Features

'Roid rage

Sports | Accused players cry foul as Jose Canseco takes a swing at baseball

Issue: "Lebanon: Democracy now," Feb. 26, 2005

Instead of pitchers and catchers, the opening of baseball's spring training seemed preoccupied by syringes and steroids. One day after stores began selling former American League MVP Jose Canseco's book of doping allegations, the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, and Cincinnati Reds opened their training camps. In his first press conference, Yankees manager Joe Torre faced a torrent of questions about the proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs in America's pastime, with the subject taking the first half-hour of the 45-minute session: "It doesn't go away, unfortunately."

In light of the quick sales of Mr. Canseco's new book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big, which vaulted to Amazon.com's top-five list in its first week, steroids and baseball may be synonymous for some time. His charges may be scurrilous, but the public's willingness to consider the steroid accusations highlight baseball's credibility problem. So tarnished has baseball's image become, a number of fans seem willing to believe allegations from an implausible source like Mr. Canseco.

It would be so easy to dismiss Mr. Canseco as a credible witness. Fact checkers poring through the book found several errors in his memory. For instance, he writes about spring training in 1991 when he slid into second base against the Seattle Mariners and had a brief conversation with Brett Boone about steroid use. Problem: He only hit one double during spring training that year and it wasn't against Seattle.

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Yet instant polls on ESPN.com and CBSSportsline.com indicated a majority of baseball fans believed Mr. Canseco. Web polls aren't statistically significant, but at the most basic level, Major League Baseball can worry that the charges are sticking-never mind the messenger. A Harris Poll from 2004 showed almost all adult baseball fans (95 percent) believe at least some major leaguers use steroids. And a Gallup Poll from January reveals that 66 percent of baseball fans believe the sport's brand-new system of suspending first-time offenders for 10 games isn't strong enough.

Linn Goldberg, a steroids expert and professor of medicine with Oregon Health and Science University, says fans can't exonerate suspected steroids users just because they don't fit the physical profile. They come in all shapes and sizes, he says, not just the typical muscle-bound Casey at the Bat. He said distance runners and swimmers have been prone to using drugs: "It's all about recovery." And that sort of help to bounce back day after day makes certain steroids attractive during baseball's grueling 162-game schedule.

For the record, Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, and former big-leaguer Mark McGwire have all vigorously defended themselves against Mr. Canseco's charges. No ballplayers, trainers, or managers have corroborated the story either.

But does that mean it's not true or not believable? If Mr. Canseco isn't believable about other players' usage, then what about his own? He said he used drugs in the 1980s during his first stint with the Oakland Athletics. The late Ken Caminiti admitted to steroid use before his sudden death in 2004. Testimony leaked from a grand jury and reported by the San Francisco Chronicle showed that Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds both as much as admitted to steroid use. And the New York Daily News reported last week that an FBI agent named Greg Stejskal told baseball executives in 1996 that Mr. Canseco and other baseball players were using illegal steroids. Still, the baseball establishment remains silent, refusing to point fingers or name names.

Throughout the recent controversy, no player, trainer, or manager-except for Mr. Canseco-has come forward with firsthand accounts of usage. Yet baseball's formal testing survey in 2003 showed usage by between 5 percent and 7 percent. And that's just those who were caught. So where are the eyewitnesses?

After Mr. Canseco's allegations leaked, ESPN's Outside the Lines invited former Texas Rangers general manager Tom Grieve on to discuss the accusations against his former players. But before debunking the charges, Mr. Grieve decried Mr. Canseco for breaching trust within the baseball community-an old baseball idea that what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse.

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