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On Jason Giambi, the Hall of Fame, and PEDs

The former Yankee first baseman is on the ballot for the first time, and how he’s received might tell us a lot about how the voters view PEDs.

New York Yankees vs Chicago White Sox - August 10, 2006 Photo by Chuck Rydlewski/Getty Images

Ever since the first players embroiled in the steroid scandal at the start of the millennium began to find their way onto the Hall of Fame ballot, they have dominated any discussion of Cooperstown. Do players like Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, despite being among the best of their generation, deserve to be honored, or should they be blackballed like Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson?

So far, the answer has been a resounding no from voters, although these players have seen an uptick in support in recent years. This year’s ballot, however, gives us the first true opportunity to try and unravel the logic behind the votes: Jason Giambi.

Before we begin to discuss the reasons why, consider how Giambi relates to other similar types of players inducted into the Hall in recent years.

Giambi: 20 years, 2010 hits 440 HR, 139 OPS+, 50.5 WAR, 1 MVP, 5 All-Star appearances, 2 Silver Sluggers

Edgar Martinez: 18 years, 2247 hits, 309 HR, 147 OPS+, 68.4 WAR, 7 All-Star appearances, 5 Silver Sluggers

Vladimir Guerrero: 16 years, 2590 hits, 449 HR, 140 OPS+, 59.4 WAR, 1 MVP, 9 All-Star appearances, 8 Silver Sluggers

Now, on the whole, Giambi’s stats come in probably a tick below Guerrero and Martinez, who were enshrined on their second and tenth year on the ballot, respectively, firmly establishing him as a borderline Hall of Famer. He’s definitely not going in on the first ballot, and it’s a toss-up as to whether he makes it in or not, but his selection would not make the Hall of Fame worse.

Since his stats do not make him a shoo-in, he allows us to get a good look at the voters’ thinking. If the reason Hall of Fame voters have not voted for players confirmed or suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs is the use of the drugs themselves, then Giambi will certainly perform poorly in the polls, and perhaps even drop off the ballot immediately. If, however, the driving factor for many voters is not necessarily the PED use, but rather the aftermath, then Giambi stands to put in a respectable showing.

For those too young to remember (and I’ll admit, I’m barely old enough to remember), Giambi was one of the faces of the scandal in the early 2000s. He testified to receiving performance-enhancing drugs from BALCO in 2003 in front of a grand jury and being named in the Mitchell Report in 2007.

Unlike other big names from these scandals, however, including Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire, Giambi has emerged from the scandal largely unscathed. He played as long as he did primarily because his role as a mentor was valued by the organization (in many ways similarly to CC Sabathia this year), was a finalist for the Colorado Rockies managerial job in 2013 despite being an active player at the time, and was even contacted by the New York Yankees to join the organization during the same offseason Aaron Boone was hired as the team’s manager.

In many ways, Giambi created the blueprint for how to move past a steroid scandal, one that has been followed in many ways by former teammate Alex Rodriguez and former foe David Ortiz. By being a good teammate and ingratiating yourself with coaches, the media, and fans, it’s possible to move past a bad spot on your record and become a fully-active part of the baseball community once again.

With Giambi, we’ll be able to see how much that matters to the Hall of Fame voters.