Commentary

Don't apologize, Jose Canseco

Updated: July 24, 2014, 1:06 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPN.com

There was an unexpected spin on the way Jose Canseco's yearslong exile from the Oakland A's ended this past weekend when he attended the 25-year reunion of their 1989 World Series win. The former slugger said he regretted writing his 2005 tell-all book, "Juiced," which cracked open Major League Baseball's steroids scandal and betrayed former teammate Mark McGwire and dozens of other peers. But what was he thinking? Exposing the steroid era is the last thing Canseco should apologize for -- and his list is longer than most.

As Dennis Eckersley, a former A's teammate who helped broker Canseco's return, told reporters over the weekend, "[The steroid era] needed to come out. ... Part of me is glad it happened because I kind of like having people be exposed."

Besides, Canseco hardly escaped unscathed.

He's been mocked and vilified for how he used and counseled others on PED use so much that his down-low nickname around baseball became "The Chemist." He amassed 462 career home runs, won two World Series rings and earned an American League Most Valuable Player award, yet fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after just one year because he received only 1.1 percent of the votes in 2007, well below the 5 percent required to stay.

Canseco has had the details exposed about the physiological and sexual side effects he's suffered because of his PED use. In 2008, he said he went to Mexico for cheaper dental implants and got arrested at a border checkpoint when agents found syringes and a bootlegged bottle of female fertility drug hCG that many chronic steroids users take to prevent testicular atrophy.

Some of Canseco's hubristic excesses and laugh-out-loud dumb decisions are the stuff of legend. Who can forget how he was once sued by a promoter for sending his identical twin brother, Ozzie, to fight a celebrity boxing match for him, thinking they could get away with it? How about that particularly inspired span in 1993 when he was with the Rangers, one of his seven big league teams, and he had a fly ball bounce off his head and over the wall for a home run -- then persuaded Rangers manager Kevin Kennedy to allow him to pitch mop-up duty just three days later and blew out his arm and needed Tommy John surgery?

None of this is meant to defend anything he's done. It's just to note that after all that (and more), the book is the thing he'd take back?

"I regret writing the book, for sure. ... It haunts me 'til today," Canseco told Bay Area reporters Friday, saying he wrote it to retaliate for feeling blackballed out of the game at age 37.

"I regret putting my friends [like estranged Bash Brother McGwire] in it, even though it was a true account. ... I was angry at the time."

Canseco is in the middle of a two-month, 17-city homer-hitting tour of minor league ballparks in an RV. He's traveling with four dogs and three turtles as companions, and his remaining itinerary of ballparks looks a lot like the eight or so independent-league stops that he made after leaving the big leagues in 2001: Aug. 3, he'll be in the Kansas City area, then he's on to Bakersfield, California (Aug. 5), Los Angeles (Aug. 10), New York (Aug. 16-17), and Canton, Ohio (Aug. 24).

Sometimes Canseco can come across like the John Daly of baseball -- cheesy beyond redemption and apt to do anything he's asked to do for a buck now that he's admittedly squandered his $45 million-plus baseball fortune.

Still other times, Canseco seems like a younger, slightly variant version of Pete Rose -- a should-be Hall of Famer who is finally admitting he blew a great thing; a man who's more knucklehead than sociopathic rogue and can't bear to leave the public stage. Norma Desmond had nothing on either of them.

If you believe that last bit about Canseco (as I do), it makes perfect sense that Canseco finally understood that the non-negotiable price for his being allowed to come around the big leagues again was to apologize. There was no other way.

And if the show of remorse happens to start rehabbing his pariah image as well, why, that would be terrific for Canseco. (It just isn't likely to get him into Cooperstown, although the Hall's Veterans Committee could someday vote him in. Canseco is being shut out for his extravagant love affair with PEDs, not whistle-blowing. And here's how we know: His whistle-blowing would actually align him with, not separate him from, voters who object to the steroid era. And thus he should've reasonably expected more than a paltry 1.1 percent of their votes.)

[+] EnlargeCanseco
Ron Kuntz/Getty ImagesA baseball bounces off the head of then-Texas Rangers outfielder Jose Canseco in 1993.

Canseco's breast-beating return does not exactly mark a new path in American celebrity. It's worked remarkably well for Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist recast as a cuddly plush toy in the "Hangover" movie series. Tyson gets it.

Way back when he spit out that chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear, or was brought down before that by homespun Indiana prosecutor Greg Garrison for whatever went on with a beauty-pageant contestant in an Indy hotel, who could've predicted that Tyson would someday star in a smash-hit feature film in which he air-drummed to a Phil Collins tune, or later mount a one-man play, "Undisputed Truth," in which he dismisses his rape conviction as false? Again, tickets flew out of the box office -- first in Vegas, then during a run on Broadway.

Other disgraced public figures have made similar transitions out of the muck.

What it takes is admitting you've been a colossal screwup at times and being good-humored -- or better yet, self-mocking -- about it after you apologize.

Of course, Canseco's apology creates a question: Is this just his latest con or a genuine cry from the heart of a former big leaguer in exile? But really, it's not that important to decide.

The reason Canseco retains a foothold in some ex-teammates' hearts or public life is simple. Some folks just love a good train wreck. Some, like A's teammate Dave Stewart, can't forget what a five-tool baseball talent Canseco was and how "he was a big part of all the things we were doing." Others just think there is something genuinely entertaining about some of the whacked-out stories Canseco unselfconsciously tells on himself, like this account of how he and his girlfriend came to own two "fainting" goats that they bought from a woman who showed up to make the sale wearing a live monkey hugging her neck. They were stopped for speeding by a cop who fell out laughing when he saw the pet goats were wearing, um...diapers?

Canseco's attempts at deep thinking have provoked many laugh-out-loud funny roundups about "The Twitter Poetry of Jose Canseco," too. (Stuff like, "I Complete You.") The Huffington Post once tweaked him for theorizing that dinosaurs disappeared from the planet because reduced levels of gravity allowed their "bigness" to "dominate."

Whatever else might be said about Canseco -- and there is a lot -- this is inescapable: He is a true incorrigible. He seems constitutionally incapable of being embarrassed. He craves attention the way flowers need the sun. And in this era when celebrity is so cheaply won, those traits alone can take someone a long, long way.

In Canseco's case, it's included all the way to an appearance on Kathy Griffin's show, "My Life on the D-List."

But the last thing Canseco needs to do is apologize.

The truth is, Canseco was the perfect man to blow the lid off baseball's steroid era because he epitomizes everything it came to represent: Ambition. Insecurity. Phony moralizing and greed. A desire to live large in every way. And yes, some regrets at how deep it went.

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