Monday, February 14, 2005 Updated: February 15, 10:43 AM ET
Canseco can help the game
By Skip Bayless Page 2
Three years ago, the only way you figured Jose Canseco would wind up on "60 Minutes" was in a cautionary tale about steroid casualties.
The only way you could have imagined Mike Wallace interviewing him was if "Mike Wallace" happened to be the name of a district attorney.
Say what you want about Jose Canseco as a person -- but he could be helping to clean up baseball.
About three years ago, Jose Canseco seemed to be begging for his final 15 minutes, not "60." Just 15 more minutes of fading fame. Canseco had written a book, or at least part of one, and it was being shopped so unsuccessfully hard that you envisioned Canseco going door to door saying, "Hi, I used to be Jose Canseco. Would you publish my book?"
You also envisioned people threatening to call the police if he didn't leave their front porch.
I came across an excerpt of the book that was floating around back then. I glanced at it and rolled my eyes. At that point, Canseco was viewed as a washed-up steroid freak whose brain had turned to mutant muscle.
His credibility was lower than an American League pitcher's home-run total.
But there he was on Sunday night, the lead story on CBS's most important show. He was allowed to talk about injecting steroids with and into baseball's beloved Paul Bunyan, Mark McGwire. He was allowed to talk about teaching several of his famed Texas Rangers teammates -- Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez -- how to use steroids (and injecting them, too).
He was allowed to use Jason Giambi in the title of one of his book's chapters: "The Most Obvious Juicer in the Game."
Of course, all these players have denied ever using steroids (Giambi has issued public denials, though his reported grand-jury testimony indicates otherwise). But none of them, said Mike Wallace, would let "60 Minutes" interview them on camera.
This makes me suspicious because -- and I can't believe I'm writing this -- Jose Canseco came across quite convincingly. You got the feeling that if any of the players he has exposed -- or ratted out -- had been sitting there with Canseco and Wallace, their denials would have registered higher on viewers' lie detectors than Canseco's matter-of-fact allegations.
I'm starting to get the feeling that Canseco's book, "Juiced," will be remembered the way Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" was. It just might open a window into our national pastime through which only a few media members have peeked.
So how in the name of Abner Doubleday did Canseco a.) get "Juiced" published; b.) land the lead slot on "60 Minutes;" and c.) have the sports world waiting for the book to hit the market Monday like one of Canseco's 600-foot homers?
The most significant breakthrough in public awareness of steroid use in baseball came when the BALCO grand jury testimony was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle. Suddenly, baseball fans could read the sworn testimony of Giambi and Barry Bonds. Giambi told the grand jury that he purchased illegal steroids and used them. Bonds told the grand jury that his childhood friend and trainer, Greg Anderson, duped him into using the designer steroid THG, which can be taken by mouth.
Rumor became shocking reality. Denial among some fans turned into voracious appetite for the whole sordid truth. A decade of whispers grew into a roar: We want more! Canseco suddenly went from steroid junkie to expert.
The public finally seems ready to get to the very bottom of what it has been watching the last 15 years: home 'roids flying out of parks in record numbers.
More and more people are questioning Mark McGwire's accomplishments now.
I'll admit that I've heard the whispers about Canseco and McGwire "juicing" as Oakland A's Bash Brothers since the late '80s. What's more, I heard rumors about Texas Rangers "juicing" even before that. So why didn't I write about it?
Not for the same reasons that sportswriters of the "Ball Four" era looked the other way. They generally felt that ballplayers' drinking and carousing had nothing to do with their performances. Those sportswriters often drank and caroused with the players. They strictly covered the games those players played.
I would have written about steroid use in baseball if I could have proved it. I did write about several Dallas Cowboys experimenting with steroids in 1982 -- including Hall of Famer Randy White and Pro Bowl defensive end John Dutton -- because they talked to me on the record about it. In those days, I was naively aware only of the potential benefits of a wonder drug that could make you stronger and faster and allow you to recover quicker.
I had no idea about the potential deadly side effects. I don't even remember knowing that anabolic steroids were a prescription-only drug.
But you could not accuse a baseball player of acquiring and using an illegal drug without stand-up-in-court proof. And if a player confessed to you, or you witnessed a player injecting himself, or a teammate ratted him out, you couldn't get the story past your editor.
So why is Canseco hell-bent on breaking baseball's "thou shalt not snitch" commandment? Tony La Russa, who managed Canseco and McGwire -- and loves only McGwire -- told "60 Minutes" that Canseco "is in dire straits and needs the money" and "has a healthy case of envy and jealousy."
Some truth in both the alleged motives. But I saw Canseco do several interviews in 2002 in which he said he had been "blackballed" by baseball because he was suspected of being a steroid user. Which he was. But his point was that so were a whole lot of other famous players.
So to me, "Juiced" is also about revenge. If Canseco's legacy and Hall of Fame chances have been ruined, he's taking down the highly popular and protected guilty with him.
And that's fine with me.
I want baseball's dirty little secret dragged as far out into the sunlight as possible. I want every fan to hear every detail I've been hearing -- but couldn't prove -- for 20 years. I want the most casual of fans to hear Jose Canseco, MVP in 1988, say: "I would never have been a major-league caliber player without steroids ... [they] can make an average athlete into a super athlete and a super athlete incredible, legendary."
Yes, Canseco went from a 160-pound minor-leaguer to a 6-foot-4, 250-pound robo-slugger who hit 42 homers and stole 40 bases because he could run a 4.3 40.
Canseco was a black-market MVP. So was Ken Caminiti in 1996 and Giambi in 2001. The lone alleged steroid user in this bunch who would have been a Hall of Famer with or without performance-enhancing drugs is Bonds.
But I want everyone out there to hear what I've become numb to: That ballplayers take turns giving each other a quick syringeful of 'roids in the butt. On Friday morning's "Cold Pizza," when we used the quote from Canseco that he and McGwire had injected each other in the bathroom before games, the crew gasped or laughed with astonishment. I felt remiss in not expressing more surprise on the air.
But as Canseco told an incredulous Wallace: "It is so common."
I believe it has been -- among pitchers as well as sluggers. Baseball's current testing program is merely a beginning. Canseco talked openly and knowledgeably about also using Human Growth Hormone, which is difficult to detect in tests.
I want everybody to know everything. Some bodybuilding experts still argue that, in moderation, steroids are safe and effective. But how do you define and regulate moderation? You can't. That's why there have been so many horror stories of steroid abuse in high school and college.
Canseco told Wallace he still endorses steroids -- "but not for everyone." So how can you have fair competition if some guys are juicing and some don't want to risk it? You can't.
I want to see average athletes succeed only because they train and play harder and smarter than their competition. I want to see records set with natural-born instead of anabolic talent. That's why I want to see Jose Canseco rub our previously upturned noses in the lowly truth with "Juiced."
I don't care if he makes millions off the book. It will be worth it.
Skip Bayless joined ESPN after a career as a sports columnist that includes stops in Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and San Jose. He can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column will appear weekly on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.