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Shut Up, They Explained

Baseball brass want to muzzle the one player willing to be frank about his drug use

NEW YORK YANKEESdesignated hitter Jason Giambi was called on the carpet last Thursday, summonedto stand before the suits at Major League Baseball headquarters. His crime?Talking about steroids. Meanwhile, the same suits are not happy that activeplayers have refused to meet with former senator George Mitchell, who wasappointed by the commissioner's office last year to investigate The SteroidEra. And what would the suits like the players to be doing? Talking aboutsteroids.

Confused? Youshouldn't be if you've been following baseball's awkward attempt to put TheSteroid Era behind it. Baseball, with its thin blue line of mutually enablingplayers and its executives guided by public relations more than a moralcompass, has been trying for years to turn the toughest double play in history:They want closure and no accountability.

Giambi neverintended to cause trouble. He's a likable galoot who calls people"buddy" when he doesn't know their name—a galoot who, according togrand jury testimony uncovered by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2004, pumpedsteroids, HGH and other performance-enhancing drugs into his body. Since thenGiambi had been careful never to directly acknowledge steroid use on therecord, including a famously unintentionally funny "apology" in which,like a contestant on Password, he dared not say the magic S word.

But on May 16,between games of a doubleheader, no less, Giambi oddly told USA Today, "Iwas wrong for doing that stuff. What we should have done a long time ago wasstand up—players, ownership, everybody—and said, 'We made a mistake.'"

Two sources closeto Giambi said he never intended for those comments to be published—a stance herepeated to the major league officials who grilled him. Giambi did not,however, disavow them. (Selig is expected to decide in the next week or two ifhe will punish Giambi.)

Hundreds of majorleague ballplayers have used steroids, especially in the period starting in theearly 1990s and lasting until 2003, when the first testing program wasinstituted. If you believe the experts who say that steroids can help anathlete perform beyond his body's natural boundaries, then the game in thoseWild West years was played with a degree of fraudulence. And yet among thehundreds—and the many more in the game who knew or simply did not want toknow—Giambi joins a short list of people who have taken responsibility thatincludes former MVPs Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco, Mets pitcher Guillermo Mota(who fessed up when he was busted last year) and San Diego G.M. Kevin Towers(who was promptly slapped down by MLB for admitting baseball people hadsuspicions of the steroid culture).

Given his chemicalmalfeasance, Giambi is hardly your ideal spokesperson for stand-up behavior.Indeed, the New York Daily News reported last week that he failed anamphetamines test "within the last year." (Giambi refused to make acomment to SI about the report.) But the message is more important than themerits of the messenger.

Two years ago ahigh-ranking baseball official stressed to me that MLB knew few specifics abouta steroid culture that, out of necessity, had grown underground. But theofficial added, "If you want to criticize us for being late to the party,that would be fair."

So why didn'tbaseball, as Giambi suggested, take responsibility years ago and issue a publicapology? We were late to identify and understand the proliferation ofperformance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Though it stands as an unfortunatepart of the game's history, it is one that has moved us to vigilance incrafting a strong testing program to make certain that such a chapter is neverwritten again.

Instead, otherwisesharp baseball people such as Yankees G.M. Brian Cashman and owner GeorgeSteinbrenner ("He should have kept his mouth shut") and Hall of FamerFrank Robinson, an adviser to commissioner Bud Selig, jumped on Giambi fordaring to say that responsibility should be shared. Weren't they watching whatthe rest of us were? And if they weren't, how is being that out of touch avalid defense?

Giambi deserves nosympathy because the decision to cheat the game, no matter how lawless it wasat the time, was his alone. But he and his message deserve our attention,especially when his words are played against the silence or outright lies ofhis contemporaries.

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