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'Juiced' is not cautionary: Canseco glorifies steroids

JUICED: WILD TIMES, RAMPANT 'ROIDS, SMASH HITS, AND HOW BASEBALL GOT BIG, by Jose Canseco, Regan Books, 290 pages, $25.95.

Jose Canseco appeared on the cover of the 1986 Oakland A's media guide under the bold headline: "THE NATURAL."

File that dusty publication in the "satire" section.

In his much-contested baseball expose "Juiced," Canseco boasts that he popped hundreds of homers, stole bases, got rich, hung out with pop stars, collected a fleet of sports cars and, ultimately, found himself blacklisted from baseball thanks to a most unnatural ally: steroids.

Say what you will about Jose, but the Popeye-armed jock can still snag the attention he once enjoyed whenever he stepped to the plate. Name the last time a biopic penned by a retired ball player was attacked by New York Times political columnist Maureen Dowd, dissected over two episodes of "60 Minutes" and prompted a formal response by the White House?

Fans simply eager for details on Canseco's tabloid life won't be disappointed with "Juiced." The slugger's off-field escapades — including his troubles with the law, road-trip womanizing and an alleged marriage proposal from Madonna — are all included. But it's baseball's dirty "s-word" that separates Canseco's book from a mere vanity piece.

Steroids, argues Canseco, fueled Major League Baseball's comeback in the pivotal and profitable seasons following the game's strike-aborted mid-'90s season.

Records have been broken. Players and team owners have made lots of cash. Fans have filled seats. And much of baseball's recent success, suggests Canseco, can be attributed to the number of players willing to inject themselves — or get "juiced" — with steroids and then do remarkable things with a bat and ball. Meanwhile, owners and league officials have acted with complicity by largely ignoring the steroid issue.

And it's all good, says the self-proclaimed "Godfather" of steroids. "Juiced" is no cautionary tale. It reads like a health-and-beauty infomercial in print — touting the life-altering benefits of steroids. Canseco writes that steroids, when used properly, can make you feel younger, sexier and — if you're a pro baseball player — give you the strength and confidence needed to smack balls into the upper decks and demand big raises. The author himself, a former American League MVP, says he never would have reached the "Show" sans steroids.

Canseco insists he's had plenty of company. "The challenge is not to find a top player who has used steroids," he writes. "The challenge is to find a top player who hasn't. No one who reads this book from cover to cover will have any doubt that steroids are a huge part of baseball, and always will be, no matter what crazy toothless testing schemes the powers that be might dream up."

Much of Canseco's attention is on home-run icon and former "Bash Brother" Mark McGwire. The author claims he began injecting the big redhead with steroids during McGwire's sophomore season with the Oakland A's in the late 1980s. (McGwire has denied ever using such drugs.)

Canseco also points to McGwire as evidence of a racist sports media who long accused the Latino slugger of steroid abuse and ignored evidence that the white-bread McGwire's performance was chemically enhanced.

The author adds that his tenure with the Texas Rangers included steroid cycles with teammates Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez — three superstars who have all disputed Canseco's allegations.

Canseco, of course, played in the Ranger outfield when the nation's current president was the team's managing general partner. "There was no question that George W. Bush knew my name was connected to steroids . . . but he decided to make the deal to trade for me anyway," writes Canseco. President Bush spoke out against steroids in baseball during his 2004 State of the Union address. Meanwhile, the White House responded to "Juiced," saying the president was never aware of steroid use on his former team.

Despite the buzz that "Juiced" has received in recent weeks, Canseco's book isn't exactly a revelation. The late Ken Caminiti, a former league MVP himself, alleged rampant steroid use in pro baseball in Sports Illustrated a few years ago. And recent headlines ushering in spring training for the upcoming 2005 season have focused on the BALCO steroid investigation involving star players such as Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi (who also gets plenty of attention in "Juiced").

And perhaps most telling, Major League Baseball and its powerful players union will finally follow the lead of other major U.S. sports leagues and begin earnestly testing for steroids.

Some baseball watchers have dismissed "Juiced" entirely, labeling it a breach of baseball's sacred clubhouse code of secrecy by a bitter, opportunistic ex-player grasping for a few dollars. That's understandable. Canseco's past is scarred with oddities.

Still, "Juiced" does serve as yet one more argument for Major League Baseball to aggressively address the steroid issue that clouds the game today.


E-mail: jswensen@desnews.com