Thursday, December 02, 2004

If it walks, talks, and quacks like a duck...

(I was going to title this "Where there's smoke, there's fire," but I've already written enough about fires.)

I can't say it's a huge surprise that baseball player Jason Giambi admitted to a federal grand jury that he took steroids. Besides judging his physical appearance and performance on the field (which I suppose isn't entirely fair), Giambi had a stink on him the moment he was called in to testify to that grand jury. That stink turned into full-blown odor when he showed up to spring training less bulked-up. And that odor became rancid this past season, when Giambi missed half the season with health problems that were eventually attributed to a tumor in his pituitary gland.

Giambi will have the Major League Baseball Players Union behind him and probably has nothing to fear from MLB's impotent steroid-testing policy, but his team - the almighty New York Yankees - might decide that a player whose skills have declined since he stopped taking steroids (and who damaged himself by taking them in the first place) isn't worth the $80 million dollars (!!!) still remaining on his contract. (Jayson Stark explains the "legal-ese" of this at

But Giambi is just the first step in what could become an outright scandal. He scored those steroids from the personal trainer of fellow baseball player Barry Bonds. You might remember him from that one time he set the major league record for home runs in a season with 73. He's also 53 home runs - one, maybe two seasons - from breaking Hank Aaron's record for career home runs (755). What if Bonds broke that record, but was later found to be using steroids? Bonds denies he uses them, of course, but taking one look at his physical appearance and gargantuan home run totals can't help but raise suspicion. And, oh yeah, HIS PERSONAL TRAINER SOLD STEROIDS TO OTHER BASEBALL PLAYERS!

Ultimately, is this a big deal? I guess it depends on how big a baseball fan you are. Also, how much does cheating matter to you? It could be argued that fans really don't care how those home runs are hit; they just want to see those baseballs fly out of the ballpark. But for those of us who watch sports because we admire athletic gifts and physical prowess far greater than our own, I think it matters. When great feats are achieved and records are broken, we want to know that it was done legitimately. And as long as there's a question about that, it's just not as easy to love baseball.