Sorry seems to be Giambi's easiest word

Updated: February 11, 2005, 10:57 AM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

It's still kind of unbelievable that, for most of this baseball winter, we've heard less from Jason Giambi than we have from Osama Bin Laden.

Never a good sign.

Jason Giambi
Jason Giambi never mentioned the word "steroids" during his press conference.

But now that we've finally heard from him, now that Giambi has recited all those I'm sorrys for all the cameras and notepads in the whole darned city of New York, it's hard not to wonder:

What the heck did he say?

What did he accomplish?

Is he any better off, any more sympathetic a figure now than he was before setting the modern Yankees record for most "I can't get into specifics" in a single day?

Well, maybe in a few select forgiving precincts he might be. But everywhere else in this world of steroid hysteria we live in, that answer would clearly be:

'Fraid not.

But that's because Giambi finds himself in about as bizarre and perilous a situation as any active player we can ever remember.

He's a man wearing a scarlet letter over his pinstripes, and he sounded Thursday like a guy who understands that there's no escaping that.

But it's how that letter got there that is making it so hard for Giambi to wriggle his way back into America's good graces.

It got there because, by his own admission, he actually "told the truth" to that BALCO grand jury. What a concept.

He didn't say he thought he was ingesting pine nuts, or sunscreen, or disinfectant. He didn't dance around the truth like the rest of the BALCO all-stars did (allegedly, of course). He took a deep breath and told his story. The whole story.

That was admirable in many respects. But in the court of public opinion, it has turned into a bigger disaster than his trip to Japan -- because once Giambi's testimony leaked out, it sure moved him to the front of the pack at the Most Convenient Steroid Scapegoat award ceremonies.

Which left Giambi in a truly impossible spot -- the very spot where we found him Thursday, squirming uncomfortably as the questions kept roaring his way.

His only hope for forgiveness is to admit all, apologize profusely, denounce steroid use, contribute about 50 million bucks to a program that would discourage kids from following his tragic path and then -- just to make sure he was off the hook -- go out and singlehandedly carry the Yankees to 138 wins and three straight postseason sweeps.

Except he can't do that. Heck, he can't even get to Step No. 1 (that's "admit all," in case you lost your place).

Admit all? Sheez, he won't be admitting anything. Not any time soon, at least. By order of federal attorneys.

Oh, he can apologize, at least. And he did that. But he can't even say what he's apologizing for.

And he can't campaign against steroid abuse because he can't even utter the word "steroid" in public -- or else he won't be allowed to pass "Go" and collect his $200 (plus that additional $80 million or so that the Yankees are so delighted to still owe him).

So we strongly recommend he go out and hit about .460 this year, because not only is he still permitted by the proper authorities to do that but it's also about his only hope.

Last week, the groundhog climbed out of his hole and saw his shadow. This week, (Jason) Giambi climbed out of his hole and saw the future. It wasn't a friendly place. It wasn't a pretty sight. But there's no more time to hide and no more places to hide.

But in the meantime, there might be a few questions. Or possibly a few million questions.

Yes, the questions won't be going away, even if the answers never do make it into any forthcoming editions of "Bartlett's Quotations."

So if you were entertained by that scene Thursday at the old baseball cathedral in The Bronx, get ready for a fun, fun year. We guarantee you'll be basking in a lot more scenes just like it right over the nearest horizon.

What we had Thursday was what Yankees GM Brian Cashman called "a necessary first step." Except it was necessary in more ways than anyone chose to spell out.

It was necessary for Giambi, because he needs to practice interspersing his non-answers with his I'm sorrys. And he ought to ease into the rhythm of that in no time.

It was also necessary for Giambi on another level, though. If he wants to play baseball again, it will be kind of tough for him to do that in the workout room at Gold's Gym.

He's going to have to do that in public, in stadiums all across North America, where he definitely won't rank as the most beloved figure on the premises. So this PR exercise Thursday was necessary just so he can make it clear to the world he isn't going away.

He'll be out there. He'll keep saying he's sorry -- for whatever you might think he needs to be sorry for. And he's gearing up for the barrage of insults that figure to be way more specific than his answers.

But this press conference, or whatever it was, was necessary for the media, too. Now we know -- every one of us who was planning a spring training trip to Tampa to chronicle The Sad Tale of Jason Giambi -- that he really can't comment on anything you'd want us to ask.

He's such a nice, affable guy, he'll let us ask away. But the answers ain't changing. And in this sound-bite age we're engulfed in these days, his mere ability to deliver that message will probably scare off literally hundreds of those story-chasers.

His agent, Arn Tellem, said Thursday that while Giambi can't specifically acknowledge much of anything, it shouldn't be all that hard for people to connect the dots and get a true picture of exactly what Giambi is apologizing for. And, in fact, it's not.

But since Giambi can't say it with words, he needs to spend the rest of his life saying it with actions.

He needs to play baseball, and hit baseballs, like the Giambi of old, if that's still possible. He needs to be as well-behaved a citizen as any baseball player in this universe.

He needs to stay out of Page Six in the Post. He needs to keep telling the truth on the witness stand, no matter what that entails. And he needs to prove he's worthy of the second chance the Yankees are giving him only because they have no other choice.

Last week, the groundhog climbed out of his hole and saw his shadow. This week, Giambi climbed out of his hole and saw the future. It wasn't a friendly place. It wasn't a pretty sight. But there's no more time to hide and no more places to hide.

It was the first day of the rest of his life. He seems to know he wants to go on living and go on playing. But he can't get any more specific about that, either. Not because he isn't allowed to, though. Because for Giambi, life as he used to know it is over. In time, he'll be more sorry about that than anything.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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