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Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big
Reviewed by Joe Wiebe
Super-sized Jose Canseco burst onto the baseball scene in the mid-80s, ushering in what will surely be referred to as the Steroid Era in the future. For more than a hundred years, the typical baseball player was lean and wiry, scrawny by today’s standards. Sure, there were exceptions, but Babe Ruth’s bulk was earned honestly—from hot dogs and beer.
In the two decades since Canseco won Rookie-of-the-Year in 1986, the average ballplayer’s body has ballooned to linebacker size. Over the same period, home run totals have skyrocketed, and longstanding records have been broken and re-broken. Media pundits and baseball insiders alike have pointed at anything but steroid use: smaller ballparks, league expansion diluting the talent pool of pitchers, “juiced” baseballs, better bats, even the introduction of video and computers as coaching aids. When ballplayers mysteriously gain 30 pounds in muscle between seasons, commentators compliment their strict weightlifting and fitness regimens.
No way, Jose. They’re juiced. At least, that is what Jose Canseco claims in his tell-all baseball memoir that has stirred up a storm of controversy south of the border. The publication of Juiced was timed to coincide with the advent of Major League Baseball’s brand new steroid testing program. The book has already had its desired effect, since many of the players Canseco names in it (Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Thomas, Jason Giambi, and others) have been called to appear in front of the U.S. Congress.
What is most interesting about Juiced, however, even more than the allegations made in its pages, is its central character: Jose Canseco. Over nearly 300 pages, Canseco reveals himself to be an insecure, vindictive, possibly deluded egomaniac who believes he was misunderstood by fans, mistreated by the media, and blacklisted by baseball owners because of racism against Latino players. But don’t take my word on this; Canseco’s own words are much more entertaining.
ain’t humble: “I definitely restructured the way the game
was played.” “I started becoming something like a guru.”
“I have personally reshaped the game of baseball … Soon enough
the work I’ve done will help reshape the way millions of you out
there live your lives, too.” “I was hands down the best player
in the world. No one even came close.”
Jose says steroid use does not make men more aggressive: “Do specialists really know more than I do, after personally experimenting with steroids for twenty years? No way. They may know what the books say, but have they felt it in their system? I know what works and what doesn’t, through experience. I’ve never had mood swings, and I’ve never been afraid I would get them from steroids.” Except, apparently, during a bar brawl in 2001 that led to his arrest and time spent in jail, when, he says, “I lost track of who was doing what, but I know I was acting in self-defense.”
Jose comes across as more than a little paranoid: “I can’t prove it, but I can’t help feeling that, behind the scenes, some people in Major League Baseball were working to help bury me.” “[The owners] wanted to send the world a message that steroids had gotten out of control. They made an example of me. The players all knew it.”
Any fan would be naïve to believe that steroid use has not affected baseball. Too many players have enjoyed fantastic increases in home run production while at the same time displaying mysterious weight gains. Jose Canseco’s confessional, however, comes across as more than a little opportunistic, timed to cash in on the steroid scandal just as the wave of public awareness is cresting.
Now that Major League Baseball has introduced random testing, Canseco’s claim that “eight out of every ten players had [steroid] kits in their lockers” will be put to the test. If that many players were juiced, this season’s statistics should reflect it with a significant decrease in power production. Maybe he is telling the unexaggerated truth, but after reading this litany of self-praise and finger-pointing, I doubt it. Say it ain’t so, Jose.
Copyright © Joe Wiebe. All rights reserved.