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Major problem

Sports | Jason Giambi's plummet could take him out of the major leagues if he doesn't start hitting

Issue: "An evolving debate," May 21, 2005

Jason Giambi isn't headed for the minor leagues. At least not yet. Mr. Giambi's plummet could eventually take him all the way out of the major leagues if he doesn't start hitting. Through 27 games, the Yankees' troubled first baseman was hitting below the fabled Mendoza line at .195, worse even than his .208 average last year. Things got so bad, manager Joe Torre and general manager Brian Cashman asked Mr. Giambi, an 11-year veteran and former MVP, if he would accept a demotion to the minor leagues. "I've been scuffling the last two weeks, no doubt about it," said Mr. Giambi, who has suffered through poor hitting since being associated closely with baseball's steroids scandal. He declined the downward invitation, but the team may ask again if his hitting continues to suffer.

The team could force the first baseman to the minor leagues if no other team wanted to claim him off waivers. The Yankees would have little to fear: Almost certainly no team would want to claim his $120 million, seven-year contract. And if the Yankees forced him to the minors, they could save roughly $37,000 per day in luxury tax savings. Mr. Giambi says that would be bad for his baseball career. But keeping the shrinking former MVP on the roster has been bad for business, too.

More than a chimera?

Faced with a two-year suspension, American cyclist Tyler Hamilton has a hard sale to make to anti-doping officials. Blood tests in September revealed Mr. Hamilton had someone else's red blood cells floating through his veins. That convinced cycling officials that Mr. Hamilton had undergone a blood transfusion-a common, but little-known doping technique that gives an athlete a respiratory boost. But Mr. Hamilton's defense team says the blood came from a twin who must have died in utero but not before having some of its blood absorbed by its living twin. Mr. Hamilton argues some of those blood cells persist even today in his 34-year-old body.

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It may be far-fetched, but it's not impossible. The phenomenon, known as chimerism, is rare, but documented. One Mayo Clinic researcher says traces of chimerism may occur in up to 50 percent of people-often carrying blood cells picked up from their mother while in the womb. If Mr. Hamilton succeeds in convincing doping officials on appeal, it could mean all athletes could have a defense against blood testing. Tyler Hamilton is the first and only cyclist to be suspended for blood doping. He could be the last, too.

Around the Horn

· For now, Philadelphia star wide receiver Terrell Owens will have to make do with his seven-year, $49 million contract. After firing his longtime agent in April, Mr. Owens began to clamor for a new contract just one year into his seven-year deal. "It's a non-issue," team owner Jeffery Lurie said. "There are a lot of things I spend time thinking about, but that's not one of them." But Mr. Owens takes it seriously. The wide receiver has even started a holdout, staying away from the team's mandatory minicamp last month.

· Only now that the St. Louis Rams have a hard time claiming their "Greatest Show on Turf" moniker, Rams officials will finally change out the rock-solid AstroTurf in the Edward Jones Dome. In its place, team officials will roll out a softer, gentler (and slower) FieldTurf for one season. After that, Rams officials say they'll invest in a new technology that splits the surface into sections that can be removed for other events.

· All sports agent Aaron Goodwin ever earned for LeBron James was $120 million in endorsment deals, including the richest initial shoe contract from Nike ever. But apparently Mr. James doesn't think he needs Mr. Goodwin anymore. The Cavaliers' young phenom quietly fired his agent. To replace Mr. Goodwin, Mr. James has turned to a former high-school basketball teammate and close friend, Maverick Carter, who has no formal training as an agent, but does work for Nike.

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