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Bashing Bush

Jose Canseco Comes Clean

by DAVE ZIRIN

Jose Canseco has never been this dangerous. In his just-released book "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big," the former Oakland A’s Most Valuable Player is hawking an insider look on how steroids dominate training regimens in Major League Baseball. On the face of it, this is old, musty news. Players like the late Ken Caminiti have revealed that as many as fifty percent of players "juice" more than a Schwarzenegger family picnic. Baseball stars Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, and Jason Giambi have all admitted use – knowingly or unknowingly – in the ongoing Bay Area Lab (BALCO) investigation.

Canseco also proudly confesses his own use. As his publisher Harper-Collins states, he "made himself a guinea pig of the performance-enhancing drugs" and "mixed, matched and experimented to such a degree that he became known throughout the league as ‘The Chemist.’"

But Canseco’s book is radical because he goes beyond the individual choices of players and pulls back the curtain on all of Major League Baseball. After the 1994 lockout, Major League Baseball’s owners were worried about plummeting fan interest and stadium attendance. Led by commissioner Bud Selig, according to Canseco, they looked the other way – and even encouraged – steroid use for heightened performance. He also makes the case that the powerful MLB Players Union deliberately ignored the issue, believing that more homers would mean bigger contracts.

As Jack Williams, an attorney who teaches sports law at Georgia State University commented, "This is much, much bigger than any one player. Even one as big as Barry Bonds. This implicates the entire institution…. It looks like baseball itself is the supplier. You have a situation where baseball itself is corrupt."

In making these claims, Canseco paints images of Major League clubhouses where star players "shoot-up" each other’s buttocks in bathroom stalls before batting practice. Not exactly an image MLB wants to see on a commemorative cup.

Writer Larry Biel expressed MLB’s deepest fears writing, "[I]f what his book alleges is true, you can start putting asterisks next to every hitting record in the last decade."

Canseco openly states that he’s not writing this book for noble ends. He has no desire to expose the hypocrisy of MLB’s steroid policy, or warn youngsters about the manifest risks involved in taking anabolics or human growth hormones. He actually just loves steroids. Imagine if Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers because he wanted the Vietnam War fought with more napalm and you have Canseco.

This came across quite clearly Sunday as the former "Bash Brother" stumped for his book in an interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. After five minutes, you got the feeling that Canseco wants anabolics available in candy bowls and gumball machines. Canseco said to an incredulous Wallace, "For certain individuals, I truly believe, because I’ve experimented with it for so many years, that [steroids] can make an average athlete a super athlete. It can make a super athlete incredible. Just legendary." By the time he was done, I was wishing they were embedded in my ice cream like chocolate chips. Canseco cut a smarmy, repellent figure on primetime. Seeing him in his shiny musculature and movie star looks, being interviewed by a rapidly withering Mike Wallace – whose next expose should be of whatever tanning booth he frequents – was like watching Dorian Gray go mano-a-mano with his own portrait.

Not surprisingly, MLB has gone on the attack, attempting to shred Canseco’s questionable character. This isn’t too difficult a task. Canseco is without a defender in baseball, he has serious money problems, and carries a rap sheet as long as his loping swing. Recently, while under house arrest for a nightclub brawl, he sold time to "hang out with Jose" on the Internet for $625.00 an hour. He is easy to question, and even easier to discredit. But this is precisely what makes him dangerous. Because of his pariah status, Canseco feels no loyalty to the game that spit him out and allegiance to Baseball’s "omerta", the code that "what happens in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse." He is a man with nothing to lose. So he might just be telling the truth.

But no matter how scurrilous one may find Canseco, he is certainly no less credible than commissioner Selig, who said in response to Canseco last week, "I never even heard about [steroids] until 1998 or 1999. I ran a team and nobody was closer to their players and I never heard any comment from them. It wasn’t until 1998 or ’99 that I heard the discussion." This statement holds the credibility of a Colin Powell speech at the UN. I remember going to a game and chanting "steroids" at Canseco while he smiled and flexed his arms. That was in 1988.

Selig is Mr. Clean, however, compared to Canseco’s old boss. That would be the former owner of the Texas Rangers, a guy named George W. Bush. Canseco claims that Bush smirked his way through his ownership tenure, as syringes were passed around the locker room like a Christmas at Courtney Love’s house.

If true, this could have serious political repercussions. Bush has made "fighting steroids" a bully pulpit issue, even mentioning it in last year’s State of the Union address. Canseco’s accusation got so much play that The White House had to issue an "official denial", from Bush press secretary and simpering lickspittle Scott McClellan "If there was [rampant steroid use on the Rangers], he was not aware of it at the time," McClellan harrumphed.

Bush is not the only person called out on the carpet. Along the way, Canseco names more names than Elia Kazan on sodium pentathol. He calls out former teammates, and future Hall of Famers, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmiero, and Ivan Rodriguez, among others. They have unequivocally denied his charges and returned fire, calling Canseco everything from "delusional" to "a joke." Palmiero, whose wiry frame and sweet swing seems to support his drug-free assertions, has threatened to sue.

Yet whatever his motivations, the overarching theme of Canseco’s book rings true. Baseball – the establishment – has spent the last 20 years trading off the health of its players for a more explosive game.

In past year, players in the union fought their own chief Donald Fehr to get a steroid plan in their collective bargaining agreement. Bush, Selig and his ilk have posed like they were for this all along. If Canseco’s book does nothing else, it exposes them for the rank hypocrites that they are. A great number of this generation of players – as a result of steroid abuse – will die of respiratory problems, heart failure and cancer before they hit sixty. Think of Bush and Selig when they do.

DAVE ZIRIN’s new book "What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States" will be in stores in June 2005. You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing edgeofsports-subscribe@zirin.com. Contact him at editor@pgpost.com.