Let me explain.
Giambi is the first baseman the Yankees signed as a free agent for a whopping amount of money—something like $120 million over eight years. He was a slugger who hit for average and power. I liked the fact that he had a great eye; Giambi possessed the best sense of the strike zone of any Yankee since Don Mattingly, and he really made pitchers work. That approach to hitting seemed in keeping with the great Yankee teams of the late 1990s.
Then it all fell apart. Giambi missed almost all of last season with mysterious illnesses. Over the off-season, it was revealed that he"d admitted steroid use to a San Francisco grand jury.
Strangely, Giambi was vilified in the New York papers. I say strangely because, to look at Giambi, it shouldn't have been a surprise that he was juiced; as he got older, the man's body had transformed from spindly to mammoth. The Yankees must have suspected that steroids were the reason. As long as he was performing....
But more important, Giambi was hardly the only player to take steroids. Hello, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Bobby Bonds? None of them have suffered anything near the level of abuse directed at Giambi—which makes me think that Giambi's real crime was admitting it, shattering the fans' illusions. Now when Giambi plays in opposing stadiums, self-righteous fans chant, "Ster-roids! Ster-roids!" (Particularly in Fenway Park, as if the Red Sox were the only team never to have indulged...)
The thing about Giambi is, by all accounts, he's a very decent guy. You can't say he hasn't suffered; his reputation will never recover. But he's tried to come back from this debacle with patience, a good attitude, and hard work. So far, the results are less than promising. He's struggling at the plate, barely swinging, and striking out frequently whether he swings or not. He's clearly having mental problems, and it's painful to watch, in the same way that second baseman Chuck Knoblauch's throwing problems were. Jason Giambi is playing a game in his head, and every night, tens of thousands of people get to watch it.
Coming into the contest against Oakland last night, Giambi was 0-for-18 with 12 strikeouts since late April. Through seven innings, he was 0-for-3, with two more strikeouts and a long fly ball. Then, in the top of the 8th, he stroked a two-strike single, and as he rounded first base, you could feel his relief through the television screen. Never had a lousy single felt so sweet.
Jason Giambi is trying to make up for his mistakes, and I, for one, am pulling for him. Maybe I'm just one of those liberals who believes that we are all sinners, believes in the healing power of redemption. But wouldn't we all feel better if Jason Giambi succeeded?