- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
- 0 Shares
With the San Francisco Chronicle report of Jason Giambi's grand jury testimony, he becomes the face of baseball's steroid trouble. Giambi, who won the American League Most Valuable Player award in 2000, is the biggest star to date who has acknowledged injecting himself with human growth hormone and steroids.
Giambi batted .314 in 2002, his first season as a Yankee but his average plummeted to .250 in 2003 -- a year that he was affected by patellar tendinitis in his left knee. Doctors say that tendinitis is a common problem for players who use steroids.
Two and a half months after giving his testimony in the BALCO case, Giambi was asked about his court appearance by ESPN's Tim Kurkjian. Giambi said, "It's part of, you know, what I have to do. You know, I'm not looking at it as a big deal, I just went in, and told them what I knew, and you know, go on from there."
Said Kurkjian: "All right ... You have NOT done steroids ... Is that correct?"
"Yeah, I haven't, you know, done anything," Giambi said. "I've worked my butt off, you know, that's the thing that ... I know everybody's seen me, you know, especially from the reporters, everybody else ... I get in the weight room, I work my butt off and, you know, go from there now."
But Giambi reported to spring training noticeably thinner, much more slender in his shoulders and chest. "My weight ... I'm only about 4-pound difference," he said, "to be honest with you."
Subsequent health problems plagued him. First, Giambi was diagnosed with a parasite, and later, doctors reportedly found a benign tumor in his pituitary gland, a condition he refused to discuss.
Early in November, Yankees manager Joe Torre said, "Well, it started in spring training, y'know, questions about the steroids, both he and (Gary) Sheffield had to endure, and then all of a sudden to get to that parasite affect him, and he just -- and then the tumor -- I mean he just had a horrible year. I think the worst part of it, aside from the physical part of it is the emotional scars that he took with that. He really looked beat up."
Giambi batted .208 in 80 games for the Yankees last season, and speculation about steroids has weighed heavily on him.
"I'm sure it would bother anybody," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. "But again, you've got to be mentally strong to learn to turn the page and forge ahead, and that's, I think, that's what any professional athlete and I'm sure anybody in celebrity status learns to do -- you have to. If not, you're going to get eaten up and you won't be able to forge ahead and get what you want to accomplish. I know Jason Giambi has Hall of Fame aspirations, he had them before he got here, they remain."
Other Yankees officials privately doubt whether Giambi will ever be great again -- though he is still only 33.
Said Torre: "The one thing Jason is gonna have to do is -- I don't want to say become more determined -- but I think the one thing he has to do right now, and he knows it, is get himself in the best physical shape he can and be a player again."
Cashman says doctors have told him Giambi will be healthy and ready to go for spring training. "As long as he's 100 percent healthy, which all indications are that he is, and I don't anticipate him having a problem returning to the level he was before," said Cashman. "But I certainly recognize and appreciate the doubt and speculation of, can he, will, how's he going to be."
Now, in the aftermath of Giambi's reported admission of using steroids, the speculation about Giambi's performance will grow exponentially.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is a New York Times best seller and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.
1dESPN Stats & Information