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Giambi: With All Due Apologies

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2005; Page D03

NEW YORK, Feb. 10 -- He apologized several times, but did not say what for. He said he told the truth to the grand jury, but did not say what that truth was. He said there would be a day when he could say more, but that day was not Thursday. Hundreds of words came out of Jason Giambi's mouth during a 45-minute news conference at Yankee Stadium, but not one of them was "steroids."

"I feel I let down the fans," Giambi said. "I feel I let down the media. I feel I let down the Yankees . . . [and] my teammates. I'm sorry. I know how they feel. It's going to be a tough road to hoe, but I'm going to work my butt off to get back their support. . . . I'm not a bad person."

Jason Giambi, right, neither confirmed nor denied any steroid use at a news conference at Yankee Stadium that included Yankees Manager Joe Torre. (Ray Stubblebine -- Reuters)

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In his first public comments since the San Francisco Chronicle on Dec. 2 printed leaked grand jury testimony in which he allegedly admitted steroid use, Giambi, the New York Yankees' one-time slugger, neither confirmed nor denied the accuracy of the story. In fact, he said at one point he had not read the article, but had only "heard about" it.

Since Giambi offered little clarity, the purpose of the news conference -- which, according to Yankees officials, was Giambi's idea -- clearly was to begin the public rehabilitation of his badly damaged image. Giambi said he chose to do it in New York in order to spare his teammates the imposition of a media horde descending upon the team's spring training headquarters in Tampa next week.

"This is about me," he said, "and the mistakes I've made." And what were those mistakes? "I can't get into specifics," he repeated at several points, "because of all the legal matters involved."

Flanked on one side by Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman and Manager Joe Torre, and on the other side by his agent, Arn Tellem, Giambi appeared healthier and heavier than he has been in at least a year. His face was bright red. He wore a dark pinstriped suit atop a thin, black sweater.

It had been 14 months since Giambi testified before the San Francisco federal grand jury investigating an alleged steroid ring run out of a Bay Area nutritional lab, nearly four months since the end of a Yankees season in which he barely contributed, and more than two months after the Chronicle story that made him the face of steroids in baseball. According to the testimony printed by the newspaper, Giambi admitted using steroids and human growth hormone between 2001 and the all-star break in 2003.

Thursday's was a very different news conference than Giambi's last major one at Yankee Stadium, in December 2001, after he had signed a seven-year, $120 million contract. After the Chronicle story broke, Yankees officials investigated the feasibility of voiding the remaining $82 million before concluding they could not base a legal case on leaked grand jury testimony.

That could explain why Giambi was so careful with his words Thursday, or why Tellem, when the questioning got particularly pointed and Giambi appeared close to revealing a kernel of truth, interrupted and said, "He can go as far as he can, but he can't go any further."

Pressed further, Tellem said: "The answers are there if you look for them. When he went [before] the grand jury, he told the truth and the whole truth."

When Giambi was asked whether he believes he had misrepresented himself to the Yankees when he signed his contract, Tellem jumped in again: "Absolutely, unequivocally no. End of story."

There were tough questions for Cashman, too, about whether the Yankees erred by ignoring the whispers about Giambi and steroid use that were present at the time of his signing.

"What we're dealing with in the game today is not what it was then," Cashman said. "Steroids was not something that, at that time, was talked a lot about or written a lot about. . . . [Steroids] did not come up in any of the dialogue."

Having determined they could not get rid of Giambi, the Yankees now are grudgingly embracing him. "Jason's one of our family," Torre said. Giambi even called owner George Steinbrenner a couple of weeks ago. "He wanted to be sure I was up for this," Giambi recalled. "I told him I was, and I'm not a quitter. . . . I told him I was going to be that player he signed."

"It takes a hell of a man," Steinbrenner said in a statement following Giambi's news conference, "to stand up and apologize to his teammates, to New York Yankees fans . . . and admit he was wrong."

After a miserable 2004 season in which he was limited to 80 games and plagued by a benign tumor in his pituitary gland and an intestinal parasite, Giambi said he is 100 percent healthy and has been working out twice daily to get ready for spring training.

"I'm ready," he said, "to rock-n-roll."

When Giambi gets to Tampa, he will find another big-name first baseman, Tino Martinez, in camp. Undoubtedly, he will find another pack of media waiting at his locker. When the season starts, he will hear fans deriding him, perhaps at his own stadium.

It might be best if he tuned it all out, but those who know Giambi know he is a sensitive sort who cares -- perhaps too much -- how people perceive him.

"It's how he's wired," Cashman said. "He does care about what the fans think and what [media members] think. That's going to make it that much harder. This is not going to go away."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company