might still be praising A-Rod for how he played and how he went about his business in 2009.
We're not because he screwed that up, and therein lies Phase Four.
Phase Four: Stay Out of Trouble
There's one thing that should go without saying, and that's that those who cheat once had better not cheat again if they want to have any hope of getting the fans back on their side. One misstep with PEDs is a hell of a lot easier to forgive than two missteps.
But this last step isn't that simple. In addition to staying far away from PEDs, it's also recommended that former cheaters stay out of trouble in general.
Once again, we can look to Pettitte and Giambi for how its done. Pettitte hasn't done anything deserving of criticism in the years since his name first surfaced in the Mitchell Report, and Giambi has also kept his nose clean. Plug their names into Google and then add "controversy," and all you'll get is the PED stuff.
Now, Mr. Rodriguez on the other hand...
Never mind the Biogenesis stuff for a moment. What was in the Miami New Times definitely makes him look guilty, but let's acknowledge that A-Rod indeed hasn't been deemed guilty yet. There's a fair chance he won't be, in which case he's going to be owed more than a few apologies.
Biogenesis aside, it's still all too easy to point out instances involving A-Rod getting himself into messes that he could have avoided.
In 2009, it was reported by the New York Daily News that Yuri Sucart, the cousin who A-Rod said injected him with PEDs back in his Rangers days, had been banned from Yankees team facilities. That was A-Rod's cue to distance himself from Sucart, but then came a report from the Daily News in 2011 that Sucart was still travelling with A-Rod on some road trips.
Not a good look.
Also in 2011, word came out that Major League Baseball was investigating Rodriguez's connections to an illegal underground poker ring. Apparently, cocaine and violence were involved.
Once again, not a good look.
Then there was what happened in the ALCS last year. Out of Game 1 after being removed for a pinch runner, it was reported that A-Rod had been flirting with a couple female fans close to the Yankees' dugout.
For the last time: Not a good look.
Imagine a world in which A-Rod had proceeded to be a model citizen in the years following 2009. He'd presumably still be a broken-down old player these days, but his slow destruction would be a heck of a lot sadder than it actually is. Rather than the decline of a one-time (or more) cheater who threw away a good redemption story, we'd be witnessing the decline of a one-time cheater who cleared his name on the field and carried himself like a role model off the field. Nobody wants to see a decline like that unfold.
That other world is a world in which Rodriguez followed all four phases to a T. There are no guarantees for cheaters who want to repair their images, but accountability, strong play, unselfishness and clean living go a long way.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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