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It has become increasingly difficult to discern who looks guilty amid baseball's parade of steroid suspects and whistle blowers, when everyone is wearing a clown's nose. Next up on your lineup card: Jose Canseco and Alex Rodriguez.

Do you believe the lug-head prose of Canseco in his latest potboiler? Canseco is the 43-year-old lounge act who is scarily comfortable in his skin as a smarmy opportunist while outing his old syringe buddies' dark secrets, this time in Vindicated. A-Rod is his current target.

"He's not who he portrays himself to be," Canseco said in a recent phone interview with SI. "He's a phony.... He's a talented individual -- and I'll say he's the best player in baseball -- but did he use steroids? Yes, I believe he did."

Do you buy the artful A-Rod's boilerplate no-comment reply to Canseco last week?

"His lawyers want him off the subject. The less he says the better for him," Canseco said. "Basically, what are you going to say against the truth?"

Rodriguez is the 32-year-old reigning MVP, home run champ and an image paradox. He poses as a family guy and yet found himself labeled as "Stray-Rod" by the tabloids last year. He usually chooses his words from a PR crib sheet but, when left to his own verbal devices in February, A-Rod exaggerated the number of times he was drug tested in 2007 to make baseball's anti-doping program sound more vigilant than it is.

Is there anyone who can tell honesty from hyperbole? Is there an angel of mercy who can save baseball from the kind of joyless epic of innuendo that accompanied Barry Bonds on his way to Hank Aaron's record and threatens to do the same along A-Rod's path to trump Bonds?

Do angels have bald heads as sleek as Airstream trailers? Jeff Novitzky, the IRS special agent who gave us BALCO, is expected to interview Canseco when the Vindicated book tour swings through the Bay Area on April 9 and 10.

This is where Canseco's real tell-all account could unfold. He will be talking to Novitzky freely -- happy to do it, Canseco said -- while surely understanding the perils of lying to a federal investigator.

Topic A will be Canseco's insights on Roger Clemens. But what if Novitzky asks, "Who is Max?" In Vindicated, Max is the alias Canseco uses to describe the steroid source he introduced to Rodriguez in the late '90s. There were internal debates at the book's publishing house about whether Max would be named. Did Max want money for his story? Jennifer Bergstrom, the book's publisher at Simon Spotlight Entertainment, did not allude to any financial or legal entanglements when she explained in an e-mail, "It was a very difficult decision, but we decided it was up to Max to come forward himself."

Novitzky isn't bound by editorial guidelines. He is free to ask Canseco for Max's identity, particularly if this person has tentacles to BALCO or other steroid distribution rings.

"If he asks, I'll look for guidance from my attorney," Canseco says, "and we'll see how we can help."

If Novitzky chooses to investigate A-Rod, his slow-drip meticulous methods mean uncovering the truth could last as long as it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

Baseball could expedite closure -- for once. MLB recently created what you might call a Nip It Police. As recommended in the Mitchell Report, commissioner Bud Selig has formed an investigative unit -- filled with veteran detective types that evoke either visions of Costner in The Untouchables or Shaggy in Scooby-Doo (you pick) -- which is free to probe steroid allegations even when a player has not failed a drug test.

"It can be an observation, a third party allegation or an anecdote," said Bob Dupuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, adding, "The threshold for an investigation is any information that deals with the security of the game and integrity of the game."

MLB isn't saying whether Vindicated's A-Rod allegations have rung the alarms of its investigators, but Canseco wasn't aware of any sleuthing by baseball's investigative branch.

"No one has spoken to me," Canseco said. "It's the strangest thing. If baseball had come to me from Day One and said, 'Jose, we know you're doing steroids and others are, too; help us get it out of the game,' I would have helped."

Canseco is freighted by motives, but so far most of his allegations (see Rafael Palmeiro and Co.) have been proven true. Baseball might have preserved some dignity and at least offered the illusion of caring about doping by reaching out to Canseco long ago in an attempt to stop the loon in his path.

Attention is as good as currency to Canseco. He craves the power of relevance. True, there is no doubt that his Bentley lifestyle has been downgraded to BMW after two divorces, brushes with the law and a civil suit over a fight that cost him, according to court records, $376,064.

But his two gotcha novels -- with Vindicated as 240 pages of self-glorification wrapped around 20 pages of note about the holes in the Mitchell Report, the steroid injection he says he gave Magglio Ordonez and the tawdry A-Rod accounts -- are less about Canseco's greed than his grievances.

"I'm dangerous, and baseball knows it," Canseco said.

Danger can be mitigated. Clemens played to Canseco's ego perfectly. After Clemens appeared on 60 Minutes in January, Canseco wrote in his book that he was contacted by Roger's lawyers to talk with him about Brian McNamee's allegations. Team Rocket wanted Canseco, who had always doubted Clemens' purity through implication, to sign an affidavit saying Clemens had not attended a 1998 party at Canseco's house and discussed steroids, as McNamee claimed.

Canseco flew to Houston and as he writes in Vindicated, "When I got there, Roger picked me up at the airport." He had Canseco at "Hello." As Canseco wrote, the more he spent time with Roger "the more I came to believe that I'd been wrong about him. So I signed the affidavit."

In other words, he flipped. Just like that. A little lovin' on Canseco's psyche -- no matter how contrived -- went a long way. Baseball officials should try that, because if they don't value Canseco's insider information -- even if some of it is dubious, even if they've had a longtime rift with him -- he'll just spew more of it in his next book. And you can already see him licking a pencil tip for No. 3, on what the game's general managers, trainers and owners knew.

And he knows a lot of owners -- including a former Rangers owner named George W. Bush.

"I'd assume he knew, yes," Canseco says. "They all knew what was going on: Their players were using steroids."

It's up to baseball's new detective squad to unearth the truth about A-Rod, about Ordonez, about their owners, before Canseco makes it a trilogy.

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