Inbetween issuing vehement denials on two different ESPN Radio shows that the Yankees had given Jason Giambi the contractual equivalent of a get-out-of-jail card, NY GM Brian Cashman was party to a conference call with the New York Times’ Murray Chass.

The Yankees apparently didn’t get the hint when Jason Giambi’s agent asked them to remove references to steroids from the contract they were negotiating in December 2001.

“Unequivocally, the Yankees had no knowledge of Jason Giambi doing steroids,” Randy Levine, the Yankees’ president, said yesterday. Lonn Trost, the team’s chief operating officer, and General Manager Brian Cashman concurred.

Along with Howard Rubenstein, the ubiquitous public relations man who usually serves as a spokesman for George Steinbrenner, the three Yankees executives were on a conference call with one reporter – me. They were responding to a column in The New York Times yesterday about the team’s seven-year contract with Giambi.

“We just wanted to respond to your article and take issue with some of the things,” said Levine, the leadoff hitter in the three-man batting order.

The Yankees were stung by the suggestion that they should have known what they were getting when they signed Giambi because they agreed to his agent’s request to delete references to steroids in the guarantee language of the contract.

Guarantee language is designed to protect a club by prohibiting players from engaging in certain activities that could be hazardous to their health. If a club sends a draft of guarantee language to a player’s representative and the representative sends it back with the word steroids crossed out, it would not be farfetched to think that someone should be suspicious. But, the Yankees said, it wasn’t like that.

“There were at least 20 changes made,” Trost said in reference to the guarantee-language provision in Giambi’s contract.

On the telephone a day earlier, Trost said he couldn’t discuss Giambi’s contract specifically. On this call, he discussed it specifically.

“Our contracts cover things in different ways,” he said, batting second. “There is a provision in his contract that says he will not be paid if he uses or abuses any illegal substances. The idea that we removed steroids is so far from the truth. The word steroids that was taken out was illustrative,” he said. In other words, Trost was saying that the word was meant to be part of a contract provision aimed at substances including but not limited to steroids. Nevertheless, the word steroids was in the original draft of the Giambi contract and then taken out, and the Yankees are not denying that.

Rubenstein suggested that the Yankees fax copies of the relevant pages of the contract to me so that I could see what they were talking about. They couldn’t do that, they said; the contract was confidential. Then read the relevant paragraphs, Rubenstein suggested.

So Trost read two paragraphs, or parts of paragraphs, of the guarantee language dealing with elements that could deprive Giambi of his salary. That is what a guarantee-exclusion provision is – a list of activities (sky diving, for example) that would render a contract void if a player could not play as the result of one of those activities.

Last winter, Aaron Boone hurt his knee playing basketball, a prohibited activity in his guarantee language, and the Yankees later released him, paying him only one-sixth of his contract.

In Giambi’s contract, he would not be paid, for example, if he couldn’t play because of physical impairment or mental incapacity “directly due to or approximately caused by” a series of circumstances including “the intentional use or abuse of any type of illegal substance.”

After completing his reading, Trost remarked, “To say we didn’t cover steroids is absolutely fallacious.”

The unanswered question that remains is if the Yankees didn’t suspect a link between Giambi and steroids, why didn’t they? When the same agent, Arn Tellem, negotiating a year earlier for Mike Mussina, wanted the Yankees to remove basketball from the guarantee-exclusion provision of the contract, they knew it was because Mussina liked to play basketball and had just spent a lot of money to build a basketball court at his house.

Asked to remove the word steroids from the guarantee-exclusion provision in Giambi’s contract, the Yankees apparently were unable to make the equivalent connection. It’s true that steroids weren’t the rage in baseball that they have become, but they were not unknown, and how many other players had asked for steroids references to be removed?

To the Yankees, steroids was just one of 20 or so items they deleted from the guarantee provision. What were some of the others?

“Herbal dietary supplements,” Trost said, beginning to answer the question. But Cashman quickly cut him off, saying the Yankees shouldn’t disclose their business.

(say. it. aint. so.)

All of sudden, Jose Canseco’s claims of culpability on the part of baseball ownership seem a little less fantastic. Speaking of Jose, Newsday’s Ken Davidoff is the proud owner of an advance copy of Canseco’s new book, in which Jason Giambi is dubbed “The Most Obvious Juicer In The Game”, along with Roger Clemens and Miguel Tejada being labeled steroid users. Perhaps most shocking of all, Jose outs Wilson Alvarez (above). Is there any wonder Canseco has been blackballed if this is how he treats the game’s legends?