Back in May, I wrote a post called "Jason Giambi Gets a Hit," in which I talked about the New York Yankee's struggle to come back from steroid use and illness—a tumor on the pituitary gland. Giambi was having a terrible season at that point. He looked helpless at the plate, like he was battling not just pitchers and fans, but also his own internal demons. And the New York media was vilifying him; "Boot the Bum," said the ever-civil New York Post.
But I always liked Giambi, and I thought he deserved some credit for being the only man in baseball to admit that he used steroids.
"Jason Giambi is trying to make up for his mistakes, and I, for one, am pulling for him," I wrote. "Wouldn't we all feel better if Jason Giambi succeeded?"
Well, as today's New York Times chronicles, Giambi has succeeded. Last month he hit 14 home runs, tying Mickey Mantle for the most home runs ever hit by a Yankee in a single month. In a nice piece of baseball poetry, Mantle is Giambi's hero; Giambi wears the number 25 because it adds up to Mantle's seven.
But home runs are over-rated, in my opinion. Two seconds of excitement followed by anti-climax. What's really cool about Giambi is his league-leading on-base percentage of .457. Giambi doesn't swing at bad pitches, and his finesse at the plate adds more drama and tension to a typical at-bat than a random hope for a long ball.
Other steroid users around the league are not faring so well. Barry Bonds is sulking his way out of baseball. Rafael Palmeiro is almost certainly a perjurer. Sammy Sosa is the incredible shrinking power hitter.
But Jason Giambi has scratched and clawed his way back to the top by working hard and refusing to succumb to the vicious criticism he's received. No matter how he and the Yankees finish this year, he's shown baseball a road back from the scandal of steroids. Other players will have better statistics, but no one will have done more for the sport. No story this year is more human or more inspiring. Jason Giambi should be the American League's most valuable player.