Sunday, July 31, 2005

The biggest missing story in baseball

In 2000 Jason Giambi won the MVP award for the American League; his OPS was 1.123. In 2001, he had a career high OPS of 1.137 but was robbed of the MVP, the voters being more interested in the flash of Ichiro and his 0.838 OPS than a slow-footed slugger who walked a lot. In 2002 he signed with the Yankees; that year and in 03 he had less Ruthian numbers but still played well. In 2004, he had knee and vision problems, an intestinal parasite, a pituitary tumor, and an 0.720 OPS in 80 games, not even making the post-season roster. That winter his testimony before the BALCO grand jury was (illegally) leaked, revealing his admission that he had used anabolic steroids and other drugs between 2001 and 2003. Since January 2005 steroids have been controlled substances, but at the time they were not condoned but not prohibited by MLB, and Giambi's NYY contract did not contain language against using them (said language having been removed at his agents' request). The Yankees hypocritically looked into dumping Giambi's contract, figuring he was done, but with no legal case and four years left on his $120 million contract, they had no choice but to play him. He apologized to everyone for an unspecified offense and otherwise kept quiet as people questioned his emotional makeup and determination. In the spring he had poor at-bats, but still managed to get enough walks and hit-by-pitches to achieve a reasonable on-base percentage, attracting a good deal of scorn even from Yankees fans for his don't-make-me-swing-the-bat-please approach. He refused a request by the team to accept a minor-league assignment. At the end of May his OPS was 0.723; at the end of June, 0.783 with an excellent 0.409 OBP but just 5 home runs on the year. Then this month he hit 14 HRs and raised his OPS to 0.993, essentially tied for second in the league just behind A-Rod.

That a former star then disgraced user and near write-off is again a top slugger without drugs is one of the most interesting stories in baseball, but I've hardly seen an article about it. I wonder when the sport will get over its simplitic moral posture and realize what a wonderful example of redemption it has.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your post reminds me of Bill James' discussion of players in the 1980s who had their best years while doing a lot of coke. He made the point that, despite cocaine not really being a performance-enhancing drug, a ballplayer's ability is made up of such a complicated, interlocking set of skills that the abrupt presence or absence of anything requires a serious period of adjustment. Props to Giambi for persevering.

Nell L.

4/8/05 08:09  
Blogger rilkefan said...

Hopefully he's clean - I certainly think he's not that dumb. Rumors are swirling around the Yankees though.

4/8/05 11:13  

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