One book later, Canseco still on a 'truth' mission
By Jon Saraceno, USA TODAY
On one coast, two freshly minted baseball immortals spoke Sunday about the larger implications of our national pastime. The respected men talked about what the game means to them — and of the role of individual responsibility.
The heartfelt, poignant Hall of Fame acceptance speeches by Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. had just the right touch, providing the sort of feel-good elixir a woozy public and an embattled commissioner need.
"When you sign your name on the dotted line, it's more than just playing the game," Gwynn said. "You've got to make good decisions and show people how things are supposed to be done."
Ripken, the popular former Baltimore Oriole, touched on themes of personal and social accountability. "Kids see it all, and it's not just some of your actions that influence — it's all of them."
"Whether we like it or not as big-leaguers," the Ironman added, "we are role models. The only question is:
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"Will it be positive or negative?"
It is the latter that conspicuously shadows the lords of the game, particularly adverse scrutiny regarding an issue that, regrettably, might be with us for years. Yes, steroids and their often undetectable designer cousins. The public's faith, and trust, already is badly shaken.
Commissioner Bud Selig would have been squirming in his seat on the opposite coast had he not been at the induction.
In San Francisco, Barry Bonds continued to stalk Henry Aaron's all-time home run record under a cloud of suspicion that the game's most important luminary used steroids and might have lied about it.
The specter of something else looms: the relentless myth-busting mission by Jose Canseco. One of the game's most notorious former stars watched the Hall of Fame speeches with full-blown skepticism.
"I think they were your typical politically correct statements," Canseco said from Los Angeles. "They were cookie-cutter, what you expect to hear."
The admitted steroid abuser plans to write another book that might, or might not, implicate Alex Rodriguez — the player most likely to assault Bonds' inevitable record. But if, and I repeat —if— somehow, some way, A-Rod used steroids, we will be dragged through more Bondsian nightmare seasons of allegations, innuendo and, who knows, perhaps a smoking gun.
Rodriguez, one clout away from ringing up No. 500, has averaged 42 home runs a season during his career. He is 32. It is conceivable, by season's end, he will trail Bonds by 250 or so homers. If Bonds retires, A-Rod would need to average 35 homers a season to become the new king of swing before his 40th birthday.
Friday, Canseco called Rodriguez a hypocrite on Boston radio station WEEI, saying he wasn't what he appeared to be. Asked if the New York Yankees star had used steroids, he tantalizingly said, "Wait and see."
"I only write the absolute truth," he told me. "We know that because no one is trying to sue me. We will have to wait and see what the second book says."
Rodriguez said Sunday, "There's nothing to say."
Canseco didn't stop with A-Rod: "To say (Selig) knew nothing of steroid use in baseball, for any manager or coach to say that, is beyond me. How could anyone with any type of child-like sense believe that?"
While Canseco's motives can be questioned, the veracity of his claims in his first book, Juiced, can't be discounted because of what has been publicly revealed. Canseco left baseball after the 2001 season with 462 home runs, maintaining he was blackballed.
"The only reason I wrote the book was to get back at MLB," he said. "It wasn't to attack the players. It was about attacking the institution — Selig and (union chief Donald) Fehr. They obviously (knew) I was 'the godfather' — the chemist. They knew I brought in the steroids, educated all the coaches, managers and athletes.
"I mean, how do you not find a job at 38, offering to play for free? You're going to tell me that being 38 home runs shy of 500 you can't create some PR (buzz) to get fans to come out and watch? C'mon."
His planned second book — to be called Vindicated — is to be a follow-up to his controversial 2005 book that implicated several baseball stars. Among those Canseco accused of using steroids were Mark McGwire; he suspects Sammy Sosa did the same.
Regardless, "They should both (one day) be in the Hall of Fame," he said. "Just because the athletes you're inducting didn't admit to using steroids, or weren't involved in the (controversy), doesn't mean they didn't use at one point. We're a society of hypocrites. That's going to be our downfall, eventually."
That uncertainty will haunt baseball, and Cooperstown's halls, forever.