Canseco, Steroids, Pitch-Man, All Pumped Up, Nowhere to Go

Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big, by Jose Canseco. Regan Books, 290 pages, $25.95.

Before the release of Jose Canseco’s Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big, the word most often heard in conversations about the book was “credibility.” As in: The author’s got none. That’s what we’ve been hearing for years, what with all the tales of domestic abuse, failed drug tests, Madonna and enough get-rich-quick schemes to make Ralph Kramden blush. But author Canseco repeatedly urges his readers to keep an open mind, so that’s exactly what I tried to do. Maybe this guy’s just been misunderstood. Maybe he really does have something to say.

As it turns out, he’s got a lot to say … and with each turn of the page, his credibility slips another notch.

In a long note facing the copyright page, the reader is assured (among other things), “This book does not intend to condone or encourage the use of any particular drugs, medicine, or illegal substances.” But just a few pages later, the author assures us, “Steroids, used correctly, will not only make you stronger and sexier, they will also make you healthier. Certain steroids, used in proper combinations, can cure certain diseases. Steroids will also give you a better quality of life and also drastically slow the aging process.”

No, Mr. Canseco can’t really be held accountable for whatever boilerplate the publisher’s lawyers wedged between the covers. And in this case he’s certainly got a point: Steroids can be therapeutic in a variety of ways. Mr. Canseco’s a believer, and if someday steroids are hawked in TV infomercials, he’ll be the ideal pitch man. The problem is that his claims for steroids go far beyond those, and the book essentially serves as one long advertisement for better living (and looking, and loving) through chemistry.

If you’re thinking about actually reading Juiced, you should first know this: It’s not really a baseball book. Rather, it’s a Jose Canseco book. A strange criticism of a memoir, perhaps, but then good autobiography tells us something not only about the writer, but also about the people around him. Not this one. It’s as if Mr. Canseco had spent his entire life looking at the world with a mirror.

If you’re eager for some insight into the 2000 Yankees and their Subway Series with the Mets, you’ll have to go elsewhere. The way Mr. Canseco tells the story, when the Yankees acquired him, they had no intention of playing him, but just wanted to keep the Red Sox and A’s from getting him. Which was a shame because, according to Mr. Canseco, “It was the first time in my career that I was completely, 100 percent healthy. I could have helped out the organization with my bat and carried the team-but I wasn’t getting to play.” What’s more, “The few times they did get me some at-bats, the Yankees put me in the outfield, even though I hadn’t played out there in I don’t know how long.” Remember, this is only five years ago, and yet none of it’s true. In his seven weeks with the Yankees, Mr. Canseco-who at that point in his career certainly wasn’t capable of carrying anybody-actually played in 37 games, most of them as the designated hitter. And he played in the outfield only five times.

Mr. Canseco’s postseason action with the Yankees consisted of one at-bat. In the fourth game of the World Series-he misidentifies it as Game 6, which is strange considering the Series lasted only five games-Joe Torre chose Mr. Canseco to pinch-hit for David Cone with two runners on base in a close game. Mr. Canseco tells the story as a joke, even though he 1) supposedly struck out on three pitches, and 2) supposedly hadn’t bothered to participate in batting practice before the game. Hilarious.

If you’re looking for inside information about the game on the field in the 1980′s and 90′s, you’ll have to go elsewhere. Mr. Canseco devotes slightly less than two pages to players he’s not accusing of steroid use. And even those pages are less about the players than about Mr. Canseco’s obsession with appearance. For example:

Rickey Henderson had “such incredible legs and arms that even past his fortieth birthday he looked like a mini-bodybuilder.”

“Dennis Eckersley was one of the pretty boys of baseball …. With his long hair flapping in the wind, he always looked good. He had always been out tanning, and he was manicured, too.”

Mr. Canseco was impressed by Royals pitcher Bret Saberhagen, but the short passage about Mr. Saberhagen is really an excuse to mention that “Later, in 1998, we were both up for American League Comeback Player of the Year, along with Eric Davis. As Sports Illustrated put it, I deserved credit for ‘resurrecting’ myself ‘from the cartoon-superhero junk heap.’”

We learn that Blue Jays reliever Duane Ward threw a “heavy sinker” and a “slider from hell.” So-the historians will have that, at least.

Historians shouldn’t put a lot of stock in Mr. Canseco’s claims of discrimination, though. In one of many passages devoted to the rough road he’s traveled, he writes: “I remember as a Cuban kid on the A’s farm system at that time [in 1982, his first season in the minor leagues], I was very aware that baseball was closed to a young Latino like me. That was only twenty-three years ago, but for baseball it was a completely different era.”

The last thing I’d want to do, writing in a New York newspaper, is to downplay the barriers faced in this country by those whose ancestors don’t hail from northern Europe. But by 1982, Major League Baseball’s rich history was already studded with great Latino players like Roberto Clemente, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda and Minnie Minoso. And that season there were roughly 100 Latino players in the major leagues. What’s more, the toughest things about making it as a Latino ballplayer are the language barrier and abject poverty. Mr. Canseco grew up speaking English in Florida, in a solidly middle-class family.

Basically, whenever Mr. Canseco strays into charted territory, he gets lost. Which of course brings us back to that word: credibility. If we can’t believe the stuff we can check, why should we believe the stuff we can’t? You’re reading this review because Jose Canseco has accused his Oakland teammates Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi, and his Texas teammates Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro, of using steroids. He’s also named his Tampa Bay teammates Wilson Alvarez, Dave Martinez and Tony Saunders as steroid users and thrown suspicion on Brady Anderson and Bret Boone (nothing new there).

But why only those players? Mr. Canseco claims that he “single-handedly changed the game of baseball by introducing [steroids] into the game,” and that he “personally reshaped the game of baseball through my example and my teaching.”

Well, he played in the major leagues for 17 seasons, with seven different teams. Yet with all that reshaping and teaching, he can name only eight ex-teammates as confirmed steroids users? What about the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and White Sox? Didn’t he teach any of his teammates on those teams?

With such a selective list, one can’t help but wonder if he’s using his book to settle a few old scores. That, or he simply can’t remember all the other players with whom he shared bathroom stalls during the steroid-shooting-in-the-buttocks sessions he so lovingly describes. But whether he’s vindictive or forgetful (or both), Mr. Canseco’s said nothing in his book that gives him more credibility.

In the end, actually, one gets the overwhelming impression that Mr. Canseco is delusional. Early in the book, in the course of advocating steroid use for everyone-yes, everyone-he writes, “I’m forty years old, but I look much younger-and I can still do everything the way I could when I was twenty-five.”

When Jose Canseco was 25, he hit 37 home runs for the best baseball team on the planet. Take a good look at him now.

Rob Neyer is a senior writer with ESPN.com. He lives in Portland, Ore.