Maybe its naïve, but I actually have a lot of respect for Jason Giambi. I have been a quiet supporter of his ever since his decision to stop blaming his declining performance on a host of mysterious ailments, like intestinal parasites, and admit (well sort’ve) that performance enhancing drugs had contributed to his success at the plate. He’s not offering to give back his American League MVP award or anything, but I do believe the man really has acknowledged that what he did was wrong. Many will argue, however, that his apology is moot, because he has never specifically admitted to using any controlled substances, only apologized “for doing that stuff,” allowing us to use our imagination as to what “stuff” is. Now, thanks to Bud Selig, and with a little help from the New York Yankees and Congress, a man who has chosen to step out of the shadows (a literary reference), faces contract termination and suspension for things he may have done before steroid use was ever even punishable in Major League Baseball (remember it was not until 2003 that players could be suspended for steroids use, and that was only if there was a criminal conviction).
Please don’t misunderstand my sympathy however, I am not calling Jason Giambi a saint, but I do believe that the competitive fabric of the sport is not the issue here. The Yankees are bad this year, and they’ve probably realized by now that the last season in the house that Ruth built will probably be enough to draw the crowds this summer. Hell, I’m going to New York this weekend for that very reason. Anyway, if you’re the Yankees, there is no need to have Giambi’s $20.4 million salary (making him only the third highest paid Yankee) weighing you down in a rebuilding year. But the Yankees are the ones who said they would pay him that money, and much to the dismay of the Oakland A’s fan base, Giambi agreed to take it from them. Well apparently the Yankees are now aghast at the fact that their slugger may have taken steroids while he was hitting all of those homeruns, and have decided that they don’t want to pay him anymore. Suddenly, the commissioner, has ordered Giambi to speak with former Senator George Mitchell, the man Bud Selig appointed to lead Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid use.
For me, this is the biggest rub. There are those players out there who have benefited from the use of performance enhancing drugs (if we were being honest with ourselves, probably a lot of them) who have not publicly apologized and therefore will never be fined or suspended. The truth is, you have to fail a test to get suspended, and I can’t imagine how even that would void your contract. But a voided contract is exactly what the New York Yankees want, which is why they are compelling Giambi to fully cooperate with Mitchell’s investigation.
Now you may be thinking, even though this may be an interesting moral discussion, what does this really have to do with free market sports? The real dollars and cents lies in the motivation for this entire witch hunt. The Yankees are merely taking advantage of a relatively unique situation, and acting in their own best financial interests. But why is the league so concerned with Giambi’s past discretions, which they will never be able to prove. The facts show that they are very concerned. ESPN news estimates that the Mitchell investigation is costing the league $2 million a month, and that individual teams are spending between $70 and $100 thousand a month on legal representation for themselves and their players. Keep in mind that after all of this money has been spent, George Mitchell has yet to interview a single player in 15 months. To make matters worse, the league’s public perception isn’t exactly improved by the humiliation of one of its stars.
So why go through all of this trouble? The answer is simple; the American electorate is very concerned with steroid use in Major League Baseball. So concerned, that we hold hearings in the Senate. Hearings that have no judicial basis, just hearings that give baseball’s superstars the opportunity to ruin their hall of fame hopes, or perjure themselves under oath. The truth is, Major League Baseball has to look like they are doing something, or something very valuable can be taken away from them. Remember, that the only two entities in the United States are granted monopoly rights that go beyond simple patent protection, Major League Baseball and the United States Postal Service. In the minds of our elected officials, that justifies their interest in the competitive fabric of the league, and they may have a point. It should be no surprise to anyone reading this blog that monopoly protection in any situation, even the Post Office, is not in the interests of free markets. We really don’t know what would be in the best economic interests of the league, because when we legally protect an enterprise with monopoly status, we are taking economics out of the equation. Unfortunately for Jason Giambi, his foot injury came at the wrong time, and the likely verdict will be paying the cost of landing on boardwalk after Bud Selig and the Yankees have already built a hotel there.