On the one hand, we have Jason Giambi. I have never in my life seen an athlete and a city so perfectly matched as Jason Giambi and Oakland. The long, scraggly hair and unkempt goatee, the tattoos and T-shirts, the motorcycles and fast food–his blue-collar attitude fit the blue-collar East Bay to a T. He was as much Oakland Raider as Oakland Athletic. Had he remained, I think he may have been the most revered athlete in East Bay history. Perhaps even with the steroids.
Instead, he left the A’s to join the Yankees, where he promptly cut his hair, shaved his beard, covered his tattoos, put on a suit and tie, and started doing deodorant commercials. Who was this guy? To Oakland fans, it seemed like such a betrayal–to Oakland and to Jason Giambi.
When Giambi returned to the East Bay, Oakland fans booed him more than they had ever booed anyone before or since. I think Oakland fans recognized something in him they did not like: the willingness to sell his soul, to give up his true nature for some dubious higher aim.
Now, he has confessed to using steroids. And now, Giambi will be booed and taunted everywhere he goes, not just Oakland. It’s sad, because I think Giambi has a genuine desire to be liked. He wants people to “be excited” for him. Instead, he is now a character in a morality play, personifying the consequences of temptation.
Jason Giambi is a classic tragic figure, a person whose one character flaw leads to his downfall. I am reminded of Icarus, whose father built him wings to escape the Labyrinth. Icarus ignored his father’s warnings, and tried to fly too high, to reach the level of the gods. He flew too close to the sun, the heat melted his wax wings and Icarus crashed into the sea.
Barry Bonds, too, is a classic figure, but he is not a tragic one. Bonds hasn’t sold his soul to the Devil; he is the Devil. He fell a long time ago. He knows there are great forces that oppose him, constantly. He accepts this. He knows who he is. He doesn’t pretend to be anything else.
The media will try to bring down Bonds, to make him pay for his sins. It won’t work. You can’t make the Devil pay for his sins. He’s already in Hell. Hell doesn’t bother him.
The Devil doesn’t answer to mere mortals. There will be no apologies.
Here is a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, called “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”:
Icarus is barely visible, splashing down in the lower right corner. W.H. Auden wrote of it:
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
In the long run, it is Bonds, who holds so many records, who will symbolize this sin. And this is the saddest part of all for Jason Giambi. Baseball will sail calmly on. The flight of Jason Giambi will be forgotten. And his fall will be nothing but a little-noticed splash in a large, busy landscape.