By Bob Nightengale
“nothing is going to give you that gift of hitting a baseball”
CHICAGO – They are friends, forever linked by the BALCO scandal, but New York Yankees slugger Jason Giambi insists that steroid allegations have nothing to do with Barry Bonds’ march toward baseball history.
Giambi won’t say whether he believes Bonds ever took steroids or human growth hormone, but he’s convinced that no drug is responsible for Bonds’ extraordinary career.
“Barry is one of the greatest players, if not the greatest, I’ll ever see play,” says Giambi, who has hit 355 career home runs. “I know people have a tough time accepting it, but what he’s doing is unbelievable. And I don’t care what people say – nothing is going to give you that gift of hitting a baseball.
“It’s the same thing for Barry. If it were that easy, how come you don’t see anyone else doing what he has done?”
Bonds, the San Francisco Giants’ left fielder, is 10 home runs shy of Hank Aaron’s all-time record of 755 home runs. Yet, in a USA TODAY/Gallup poll, fans say they will continue to call Aaron the all-time home run king.
“A lot of people still don’t want him to break the record,” Giambi says, “so it’s tough. He’s chasing one of the most celebrated records on the planet, and they’re not even giving him a chance to enjoy it.
“How he can possibly enjoy it with all of the scrutiny?”
Yet Bonds continues to thrive, already hitting 11 home runs, tied for third in the NL, entering Thursday.
“Barry is like the great white shark,” Giambi says, “the greatest killing machine on the planet. All it does is swim and eat.
“If you sit from afar, and look at him, that’s Barry.
“Barry’s motivation is to be the best baseball player this game has ever seen. And if you’re in his way, he’ll tell you, ‘You better get (out of the way), you’re ruining my mojo.’ “
Giambi’s federal grand jury testimony, in which he allegedly revealed he used steroids and human growth hormone, was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle. He apologized before reporting to spring training in February 2005, although he never specifically mentioned steroids.
“Here’s a guy who ‘fessed up, said he made a mistake, told the truth, but was still vilified for it,” Yankees first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said. “He said he did it, but it’s like people wanted more. What, was he supposed to keep lying?
“Sometimes the easy way is to hide in the bathroom, or go hide in the trainer’s room, and stay away from the media. He never did. The incident was unfortunate, and it’s not right in the public’s eye, but he took it like a man.”
The public apology, Giambi said, was the most difficult ordeal of his professional career.
“I did what I had to do,” Giambi says, “but it’s like it wasn’t enough. There were some articles that were personally attacking me. It was like, ‘Am I that bad of a guy?’ I always had time for the media and respected the media, but it was so hard to go through. I just kept telling myself that you can’t take it personally.
“In hindsight, it helped me. I was wrong for doing that stuff. I know that. But (apologizing) is the best thing that happened. I got it out of the way so that people stopped asking me about it.
“I think now, with everything else that has gone on (in the steroid investigation), you hardly ever hear my name mentioned now.”
Detroit Tigers DH Gary Sheffield, Giambi’s former teammate, also testified in front of the federal grand jury investigating Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. Sheffield, like Bonds, said in testimony leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle he was unaware that ointment and cream he used contained steroids. He still has difficulty convincing the media he’s being truthful.
“I don’t know what else I can say,” Sheffield says. “You just can’t let it bother you. It doesn’t mean that perception is reality.
“I remember what it did to Jason. He was so distraught. The media just had their way with him, and we tried to get him through it.
“Now, the New York media portrays him as a good guy again, which is good, because it’s important to Jason that people like him.”
For now, Giambi is just thankful that he’s been forgiven, wishing the same were true for his mentor, Mark McGwire, who fell short in balloting for the Hall of Fame this year.
“It’s so unfortunate,” Giambi says, “because everybody is playing judge and jury with nothing ever been proven. I feel so bad for him. He dedicated his whole life to the game. And now he’s not going to the Hall of Fame with Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken.
“There were things happening that were part of the game, but people forget he did some incredible things.
“Hopefully, one day, that will be remembered, instead of all this other stuff.”