Murray Chass has a followup article in which he describes a conference call between three Yankees bigwigs (Levine, Cashman, Rubenstein) and him.
So first off, they admit he is technically correct -- the word "steroids" was in fact struck from the contract. But they say the word was "illustrative", not specific, and other news organizations are quoting Levine saying they expanded the language.
Secondly, they quoted from the contract! (Apparently they weren't allowed to fax it but could read it over the phone.) They wouldn't have to pay him if he couldn't play because of physical impairment or mental incapacity "directly due to or approximately caused by...the intentional use or abuse of any type of illegal substance."
Okay, so steroids clearly fall under that category. So Chass's original article is a non-story, right? I'm not so sure. Two things:
1) If their eliminating of the word "steroids" allowed them to expand the language of the contract, did they do the same to their other big-name signings? Sheffield? Mussica? RJ? If not, why do it to only Giambi?
2) The "illegal substance" clause, is, of course, full of loopholes. The MLBPA lawyers would be all over it ("How do you know the pituitary gland tumor was in any way related to alleged steroid use?"), and no way could the Yanks get out of the $80M they owe. So what exactly did the clause they eliminated (the one with the word "steroids") say? If leaving it in would've made it any easier for the Yanks to stop paying Giambi, they're guilty of (a) looking the other way or (b) stupidity. This is just speculation of course, but I'd like to see the text before letting the Yankees off the hook.
In any case, I ask again: what is up with Murray Chass? He used to be for the Yankees what Fox News is for the Bush Administration: mouthpieces who thinks their subject can Do No Wrong. Now he's their biggest headache. What happened? I see three possibilities:
1) the HOF selection made him realize he maybe should graduate from being a provincial small-minded cheerleader;
2) Olney -- 25 years his junior and once seen as his successor at the Times -- is now making the Big Bucks;
3) His terrible record of predictions during the 2004 season ("Even if the Red Sox somehow come back against the Yankees, they will somehow find a way to fail in the World Series.")