“If you’re an incredible athlete, steroids aren’t going to help you hit a baseball. . . . The biggest thing is just going out there and working hard every single day and putting your time in. You work as hard as anybody else and try to put up your numbers and go from there.” — Sun-Sentinel of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, September 30, 2001
With the city tabs calling for his thickly muscled head on Friday, the above quote from Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi prompts an ironic chuckle.
Not only was Giambi apparently using steroids that season, but his numbers after the trade to New York in December 2001 may back up his point that “steroids aren’t going to help you in baseball.” In each of his three seasons in the Bronx, he had fewer hits, runs, doubles, and RBIs, and a lower on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and average. (It should be noted he was plagued by injuries and limited to only 80 games last season.)
The thing is, the quote should have prompted an ironic chuckle back when Giambi first said it. After all, he began the 1995 season in Oakland at 205 pounds. Then he packed on 20 between the 1995 and 1996 tours. His proud pecs were often featured in pieces about the Oakland A’s muscle-bound lineup, which was anchored by Mark McGwire. McGwire eventually admitted to using a supplement, androstenedione. By the 2000 season, Giambi was at 235.
“I think the juiced ball theory is a crock, to be honest with you,” Giambi told the Knight Ridder news serive that season. Ah, so true.
Now, it’s not impossible to strap on 30 pounds with dedicated weight-room work; it’s just easier to inject steroids into your buttocks (one of Giambi’s methods, according to his grand jury testimony). Recognizing this, some sports writers began to suspect that the growing size of MLB players’ tris and bis was due to something more than extra time with the dumbbells. But when former diamond studs Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti said steroid use was rampant, Giambi pooh-poohed the allegation. “It sounds to me like Jose needs money,” he said at the time. “That’s the only reason you’d make a comment like that.”
He kept that up after coming to the Yankees following the 2001 season. When asked by the Daily News in March 2002, “Has too much been made of supplements?” Giambi answered, “Yeah, especially the [Mark] McGwire situation.”
In an editorial in the Post on Friday, Mike Vaccaro said the Yankees deserved some of the blame for signing Giambi when they “heard the same whispers everyone else did.”
But those whispers appear to have been absent from the New York coverage when the Yanks—humbled by the Game 7 loss to Arizona in the post–9-11 World Series—signed Giambi in December 2001, after then-mayor Rudy Giuliani even made a personal call to Giambi to coax him into taking George Steinbrenner’s $120 million, seven-year deal.
The Post said at the time, “The Yankees should be thrilled since they landed one of the premier hitters in baseball to improve a lineup that lacked biceps and had gotten away from the patient approach that served the Yankees so well before last season.” The Times called him a “beefy slugger,” the Daily News “a power machine.” Even the Voice said, “Giambi may also be the most patient hitter in baseball.”
According to a Nexis search, none mentioned steroids in articles with Giambi’s name in the weeks surrounding the trade.