In bringing up past, honesty not best policy for Giambi

The Baltimore Sun

Jason Giambi, apparently a little slow on the uptake, has finally learned the biggest truth about baseball's continuing wrangle with the issue of steroids: Honesty will get you nowhere.

What honesty got Giambi last week was a date with former Sen. George Mitchell, the leader of baseball's official investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Mitchell must be tickled about it, because 15 months into his investigation he hadn't talked to a single active player, which was making it difficult to find stuff to put between the covers of his report. Plus, it was kind of embarrassing.

Then along came Giambi, who was quoted in a USA Today article on steroids last month, saying he was "wrong for doing that stuff."

That was the money quote as far as commissioner Bud Selig was concerned. He finally had someone to tie to the railroad tracks, someone who would allow him to look and sound like a tough guy. And, perhaps more to the point, he finally had someone he could feed to Mitchell, so that baseball's pretend investigation wouldn't look so blatantly toothless.

Selig huffed and puffed and threatened Giambi with suspension and punishment - which Giambi would have fought and won, by the way - but eventually settled for adding the player's name to Mitchell's empty appointment book.

"I will take Mr. Giambi's level of cooperation into account in determining appropriate further action," Selig said, doing his Mr. Stern Commissioner impersonation.

What Selig and the rest of baseball should have focused on was not merely that Giambi admitted using steroids during its heyday of abuse, but also on what he said about the entire issue of closure.

"What we should have done a long time ago was stand up - players, ownership, everybody - and said, 'We made a mistake,' " Giambi said in the article. "We should have apologized back then and made sure we had a rule in place and gone forward. ... Steroids and all of that was a part of history. But it was a topic that everybody wanted to avoid. Nobody wanted to talk about it."

Apparently, that is still the case. Baseball, under Selig's leadership, is content to issue a meaningless report - someday - and then declare the war over. Giambi's suggestion that management accept some of the responsibility for what happened is going to take place when runners circle the bases clockwise.

Selig will sigh and bemoan the fact that a few misguided players might have cheated, but he will never admit that he and baseball's front office were either too stupid, too greedy or too afraid to confront the issue when pop-armed freaks were destroying the game's precious records.

If Selig was to take Giambi's advice, he would offer amnesty, not the threat of punishment, for those who came forward to give fans an honest accounting of what happened. As it is now, the effect of steroids on the game is like the submerged portion of the iceberg. No matter how big it is, the imagination can make it bigger.

Coming forward, though, doesn't seem like a good option. The truth teller, as Giambi learned, is dragged onto the commissioner's carpet, browbeaten in public and forced to testify in a court that has no rules.

Giambi, in a statement issued by the players union, said he would be "candid about my past history regarding steroids," but, much to the relief of some other players, added, "I will not discuss in any fashion any other individual."

That means Selig and Mitchell can continue to flog Giambi - "We got one! We got one!" - but the overall effect is merely cosmetic.

Anyone who, like Giambi, felt that honesty was a reasonable option got a real lesson last week. Honesty gets you nothing but a lecture, a threat, and a long conversation with George Mitchell. And that's a man with plenty of time on his hands and lots of empty pages upon which to write your name.

Bob Ford writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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