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Sure, Canseco's a bit loopy, but his tell-all book contains more than a shred of truth

Sure, Canseco's a bit loopy, but his tell-all book contains more than a shred of truth

This may fall under the category of "More Information Than You Want to Know." But see if you can picture it anyway. Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire are in a bathroom stall in the clubhouse of the Oakland Athletics. McGwire has lowered his pants.

See what I mean?

The Bash Brothers, who off the field weren't exactly Buzz and Tod from the TV show Route 66, found themselves in this intimate position because Jose was injecting Mark's glute with a steroid. At least that's what Canseco claims in his new book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big. I can't wait to see how they treat this scene when they make it into a movie.

Jose as illicit nurse is only one among a number of sensational charges in this purported chronicle of how baseball literally blew up. Canseco also alleges that, after he left Oakland and joined the Texas Rangers, he saw fellow sluggers Juan Gonzales, Rafael Palmeiro and Ivan Rodriguez also shooting themselves up with man-made muscle builders. Team owner George W. Bush, he claims, could not help but have known about it.

The instant and almost universal reaction to Canseco's charges, which he repeated on 60 Minutes last Sunday, ranged from angry denial to ridicule.

Palmeiro adamantly insisted that he had never been guilty of livin' large through chemistry. Tony LaRussa, who managed the Bash Brothers in Oakland and McGwire in St. Louis—where he broke Roger Maris' home-run record—was equally firm that McGwire could not possibly have used illegal steroids. The coaches, he said, had detailed knowledge of McGwire's training routine. They remain convinced that his bulky physique was legitimately earned.

Besides, the detractors pointed out, everyone knows that Canseco—dubbed as Rico Suave by wisecracking SportsCenter anchors back in the day—is at least three or four bubbles off plumb. He's been in trouble with the law as a barroom brawler. After his major-league career went antarctic, he started selling his baseball memorabilia online. This is the guy who, while under house arrest for his legal transgressions, hatched the brilliant idea of allowing fans to "spend the day with Jose" for just $650 per hour.

Canseco is a little like Hercules: part superman and part buffoon. No one of his era could consistently hit a ball farther than Jose. Then again, no one else ever allowed a fly ball to doink off his head in the outfield and over the fence for a home run.

Jose is more Tubbs and Crockett than Tubbs and Crockett themselves. He needs the money to maintain the appearance of his Miami Vice lifestyle. So how could anything he claims in his pot-stirring book be taken as even remotely credible?

Well, like this: Canseco reminds me of a character in an old, almost forgotten episode of LA Law, a periodically sober street person who had witnessed a hit-and-run killing of a pedestrian. Under questioning by the sublime Susan Dey, the man gave a clear-eyed, compelling account of the crime and identified the perpetrator. Then, as he was excused from the witness stand, he pulled down his drawers, started dancing a jig and shouted, "I'm buck nekked! I'm buck nekked!"

In spite of everything, the jury believed the man's testimony. And, when it's all said and done, I suspect that Canseco may not be giving us the whole truth—but a lot more truth than baseball people are comfortable hearing.

Maybe none of Canseco's confessions will be true ones in the end. Or maybe they're embellished partial truths. But there's no shortage of circumstantial evidence that at least makes you seriously wonder what all the Jose-deniers are in such hissies about.

Exhibit A is McGwire, who for whatever reason hasn't stepped forward to defend himself against Canseco's accusations. If you thought Barry Bonds was unbulked in the late '80s, fish out some archival photos of Big Mark. He has admitted to taking androstenione, a steroid-like substance that baseball allowed at the time. He became Puff Daddy the Home Run King. He was plagued by injuries in his last seasons with the Cardinals; were they natural or the result of steroid use? He left the game in 2001, before the major leagues implemented a drug-testing policy. And, now, in retirement, McGwire is suddenly lean once more. Hmmm.

Juan Gonzales followed a similar progression: got big, got injured, lost weight. Around the time Canseco joined the Rangers, Rafael Palmeiro—whose swing is one of the purest in the game—suddenly became a prodigious home-run hitter. Ivan Rodriguez, unparalleled as a defensive catcher but previously middling as a hitter, suddenly became a power hitter, too. Double-hmmm.

Dave Stewart, the cross-dressing pitcher and former teammate of McGwire and Canseco, maintains an undisguised dislike for the latter. Nonetheless, it was perhaps telling that he told the San Francisco Chronicle, "One thing I can't say about him is he's a liar."

Then we have the words of the late Ken Caminiti, former MVP and former drug user, who claimed that more than half of the top players in major league baseball used steroids. Other players interviewed by Sports Illustrated believed Caminiti's estimate was too high—but they still reckoned the number at better than one in four.

Commissioner Doofus would like all of this to disappear like a bad dream. Now that baseball has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into a drug-testing regimen that has at last moved one toke over the line from farcical, the owners are hoping we can put the steroid scandal in the past.

But, like Banquo's ghost, the dope is going to keep haunting the game at all the worst possible times. One of them will come this year, as Barry Bonds closes in on Hank Aaron's career home-run record of 755. Another will be when the Yankees finally make financial peace with injured Jason Giambi, who reportedly told a grand jury that he had used steroids, and fulfill their contract with a bloated paycheck to a slugger whose slugging ability appears much diminished now that he's a shadow of his formerly super-buffed bad self.

When Barry finally eclipses Aaron's mark—baseball's holiest grail—will anyone even cheer? Will anyone even care?

I'm not sure I will. Or, if I do, I'll care not because of Bonds' accomplishment, but because I'll believe he doesn't deserve to supplant Henry Aaron, who earned his record the old-fashioned, honest way.

I'm starting to think, with embarrassment and regret, that the year McGwire and Sammy Sosa supposedly saved baseball, the year my enthusiasm became unabashed again, was the year I got played. I'm starting to think that one day baseball's record books will have to contain asterisks for the steroid years, just as some records in track and field carry the "Wind-Aided" disclaimer.

And I'm starting to think that Rico Suave—who, by the way, would get my nod for a juicy role should they ever revive Miami Vice—is going to come out of this whole stanky thing smelling a lot better than Bud Selig and his big-league ostriches.

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