McGwire needs to end his silence

With Jose Canseco implicating him in the steroids scandal, Mark McGwire must now tell his side of the story.

Updated: February 9, 2005, 5:21 PM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

The pre-review reviews on the upcoming Jose Canseco book, lard-leggedly titled, "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big," are in, and they can be boiled down to one phrase:

"Too bad this is Jose Canseco's book."

The excerpts, offered by the New York Daily News on a book that is scheduled to be released next Monday, are profoundly damning, if they are true. Mark McGwire being injected with steroids by Canseco, McGwire and Jason Giambi injecting each other, Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, George W. Bush ... every page is shrapnel-enriched.

Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco
Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were teammates with the A's for parts of eight years.

But true? Well, fact-checking alleged first-person anecdotes is a damned difficult business, and in the exciting world of attack-the-messenger, Canseco's checkered past works against him in a huge (no pun intended) way. See Tony La Russa and Arn Tellem for edification on this subject.

Put another way, Canseco's reputation is such that if one can find a single error in "J:WTRRSHSHBGB," it will be used like a crowbar to pry the rest of the book apart by the spine.

The one thing it may do, however, is to finally bring McGwire out to publicly confront what he has largely sidestepped since his retirement -- The Issue.

McGwire has acknowledged his use of androstenedione, which was permissible in baseball's frontier medicine era and in any event would have been hard to deny given that the Associated Press' Steve Wilstein found a vial of the gunk in his locker. He has, however, said he stopped when it became an issue, and he has let it go at that. He has otherwise maintained a solid wall from the media since his retirement, and has taken oblique shots from the seamy emanations of the BALCO scandal with silence.

On the other hand, the Canseco book is something else entirely, and silence won't get it done for McGwire this time.

He put out a statement to the Daily News for Sunday's paper, saying, "I will reserve comment until I have had a chance to review the contents myself."

Very safe. Very prudent.

But he will have to review the contents soon, and at that point he will have to leave his fortress of solitude and meet them head-on.

He will have people at his back, to be sure; he has made friends, and Canseco has made enemies, and you know how that plays out. La Russa, his former manager in both Oakland and St. Louis, has repeatedly and stridently defended him from all charges and criticisms, because La Russa's loyalty comes with a considerable bite.

That isn't enough, though. This is now McGwire's burden to bear out in the open, where we can see and hear him and compare his words to known and verifiable facts. His word is not good enough on its own in this story, because frankly, nobody's is, but neither is his word to be automatically dismissed as false just because it has been thrown onto the performance-enhancer monkey pile.

But he does have to respond, because this isn't Tony La Russa's reputation, or Arn Tellem's, being savaged. It's his, and unless he is one of those rare creatures who doesn't care what his legacy is, he cannot stand quietly and let whatever happens, happen.

There is danger in this, of course. What if he has things to hide? What if Canseco's specifics are false, but other stories aren't. The thing about public statements is, they are vetted down to the final semicolon. And some people dismiss them as lies even as they are being uttered. This is not going to be a pleasant process for McGwire.

It must, however, be done, because silence is a right, but not a very effective shield. McGwire doesn't want to speak out on this, he doesn't want to have to defend his character, but failing to do so is far more reckless, and exponentially more dangerous, for obvious reasons. He has to speak, and submit his words to more diligent fact-checking than he has ever known. Why? Because, for lack of a better explanation, that's just the way it is.

We, too, will have to "review the contents," but against the larger backdrop of BALCO and the Olympic doping scandals, the book now has notoriety, and notoriety, while creepy, has considerable might and throw-weight.

So now it's Mark McGwire's turn in the barrel, and whoever else Canseco incriminates in "J:WTRRSHSHBGB." It's a wholly unsavory process, but this is a wholly unsavory story from beginning to end, and, like so much else on this mortal coil, the tendency is for it to get worse before it gets better.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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