Three years ago, Jason Giambi might have been the biggest pariah in baseball.
His career with the Yankees had been going on a steep downward trend at the time, cumulating in a 2004 season marred by a benign tumor. That season, he played in just 80 games, hitting just .208 with a .342 OBP and a .379 SLG.
Even more damaging was the leaked grand-jury testimony that came out from the BALCO investigation.
In his testimony, he admitted to knowingly taking steroids. He went over what steroids he took and when he did them. Chances are, Giambi knew he was busted, but he wasn't going to be alone. After all, how many major leaguers used steroids at the time, and how many of them were involved with this particular lab?
Not so fast. Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield also had their testimonies leaked, but rather than admitting everything and beginning to take responsibility like Giambi did, they said they had no idea what they were doing. Some believed them, most didn't, but Giambi was the only one willing to take any sort of responsibility.
"I feel I let down the fans, I feel I let down the media, I feel I let down the Yankees, and not only the Yankees, but my teammates. I accept full responsibility for that, and I'm sorry."
While he did not mention the word "steroids", the message was clear. If he had admitted using performance-enhancing drugs, the Yankees would have gone after his salary, a salary that he could not have possibly recouped on the open market. Could anyone blame him for wanting to make the remaining $71 million over the final four years of his contract?
That apology occurred on Feb. 10, 2005. Giambi was viewed (not incorrectly) as a cheater, but once the apology was over, he was finally ready to move on from the steroid scandal, the tumor, and the lack of productivity the previous year.
Many fans had written him off, based on the previous season, and Giambi did nothing to disprove that thought by starting off the next season even worse. In the first 27 games, he hit a paltry .195 with just three home runs, six RBI, and a pathetic .325 SLG. His on-base percentage was .386, but that was largely because of the fact that Giambi swung at the fewest pitches in baseball. Clearly, his confidence was sapped.
He always had a great eye, but at this point of his career, that's all he had going for him. Fans booed him from across the nation for his role in the BALCO scandal, and fans in New York had the additional motivation of his multi-million dollar contract with little production.
The Yankees soon would ask him to accept a minor-league assignment, which Giambi refused. Then something clicked. Whether he was finally healthy or whether he was reaching rock bottom, something happened around then. For the next month, his numbers slowly started to creep back up again.
Then, on June 15, the Giambino was back. A walk-off home run to the right-field upper deck against the Pirates was one of the more satisfying moments in sports that year, especially since it led to even more great numbers from Giambi.
He ended the season with 32 home runs, including 14 in July, and percentages of .271, .440, .535 across the board, a season nobody thought possible just a few months earlier.
In 2006, Giambi won the American League Player of the Month in April, en route to another year high in power (37 home runs) and patience (.413 OBP).
In 2007, the Yankees penciled him into their lineup again, looking for similar numbers. Unfortunately, a number of injuries hampered him all season, leading to him only playing 83 games and not hitting particularly well in those games (.790 OPS).
2008 was the year many Yankees fans were looking forward to. Finally, Jason Giambi's contract was to run out. His $21 million albatross of a contract was about to run out, but many Yankees fans forgot just how valuable a healthy Giambi is to the middle of their order.
He showed up to camp in great shape, but his numbers lagged miserably behind. He hit .164 in April, and that was after a few multi-hit games toward the end of the month. But like in 2005, he overcame the slow start to go on a tear. He's hit .341 in May and June, getting on base and slugging at much higher clips than he had been before.
But once again, many Yankees fans didn't believe in Giambi. They looked to downgrade him however possible, and while there's no doubt he's overpaid at this point, so are a ton of players. Last night, however, on a beautiful night in the Bronx, almost three years to the day that he stopped the boos at Yankee Stadium, he did it again, hitting a walk-off home run against Toronto's B.J. Ryan.
Giambi was back on the top of the world. He once again proved his doubters wrong by producing at a high level and leading the Yankees to victory.
In a nation of second-chances, can't we give one to someone who at least tried to take responsibility for what he did? No one knows just how widespread steroid use was in baseball. For all we know, he was one of about half of players who tried to take shortcuts to get to the top.
If you were a baseball player trying to break into the big leagues and make his niche, and you saw your team's star players taking these drugs that help give him fame, fortune, and popularity, would you not at least be tempted?
I'm not completely forgiving him. He cheated the game of baseball. But the game was tainted then, with both hitters and pitchers on the juice.
All I ask is to give the man credit. He hit rock bottom, worked hard, and made it back to the top of his game. Isn't that what this country's all about?
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