WEST HOLLYWOOD -- Stuffed behind a counter in a dimly lit corner of a nearly empty Sunset Strip book store Monday evening, Jose Canseco couldn't help but feel his magical book tour had hit a speed bump.
"I knew L.A. would bring the weakest reaction," he said, his palms wiping imaginary dust from the wooden counter top. "People are busier here. And they're more into actors."
Though the controversial former slugger had already signed 150 copies of "Vindicated," his second steroids-in-baseball literary foray, only 30 minutes into his visit to Book Soup, he now stared down a perhaps unwelcome reprieve. The local media, having nailed their video blurbs for the nightly news, departed just minutes into the session. The throng of fans disappeared soon after. Maybe that night's NCAA championship game was to blame. Or maybe in L.A., his city of residence, Canseco is just another buff bod with dirty stories to tell.
It was a far cry from Canseco's headline-grabbing visit to New York City the week before, where he gamely swapped spit with Howard Stern and later was accosted by MLB investigators in a Barnes & Noble green room -- or his subsequent stop in Chicago, where he booted a reporter for his line of questioning and sent back a complimentary cup of coffee for fear of poisoning.
Michael Buckner/Getty Images
Here's Mr. Canseco, posing with his new book at the L.A. book signing.
Despite his jet-black biker suit that would do the Cobra Kai proud, here Canseco was hardly combative. Flanked only by his publicist, his book agent and an idle store clerk, Canseco was soft-spoken and contemplative, if not remorseful for his much-lampooned actions in Chicago. He knows -- and, frankly, he's surprised that we have forgotten -- that "Juiced" (his 2005 tell-all that exposed rampant steroids use in baseball) sparked the Mitchell report, forced Major League Baseball to strengthen its drug-testing policy, and generated ill will from a wide variety of people, including baseball purists, league officials and some of the biggest names in the game.
The follow-up, less a tell-all than an I-told-you-so, added two more enemies to his list. In "Vindicated," Canseco alleges he connected Alex Rodriguez with a Canadian steroids supplier identified only as "Max." (He also accuses the Yankees slugger of hitting on his ex-wife.) And Canseco claims to have fielded steroids inquiries from former teammate Magglio Ordonez, even injecting him "once or twice" in the Chicago White Sox clubhouse.
"I did get death threats," Canseco said. "We had the FBI investigate. One was a teenager just joking around. But you have to follow up and investigate."
When asked to explain the recent Chicago incident, Canseco replied, "There was a coffee sitting there waiting for me and I said, 'Wait a minute, who made this coffee?' I won't drink it. I'm way too old, way too experienced and I've seen way too much of this world to fall for a simple trick like that."
"It could be rat poison, but it might also be a diuretic," he added, shifting on his stool. "You never know, somebody may be playing a trick, and now I have diarrhea for the whole damn signing. There's always someone willing to make a statement."
When Canseco arrived this evening -- at 7 p.m. on the dot, right on time -- there was no coffee to be found. Just a few news cameras, and a smattering of loyal fans who braved rush-hour traffic to rub shoulders with the vilified former American League MVP.
Raul Carrillo, a clerk at a car dealership who'd pinned a photo of Canseco to his time-worn Oakland A's jacket, used a sick day to make the trip from Orange County. "Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do," Carrillo said. "He was my favorite player of all time, and nothing's changed. Everyone called Jose a liar, but everything he said has proven to be true."
"He's partially responsible for steroids, but he's trying to clear it up," said Travis Ashman, a banker and a Dodgers fan -- with the hat to prove it -- who made the two-hour drive from Chino Hills. "He deserves more than the way he went out. He's the savior of baseball."
Greg Krisilas of Encino, who brought along his 8-year-old daughter Jocelyn, saw the signing as a teaching tool. "I'm not sure she should read the book, but we'll talk about the issues," Krisilas explained. "She needs to know cheating isn't right, even if everyone is doing it. Using real-life examples like this are helpful. I appreciate all of the stuff Jose brought to [the] forefront, contributing to the conversation and keeping everyone honest. I admire him, absolutely."
(Of course, Krisilas also lied about his age when he said he's 40 years old. "No he's not," Jocelyn quickly corrected him. "He's 48.")
Later, some wiseacre asked Canseco to sign his book to George Mitchell.
"So I should sign it, 'To the idiot?'" Canseco kidded, before surveying his surroundings and, almost by reflex, calculating the threat level.
Then, Canseco politely asked to examine my notepad. And, for curiosity's sake, I obliged.
"See, that's not going to work," he said before commandeering my pen, scribbling out the Mitchell entry, and sliding the notepad back across the counter. "I've been dealing with you people for 20 years," Canseco explained. "I know how you work."
Michael Buckner/Getty Images
Even Canseco's girlfriend/publicist Heidi wants Jose's autograph.
"I think Mitchell's a nice guy," he clarified, adding that the Mitchell report, although "a step in the right direction," left much to be desired. "It was incorrect in some ways because a couple of players I mentioned in my first book were not in the report, and a couple of incidences when Roger Clemens was linked to Brian McNamee and myself, like the party in my home, did not happen. I always said I suspected Roger, but I've never had any evidence to point my finger at him.
"In New York, when the two [MLB] investigators came up to me and said, 'We'd like to talk to you about joining forces. How can we help each other?' I'm thinking, 'Guys, the party's almost over, right?' I've been wanting to help them forever. But when the report was being constructed, they never called me to ask, 'OK Jose, have you had any contact with these players? Have you ever dealt with them or have any rumors about them?'
"You'd think they'd ask me, but they never wanted the whole truth out. They wanted to control the environment of the report. They didn't realize I was writing a second book. Now the book comes out, so they came to me and said, 'Uncle.'"
The reason for MLB's sudden interest, said Canseco, is the chapter in "Vindicated" containing transcripts from Canseco's voluntary polygraph test, which he submitted to last fall.
"All the players, all of the contents and events of both books are in the polygraph transcript, and I passed the polygraph 100 percent, and the polygraph kills everything Major League Baseball has to say," he explained. "You can call the polygraph examiners and they'll tell you how it was done. Now no one can question the validity of these books, period. That's why nobody sued me so far.
"When you sue somebody, you have a process called discovery. That's what [MLB] fears the most. They can't have anyone subpoena their records, or perjure themselves. People realize if you sue the truth, you open up a can of worms and more of the truth comes out."
And Canseco isn't about to lose sleep over Rodriguez's yet-to-come rebuttal.
"A-Rod knows I have the ace in the hole," he explained. "What's the ace? Max's real name. A-Rod doesn't want that to come out. If it does, all of a sudden Max says, 'Oh yes he did. I supplied A-Rod.' I'd rather not do that unless Alex forces my hand. But I won't need to. He'll be quiet and take it and admit that what I'm saying is true."
Canseco said he hasn't decided whether to cooperate with MLB's investigation, and that's partly because he feels that any investigation would be inherently compromised. He referenced a New York Times report that alleged Canseco offered to keep Ordonez out of his book in exchange for his former teammate's investment in a big-screen adaptation of "Juiced." According to the report, Ordonez took the matter to MLB, which then got the FBI involved.
"Here's the problem. If you let Major League Baseball police their own environment, they won't do it. To them, they have to protect their players," he said. "I never spoke with Magglio or his agent. Meanwhile, what does he do? He runs to Major League Baseball. For what? Protection. 'Protect me, please. He's coming after me now.' He needs Major League Baseball to protect him, and what they've been doing all along is protecting their own.
"It's like when Rafael Palmeiro [testified before Congress] that he never used steroids. I'm like, 'Wait, I injected this guy. Something's going on.' What guy in his right mind would testify before [Congress], wag his finger at [Congress] like they were little children, and all of a sudden, a month and a half later, take steroids and get caught? No. He was caught way before that. But he was very close to accomplishing 500 home runs and 3,000 base hits, so Major League Baseball basically said, 'We'll allow you to accomplish that and hold back the results in exchange for testifying against Jose Canseco.' Then what happened? Very simply, MLB got smart. They throw the evidence to a reporter -- they have reporters on [their] payroll -- and the reporter leaks it out."
"The whole thing doesn't make sense," Canseco said, once again addressing the Ordonez allegations. "If I'm trying to extort money from you, and you involve the FBI, how do you catch me? You engage in a conversation with me and have the FBI record it. It's very simple. Why didn't that happen? I tell you why, because they're liars, liars, liars, liars and liars. That's all they are. Major League Baseball and all of the players say, 'If we get together and tell a huge lie, it's thousands against one guy.' But the truth stands."
Besides, Canseco added, "I'd rather get an independent producer to bring the money in and get [the film] set the right way."
The reality, though, is that "Juiced," the movie, is floundering. Canseco said the now-defunct Nine Yards Entertainment and Matt Luber, who optioned the rights, have dropped out. Still, he's confident that the project will come to fruition. Earlier that day, Canseco met with a producer of "one of my favorite baseball movies," he said, "and now, since the second book, there's a storm behind it. The timing is a whole lot better. It's a made-for-movie drama. You've got people colluding, a huge business trying to sweep everything under the rug."
Still, by his own admission, Canseco is also ready to move on. He's currently working on a third book, "Prototype," a dark fictional drama set in the future, in which Major League Baseball and its owners are involved in a massive cloning conspiracy. "You better believe it's where we're headed to," Canseco said.
Michael Buckner/Getty Images
C'mon, you know you want to see this dude play softball.
Finally, it was time to call it a night. But just as Canseco stood to leave, two more fans rushed over, both breathless. Canseco brightened. "Come right up," he said graciously.
"Oh my God, you scared me," said the male, with book in hand. "I thought I missed you."
The female, who appeared to be in her 30s, then asked the author to sign her new Jose Canseco Red Sox jersey. Though the book signing's rules forbade memorabilia autographs, Canseco obliged -- and did her one better. He patiently unbuttoned the jersey and put it on, then hammed it up for several photos.
"Let me tell you a little story," he then told the woman. "Back then, during the season, the team would bring us these jerseys and ask us to put them on. We'd wear them for 10 seconds, and then they'd call it a 'game-used jersey by Jose Canseco' and they'd turn around and sell it for a thousand bucks. Can you believe that?"
"That's awesome," she said.
No, it's just another conspiracy unmasked.
A couple minutes later, Canseco grabbed his black biker's jacket, headed to the parking lot in the back, climbed atop his Kawasaki X14 and peeled away, a dark swath heading for the bright lights of the Sunset Strip.
Sam Alipour is based in Los Angeles. His Media Blitz column appears in ESPN The Magazine and regularly on Page 2. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.