Patrick Smith is a Baltimore Orioles fan. He has a right to be mad at Jay Gibbons.
It seemed silly to me when fans threw plastic syringes at Barry Bonds and made “backne” jokes to Sammy Sosa. What do you care, I wondered? You watched them hit all those homers, and you loved it. And then you booed those same guys because they got caught juicing. As if you didn’t know. So really, spare us the indignation.
Unless, like me, you really have someone to be angry at. As a Baltimore fan, I reserve the right to a lifetime of anger toward Jay Gibbons.
A 2000 Rule-V draftee from the Blue Jays, Gibbons’ Oriole career was always dogged by rumors of anabolic enhancement. And why not? Big, square head; Popeye forearms; one weird injury after another. The massive torque of his swing injured his wrist, necessitating some kind of surgical repair. Then the sutures in his wrist got infected and wouldn’t heal.
Since I’m an Internet blowhard and not a physician, I’m unable to posit intelligently on the nature of Gibbons’ injuries. But they sure weren’t injuries you’d ever seen before. So … y’know.
In 2003, Gibbons played in 160 games for the threadbare Orioles, posting .277/23/100 numbers. That season’s O’s roster reads like the Mitchell Report: Gibbons, Brian Roberts, Larry Bigbie, David Segui, and Gary Matthews Jr. (Bonus! That team also was home to Marty Cordova, who missed time due to a tanning bed accident.)
The Orioles finished fourth in the AL East and Gibbons was rewarded with a four-year, $16 million contract. (Hey, in those days, $16 million was a lot of money.) Of course, as soon as that contract’s ink was dry, Gibbons plummeted to .246/10/47. At age 27, Jay Gibbons’ body was worn out. Little injuries, big injuries, whatever.
Add to that Gibbons’ surly demeanor and you’ve got a real winner. A famously bad outfielder, Gibbons thought his defensive skills were underrated and didn’t mind complaining to the newspaper about it. Never a clubhouse leader, Gibbons followed guys like Kevin Millar and when they complained about playing time, Gibbons did too.
He rebounded a little in 2005, managing 518 at-bats. And then after two more lousy years, Baltimore cut Gibbons with $12 million remaining on his contract.
Now do you understand why I’ll always be angry with Jay Gibbons? I root for a team that has no room for error in the AL East. Boston and the Yankees can paper over their mistakes with zillion-dollar bills. Baltimore cannot. When they pay a player big money and that player flops, it’s far costlier than the same situation in Boston or New York.
I suppose it’s not Gibbons’ fault; the O’s made a huge mistake when they signed him to a fat four-year deal. And they did the same with Segui and plenty of other dogs whose main talent turned out to be check cashing. The team’s misplaced loyalty doomed them to more years of losing.
And behold! Today, Jay Gibbons is a Dodger. After being cut by the Orioles, Gibbons became a baseball hobo, riding the rails to Long Island, Huntsville, Nashville, Newark, Albuquerque, and … L.A.! Late last year, after bouncing around a couple different organizations, Gibbons got a call-up to Chavez Ravine. He didn’t embarrass himself in September, and looks to have the inside track on L.A.’s post-Manny left-field job in 2011.
A lot of people are sculpting the Gibbons comeback as a feel-good story, and I guess it is. No longer a product of human growth hormone, Gibbons is back to basics: a 34-year-old ballplayer looking to clear his name and leave the game on his own terms.
I wish Gibbons nothing but the best in L.A. But I’ll always remember him as the guy who juiced himself as big as gorilla, pushed himself to the limit in his contract year, and then collapsed in a heap of money.
Orange and black money that might’ve been better spent on someone else.
More From the All-Steroids Team:
- C: Todd Hundley
- 1B: Phil Nevin
- 2B: Bret Boone
- SS: Rich Aurilia
- 3B: Ken Caminiti
- OF: Gary Matthews Jr.
- OF: Brady Anderson
- UTIL: Jay Bell
- DH: David Ortiz
- SP: Edinson Volquez
- MRP: Brendan Donnelly
- SU: John Rocker
- CL: Eric Gagne
—Photo Matt Slocum/AP