At the close of the 2004 season, Jason Giambi had become a wisp of a baseball player, a ghost wandering the Yankees’ locker room, and not one of the legendary apparitions like Ruth and Gehrig blessing the current boys in pinstripes. He was so invisible that not even Jennifer Love Hewitt could have found him. His once strong body was withered, making him look like someone who had mistakenly signed on with Jenny Craig. He was the Bronx bombless. Early in the season, he was hassled by a string of injuries that slowed his usually steady production left knee inflammation, bursitis in his hip, strained groin, strained back, and an ankle sprain that put him on the disabled list for the first time in his career. But all that was prelude to the parlay out of Gray’s Anatomy the discovery of an intestinal parasite that was robbing him of his strength, followed by the discovery of a benign pituitary tumor. To someone with that kind of health, misfortune deserves a telethon. So with all that, Giambi ended 2004 redefining the Mendoza line. A player with a career average over .300 was, over the last two months of play, a .077 hitter. He had four hits in his final 33 at-bats. When it came time for Yankees manager Joe Torre to submit rosters for the 2004 ALDS and ALCS, Giambi was left off. And all this four years removed from being the American League’s MVP. All of which makes his 2005 season even sweeter. He checked into the ALDS against the Angels this week with a .271 average, 32 home runs and 87 RBI. He fully erupted in bash mode at midseason, hitting 27 of his 32 homers in his last 79 games. He acknowledged that he took steroids, as well as human growth hormones. While he had been warned about the penalty for committing perjury, he still could have danced around the issue like Barry Bonds did with the same grand jury. But Giambi admitted his use, despite never having failed a drug test, and suffered nothing but abuse in the process. The sports media, which often holds athletes to a higher standard than the Washington press corps holds the White House, immediately tossed Giambi into the pile of baseball scoundrels, Shoeless Joe Jackson to Pete Rose. Even his apologies at a later press conference were spun in a negative way. His numbers suggest he’s a shoe-in to win the AL Comeback Player of the Year award, but there are still critics who think he shouldn’t be considered. “We don’t know whether his physical deterioration was related to using performing-enhancing drugs,” wrote Ken Rosenthal in the Sporting News. “We also don’t know whether he still might be using human growth hormones (which baseball does not test) … Giambi is a confirmed liar whose testimony contradicted previous comments … Giambi makes us cringe.” “I don’t really care what anybody thinks,” Giambi said earlier this season. “I know what I have done to get back, so it doesn’t matter what anyone says. Fans like to be skeptical. Some people want to hate and beat you up and keep you down. I’m not going to let that happen to me.” While others criticized him, many of his old friends among the Dirtbags faithful reached out to Giambi in the wake of his testimony. “I know it was tough,” said Donnie Barbara, an original Dirtbag and Giambi’s teammate in 1990. “I leave him messages of support and heard that he just didn’t want to deal with it unless he had to. He wanted to get back to baseball.” Giambi heard the support. “They’ve always been good to me, the Dirtbag fans and the whole Long Beach State community,” he said. “I was fortunate to develop my career at Long Beach, and (former coach) Dave Snow was a big part of my success. Anytime I go back, I’m made to feel more welcome than I probably deserve.” He also received ample support from his peers. His former Oakland teammate Barry Zito told GQ, “I can’t say enough about who he is as a man. He did something our former president didn’t do, come clean and admit his mistake. Jason knew what would happen and he still did it.” Giambi even received support from legal sources who felt the media attacks had gone too far from the Net Liberty Web site: “What right does anyone have to judge Giambi for the rest of his life … What right does a reporter have to speak on fans’ behalf that they should boo Giambi … Yankees fans cheered Steve Howe, Dwight Gooden, and Darryl Strawberry, guys who abused drugs and broke laws … I’m certain Giambi has already faced his maker throughout the last year. Had we forgotten that for several weeks last summer he was being tested for a fatal illness?” That issue has received about five percent of the attention as steroids. While the tumor is benign, it and the parasite still left his body fatigued and stressed. “Nobody wants to remember that I was sick,” he said. “The tumor was in the one place that controls the whole body. I hurt everywhere. I was exhausted. I couldn’t sleep. I probably shouldn’t have tried to play, but I wanted to try and help the team.” In the offseason, Giambi went back to basics and started working out with Yankees legend Don Mattingly to regain his line-drive stroke. Those who want to focus on steroids look at his four-year home run totals from 2000 to 2003 43, 38, 41, 41 but overlook the fact he hit for power his first four seasons, too, and his basic hitting profile has never changed high average, amazing on-base percentage, good batting eye. “I wasn’t surprised one bit by the way he came back,” said Barbara. “He was always a pure hitter. You can talk about steroids, you can talk about what steroids can do for you, but they had nothing to do with his ability to hit and get on base all the time. He’s been able to drive in runs since he was in high school. “He’s really enjoying himself,” said Yankees manager Joe Torre, “especially if you go back 12 months and where he was a year ago. He’s worked hard. It’s not something that just dropped on his doorstep. It’s something he’s had to work through mentally and physically.” And metaphysically. After all, how often do ghosts come back to life? 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! In Anaheim this week, the former Long Beach State star began the Yankees’ Game 1 first-inning uprising Tuesday with a two-out single, and then made it 4-0 with a RBI single in the second. In Game 2 on Wednesday, his fifth-inning double led to the Yankees’ second run. “It’s great to contribute, a whole lot of fun,” Giambi said. “It’s definitely been very gratifying. Last year, I was so weak and it was a huge disappointment to not be there for my teammates. “This has probably been the toughest year in my big-league career, trying to come back from everything.” Yes, it’s quite a comeback, and we haven’t even talked about the scarlet letter he has worn all season. Giambi’s 2004 sank further into his personal abyss when he was called before a grand jury in the BALCO steroid investigation after his name was linked with principals of the lab. When he was called to testify, he did something no one expected: He told the truth.
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