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Friday, June 7, 2002
Canseco shopping book, but buyers are scarce

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

Jose Canseco and his literary agent have been shopping the recently retired slugger's "tell-all" book to New York publishers this week, but the question many asked when Canseco first announced his intentions to write the book still lingers: Will it ever get published?

Jose Canseco
One former baseball player and author says no.

"There's not going to be a Jose Canseco book," said Jim Bouton, whose controversial 1970 book Ball Four sold more than two million copies and was updated four times. "He'd be lucky if the National Enquirer did anything. No publisher is going to bid for a book that has no context, no documentation and names names.

"Each story I told was meant to be an example of a larger issue, and I took notes every single day that I still have to this day," Bouton said. "Ball Four was accepted as legal evidence in the 1975 free agent hearings, because I was able to back up everything I said with notes that were written on scraps of paper, cocktail napkins and hotel stationary.

"And I didn't cross the line that Jose is trying to. My book wasn't a 'tell-all' book -- it was a 'tell-some' book. All the sexy stories had no names attached to them. There were no players quoted in stories about anti-semitism or racism."

Bouton said for Canseco to name names with confidence, he would have to take out a large insurance policy. "But the problem is," Bouton said. "Lloyd's of London is not going to touch that with a ten-foot pole."

But Ronald Laitsch, Canseco's literary agent, said Friday that Canseco does have some documentation and "physical proof." Laitsch said Canseco showed at least three potential publishers, all sworn to confidentiality, a list of some of the players that Canseco will mention as steroid users.

Chris Barr, partner in Thought Leaders International, a company that helps authors bring their ideas to market, said the subject matter of Canseco's proposed book definitely is marketable.

"The story of steroid use needs to be told, and I think people want to hear about it," Barr said. "I definitely think there's a good book there, although it might need to be watered down some by the lawyers and savvy publisher."

Laitsch anticipates close scrutiny of Canseco's story but says that's routine. "I'm sure whoever buys this book will have their lawyers look at it, but that's what they always do," Laitsch said.

Sources say Laitsch and Canseco are seeking an advance well into six figures.

It's one thing to have a great proposal. It's another to make sure that if you are going to name names that you have everything right. Potential lawsuits take up a lot of your time and money.
Rick Wolff, Warner Books
Two weeks ago, Rick Wolff, vice president executive editor of Warner Books, passed on the Canseco book, partly due to the legal responsibility issue.

"It's one thing to have a great proposal," Wolff said. "It's another to make sure that if you are going to name names that you have everything right. Potential lawsuits take up a lot of your time and money."

Warner Books did publish a sports book that named names -- "Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL" -- in 1999, but Wolff said everything was backed up by police records.

"He's already said that the book is about revenge," Bouton said of Canseco. "That this is a book in which he's going to get back at the people who blackballed him. Well, when he said that, I think he killed any chances of having anyone publishing this book."

If baseball players are considered public figures, and if Canseco is sure that the players he is going to name definitely did use steroids -- and they in fact did -- those players, under a defamation claim, would have no legal recourse, said Roy Goldberg, a media lawyer at Schnader, Harrison, Segal and Lewis in Washington, D.C. Libel suits of public figures only have merit if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant knew the information was false or had reckless disregard for the truth and still published it.

Beyond the legalities, though, are concerns that Canseco's book simply might not sell.

"Jose Canseco's book might generate a ton of buzz the day it comes out," Wolff said. "But after the media gets a copy of the book and everyone cherry picks the highlights, that's usually it."

Laitsch insists Canseco will be more well-respected for his exposé, which Laitsch said will have a publisher "certainly by the end of the month."

"It had better come out," Laitsch said. "I've worked awfully hard on this."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn.com.