|Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr.com|
Tell me where you were about fourteen years ago. It was the spring to summer of 2001. 9/11 was still just a date and Aaliyah was still alive. Michael Jordan was preparing for his final return. The Arizona Diamondbacks proved that Cinderella (even ones with bloated salaries) still existed. And a young man named Jay Gibbons was ripping the cover off for a mediocre Baltimore Orioles team.
Like many men from that era of Orioles baseball between 1998 and 2011, Jay Gibbons was looked at to be some of the answer to the drought of winning seasons in Baltimore. A somewhat stocky 6'0" outfielder/utility man, Gibbons exemplified the Orioles Way those first few seasons. He was a cast-off from another team (technically, he was a Rule 5 pickup from another team, but it's often the same thing). He came in with arms ready to jack the ball out the park. He was pretty clean-cut and cleanshaven.
His first few years with the O's, he seemingly proved the scouts right. There were no concerns with injuries, aside from his hand injury his rookie year. In a post-McGwire world, he seemed to be legitimate. And then, the wheels fell off--and hard.
In 2004, Gibbons had injuries on top of injuries. In 2005, he bounced back, but nothing was the same. In 2006, there was the initial gloom and doom of the Grimsley discussion (where former O's relief pitcher Jason Grimsley, during a raid, stated he gave Gibbons anabolics). In 2007? Well, 2007 was when things really hit the fan. Gibbons was mentioned in the Mitchell Report and, from there, just about never heard from again in baseball--aside from a coaching appearance here and there.
So, what could have been? If Gibbons had remained healthy and "avoided" steroids, it's possibly that he very well could've been a centerpiece for the organization. But, Gibbons numbers between 2003 and 2005 are up for debate because of the steroids. So, truthfully? It's hard to gauge where Gibbons could've been these days. If the steroid issue never popped up, he may've been a good-to-great player. But his name, just like many Orioles from this era, oddly enough, will be forever tainted and linked to the Mitchell Report. And because of this, what could've been, in just about every scenario, will never come to fruition.
Should Gibbons and individuals within the Mitchell Report be forgiven (or, at least, asterisked and acknowledged)? Steroid testing did not begin until 2003. And, let's be for real: baseball is a dirty-ass game regardless. Does that mean we just say "oh, hey! All is right in the world. Here's some clear and cream, new for the 2016 season, for you to enjoy?" No. But, for us, as fans, writers--what have you, to sit here and say "oh, baseball before McGwire and Bonds admitted to use was pure and now everything is tainted" is a logical fallacy--especially if you know your history. There's a reason why Pete Rose is still not in the Hall of Fame, even though he holds the record for most hits in a career. There's a reason why the "deadball era" was called such and why the spitball is outlawed. There's a reason why pine tar is frowned upon.
But, at the end of the day, Gibbons, even without his alleged steroid use, couldn't stay healthy to save his soul.