Juice And Truth

Jose Canseco's book bashes Mark McGwire but raises more questions than it answers
February 21, 2005

THE BOOK violated the omerta of the clubhouse, so fellow ballplayers called the author a traitor and launched personal attacks upon his character. The commissioner's office issued a swift denouncement. And 25 years after it was published in 1970, Ball Four by Jim Bouton was selected by the New York Public Library to be among the most significant books of the century--the only sports book so chosen.

Juiced, by Jose Canseco, lacks the soul, humanity and humor of Ball Four. And appropriately, for an author with credibility issues, the one time Canseco references Ball Four he misses the year of publication by a decade.

Unlike the wry Bouton, a self-described fan of the game, Canseco is in a world all his own. Between the covers of the book he has no true friends or any clue of the concept of team. The outcome of seasons, including the world championship of the mighty 1989 Oakland Athletics, is not worth mentioning. Canseco loves nothing except the image of himself. He is Narcissus with a syringe.

But in one historically important way, Juiced shares the lineage of Ball Four: Like it or not, it defines an era from the inside out. Canseco holds up his favorite piece of equipment, the mirror, to the underbelly that baseball prefers you not see.

Bouton, an active player when he wrote his book, was more shocking with his unprecedented portrayal of ballplayers as pill-popping, booze-swilling, skirt-chasing, profanity-spewing frat boys. Look, they're human!

Canseco parachutes in well after the shock-and-awe phase of steroids in baseball has played out. The value in Juiced is not so much in breaking ground as it is in measuring, defining and cataloging an established phenomenon as only an expert in the field can.

Canseco was, as one agent calls him in the book, the Typhoid Mary of steroids. He brought them into the big leagues in 1985 and is the man most responsible for their spread. It was great while it lasted for Canseco and the other cheaters, juicing up with no fear of reprisal. But Canseco turned out to be baseball's Sammy (the Bull) Gravano. Assail his character? Attack his motivation? Of course he's an unsavory character. That's because, like Gravano, he's one of the bad guys. No one from the outside could reveal the culture as well.

So Canseco becomes our tour guide through the arc of steroids in baseball. We see them incubate in the Oakland clubhouse in the late '80s, begin to "blow way out of proportion" after the '94 strike and explode into a Wild West shoot-'em-up free-for-all in the late '90s. It all jibes with the rising number of bloated bodies.

When Canseco returned to Oakland in '97, five years after the A's had traded him to Texas, even he was astonished at how brazen the Athletics had become about their steroid use. They talked about steroids around the batting cage and carted them on the road in shaving kits. The culture of taboo had been replaced by one of acceptance, like cocaine in the '80s, when Tim Raines would slide headfirst so as not to disturb the vial of cocaine in his back pocket.

In the late '90s--Canseco does not specify the year--team trainers actively facilitated steroid use by recommending usage programs, providing names and telephone numbers of drug suppliers and joking with players by referring to steroid injections as "B12 shots." That is an explosive charge that warrants investigation by the commissioner's office. (Though Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office and general manager of the A's from 1983 to '97, said on Friday, "I'd be surprised if there was any significant follow-up.")

Canseco is instructive, too, on how and why steroids work so well. They made him faster and stronger, allowed him to swing a heavier bat, helped him maintain his bat speed over the length of otherwise grueling seasons and swelled his confidence. "The powers you gain can feel almost superhuman," he writes. It's riveting testimony, not from a lab technician, university professor or union lawyer, but from a real-life case study. One of many satisfied customers.

Less convincing--though it is the basis of front-page headlines and a reported $500,000 book advance--is the naming of names. True to his notorious persona, Canseco drives recklessly here. He casts suspicion on Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Miguel Tejada, Bret Boone and Brady Anderson as steroid users without claiming any firsthand knowledge.

Nothing, however, is oblique about the manner in which Canseco attacks Mark McGwire, his primary target, whose pregame bathroom-stall steroid-shooting rendezvous with Canseco is the book's preeminent image. Canseco writes that McGwire used steroids as far back as 1988, when he first discussed them with McGwire, and that McGwire later took Jason Giambi "under his wing." The Cuban-born Canseco seethes at what he perceives as the preferential treatment afforded McGwire by baseball and the media, attributing it to the fact that McGwire is white. In short, Canseco does his best to smash McGwire's iconic stature. The McGwire that Canseco knows refers to reporters with a homophobic insult, is socially awkward and, above all, is a chemically made slugger (though he praises his natural swing). "McGwire," he writes, "was right there with me as a living, thriving example of what steroids could do to make you a better ballplayer."

Since last playing in 2001, McGwire had retired to his family, to golf and to a noticeable public silence, especially as performance-enhancing drugs became the most important issue in baseball. But in response to Canseco's allegations McGwire released a five-paragraph statement on Sunday in which he said, "Once and for all I did not use steroids nor any other illegal substance." McGwire declined SI's request for further comment through his representative, Marc Altieri, who said, "We are going to let the statement stand on its own. It is meant to be a definitive statement."

In an updated preface to Ball Four in 2000, Bouton wrote, "I believe the overreaction to Ball Four boiled down to this: People simply were not used to reading the truth about professional sports." The truth in Juiced, as it was in baseball's Dark Ages of steroid use, is elusive. But truth there is, somewhere--hypodermic needles in a haystack.

If Canseco's portrayal of the era seems overly harsh, imagine how a Pittsburgh Pirate would have described cocaine use in baseball in the '80s. The view from Pittsburgh, where even a team mascot was implicated, would offer the worst-case scenario that might seem out of scale to someone elsewhere. So it is with Canseco, the self-proclaimed "godfather of steroids."

Ultimately the book sparks more debate than it settles. But when Canseco writes, "I know the real story of steroids in baseball better than any man alive," who would dare argue? Written from that platform, Juiced may not command our faith, but it does demand our attention. --T.V.

HE SAID, HE SAID

TRUTH AND logic have not always been Jose Canseco's companions. In Juiced he wrongly writes, for instance, that baseball owners were "caught colluding again" last year. He writes that owners threw him out of the game to "quiet" him because he might expose the steroid problem but also for the exact opposite reason: to announce that "steroids had gotten out of control."

His infamous account of shooting steroids in a bathroom stall with Mark McGwire is also open to debate, if only because no teammate has corroborated it and because Canseco has been fuzzy on how often he injected McGwire--first writing "more times than I can remember" but then telling 60 Minutes "probably twice."

Whatever credibility he has further suffers when he promotes himself as a Dr. Perricone of the steroid set, claiming that steroids and human growth hormone can help "stop the aging process, or at least slow it down by 90 percent." Canseco hasn't always been consistent in his prosteroids stance, either, as this comparison of his literary efforts shows.

From Strength Training for Baseball: Avoid Injuries and Improve Your Stats by Increasing Your Strength, by Jose Canseco and Dave McKay (1990)

"A word about steroids: don't use them.

"Steroids may create the illusion of great gains in short periods of time, but they have a debilitating effect on your body chemistry, and in the long run you will be much worse off for having used them. The ultimate price you will have to pay is far, far greater than any short-term gain.

"Also, baseball is not a game of large muscle. It is a game of strong, solid, durable muscle. Therefore, steroids have virtually no value even in the short term, if you are serious about baseball."

From Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big, by Jose Canseco (2005)

"The average baseball player shouldn't really be ashamed of his steroid use....

"... Carefully controlling the amounts of steroids you take, administering them at the proper time--that's the way to make them work for you, without risking your health.... If you're smart, and careful, and know what you're doing, you can use them to reach your true potential....

"What I'm hoping is that some more intelligent, forward-looking voices will come out and urge baseball to embrace the potential of steroids--to fight for their place in the game, and in our lives."

COLOR PHOTOCOURTESY OF CBS (TOP) COLOR PHOTOCOURTESY OF PERIGEE BOOKS COLOR PHOTOWILLIAM R. SMITH (TOP) BROTHERS IN ARMS? Canseco claims he first broached steroids with McGwire in '88. COLOR PHOTO COURTESY HARPER COLLINS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)