- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 12, 2005

For those who are ready to ridicule Jose Canseco’s steroid accusations because of his lack of credibility — who did you expect to be one of the first ones to turn on his fellow players? A good guy? Someone with personal integrity and a solid reputation?

Ken Caminiti was the first to do so, in Sports Illustrated three years ago. He was a drug addict. Now he’s dead.

You don’t find many Boy Scouts testifying in drug cases. They are usually people who will do anything that serves their purpose at the time, and right now it serves Jose’s purpose to write a tell-all book about steroids in baseball (“Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big”) because his purpose is to make money and get attention.

That doesn’t mean what he is saying isn’t true, though, in one form or another. They may or may not have had steroid-injecting parties in the bathroom stalls at Oakland Coliseum. But Mark McGwire was his teammate. So was Juan Gonzalez in Texas. Those are facts. These were players who had large, muscle-massed bodies that broke down often. Those are relative facts as well. And there were steroids in baseball then. That is a reasonable conclusion.

The Ivan Rodriguez accusation may not have the support of as much circumstantial evidence, and then there’s Canseco’s assertion that Rafael Palmeiro took steroids as well.

The circumstantial evidence doesn’t add up there at all. Palmeiro’s home run numbers did jump from eight to 14 to 26 in Texas from 1989 to 1991, but there have been many ballplayers who have developed home run strokes in the major leagues without the help of steroids.

Several members of the 500-home run club swooned over Palmeiro’s swing during last season’s All-Star Game festivities in Houston. Palmeiro has an ordinary body, with none of the telltale signs that come from steroid use — including being hurt. After becoming a regular player in 1988, Palmeiro played in more than 140 games every season through 2003, save for the strike-shortened season of 1994.

Everyone else in the circle of suspicion has had his body break down.

It should be noted that all these players have denied the accusations Canseco made in his upcoming book and is expected to make tomorrow when he appears on “60 Minutes” — unless the lawyers start slicing and dicing those claims before then.

But the damage is done and will continue to be done. All baseball — both management and the players union — can hope for is that their recently strengthened steroid policy will keep the damage at a stream-like current instead of a raging river.

Baseball may be able to withstand a couple of press conferences like that of Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi on Thursday in New York, when he apologized for either using steroids or getting caught using steroids — without, of course, ever mentioning the word. They hope the others who follow Canseco — and there will be others — will remain a small and more easily discredited number.

Of course, if Barry Bonds goes on a witness stand this summer in San Francisco at the BALCO trial, all bets are off.

Credibility is something everyone in baseball could use a healthy injection of right now. Everyone’s motives and responses should be questioned, because nearly everyone is involved in the steroid scandal to some degree — either for using or for knowing it was being used.

Take Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who managed both Canseco and McGwire in Oakland and then McGwire again in St. Louis. In an interview with the New York Times, La Russa defended McGwire and ridiculed Canseco.

“I am absolutely certain that Mark earned his size and strength from hard work and a disciplined lifestyle,” La Russa said. “As opposed to the other guy, Jose, who would play around in the gym for 10 minutes and all of a sudden he’s bigger than anybody.”

Well, Mr. Animal Planet, if your star player was getting bigger than anybody after just playing around in the gym for 10 minutes, did it ever occur to you to inquire how? What did you think he was doing to get that big, ingesting Milk Bones?

La Russa helped build his resume in Oakland on those inflated shoulders of Canseco. Why didn’t Tony — also a lawyer — take a closer look at what was happening and then blow the whistle? Because he didn’t want to know. Because the truth might have been ugly.

That’s why you have people like Canseco — to do the dirty work.


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