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June 22, 2007

Prospectus Today

The Giambi Decision

by Joe Sheehan

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Among the most exciting moments in baseball are the triple, the play at the plate, the last moments of a no-hitter and a walk-off hit. It's not unheard of for off-field moments to be exciting as well. When your favorite team makes a big free-agent signing-the good kind-or a key pickup at the trade deadline, that can get the adrenaline going.

At the other end of the spectrum is a litany of the mundane. The grounder to second. The room-temperature hot dog and flat Coke. Any Steve Trachsel start.

I'm not sure exactly where "dueling press releases" falls along this spectrum, but I do know that it will be the least-interesting thing I write about this year. Yesterday, Commissioner Bud Selig and Yankees DH Jason Giambi traded statements that addressed Giambi's decision to speak to the Mitchell Commission, a decision that would make him the first active player to do so.

For a moment that was anticipated for weeks-we spent two days internally trying to decide how to handle the story-it was oddly anticlimactic. So much so that I find myself on my fourth paragraph of throat-clearing, struggling to understand what we really have here. It's supposed to be significant-Steroid-Using Player Talks to Steroid-Battling Suits!-but as you read the releases, especially Giambi's, it's hard to see how this is more than a a carefully-scripted play designed to win a PR battle and boost the credibility-no, that implies it had some-lend some credibility to the 16-month-old Mitchell Commission.

Selig's release seems to be from a world in which the last two weeks never happened. "Two weeks ago, I asked Mr. Giambi to submit to an interview with Senator Mitchell and I am pleased that Mr. Giambi has agreed to do so."

Sure, that's all it was…a request. There was no discussion at all of a possible suspension for the steroid use that Giambi had admitted to, no speculation that Selig would test his ability to suspend players for "non-analytic positives" or for actions prior to the establishment of a testing program. There was no notion at all that Selig was going to throw Giambi under the bus as much for his implication that the guilty parties were both in and out of uniform as for his actual steroid use seven years ago.

Make no mistake: that Giambi had the audacity to say to Bob Nightengale what everyone already knows is why he's in this spot. PED use by baseball players wasn't a secret held by a handful of power hitters, and the fiction that non-uniformed personnel-up to and including the commissioner-were somehow snowed by these ill-mannered cheaters isn't worth sustaining. Giambi's comments struck at that fiction, and Selig's real goal in putting the screws to him shows up in the first paragraph of Giambi's statement:

"I have never blamed anyone nor intended to deflect blame for my conduct. I alone am responsible for my actions and I apologize to the Commissioner, the owners and the players for any suggestion that they were responsible for my behavior."
Nor will Giambi be adding anything to the body of knowledge about steroid use by baseball players. Giambi's own use is part of the public record thanks to lax protection of grand-jury testimony, and he's stated, explicitly, that he won't be discussing anything other than his own use: "As I have always done, I will address my own personal history regarding steroids. I will not discuss in any fashion any other individual."

Despite that backtrack, Giambi's decision doesn't make the Mitchell Commission any more worthy of respect than it's been from the start. He's not testifying before it for any reason other than he's been threatened if he does not.

"I did not want to put my family through a lengthy legal challenge in support of my position. In addition, the uncertainty of my playing status could detract from the efforts of our team to win the American League East. My focus at this time needs to be on rehabbing my injury, getting back on the field, and contributing to the goals of my team. To be embroiled in a legal battle could undermine all of this and I would never put my family, my teammates, or the Yankees in that position."
It works better if you picture an unshaven Giambi holding up today's newspaper. "I am healthy. They are feeding me and treating me well. Please do what they ask. I want to come home to my family."

We are so far afield from the nominal goal here that it's hard to remember what it was. Forcing Jason Giambi to talk to the Mitchell Commission under threat of suspension as an act of retribution for Giambi's pointing out the obvious does what, exactly, to eradicate the use of PEDs by baseball players? The takeaways here are:

  • The commissioner's office is desperate to sustain the illusion that no one other than players knew about PED use.
  • The commissioner's office is desperate to buoy the image of the Mitchell Commission.
  • The commissioner's office is desperate to win the PR battle, even if that means reverting to a confrontational relationship with players and taking positions that will be impossible to defend in front of a third party.

Who wins the game of dueling press releases? No one. Jason Giambi is clearly just trying to protect the people around him, including his teammates, and has established that he's not going to be part of a witch hunt. The Mitchell Commission gains nothing from his testimony, which will cover well-trod ground. The commissioner's office may look briefly powerful, but if the sum total of its reach is an ability to push a single player to repeat his leaked grand-jury testimony, it's fair to call the office "impotent."

I'll say it again: the Mitchell Commission needs to be disbanded, because it can't do anything positive for the game of baseball. All it does is keep alive a story that should have been ended by the implementation of professional sports' most stringent drug-testing and punishment policy.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Jason Giambi

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