Canseco was on to something

Originally Published: August 1, 2005
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

I'll bet the next sentence you read is one you haven't read before:

"Hey, honey, have you seen my copy of 'Juiced'?"

Yes, the most maligned baseball book since the first printing of "Ball Four" may turn out to be just as important, because while Jose Canseco may be a certifiable nut case, he does seem to have one thing going for his first literary effort, namely this:

He seems to be getting a lot of it right.

In the wake of MLB's announcement that Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for steroid use (and we'll discuss the timing of the announcement shortly), one has to wonder if the Canseco book, so savaged in so many places, might actually be a rough guide to who injected what into whom in the days when anyone who was anyone had needles (and no insulin) in his overnight bag.

After all, Palmeiro was outed by Canseco in the book as a proud user of Demon 'Roid, denied it as though he were Alfred Dreyfus (it's a history reference, so you young folks can just never mind), and now gets outed again, this time by Uncle Bud the Renaissance Man himself. I mean, never mind the P.R. blow the game takes so soon after the Hall of Fame inductions of Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg. Imagine how nervous all the folks who spat on Canseco's book must be, knowing he's at least one athlete closer to being accurate.

And imagine how insufferable Canseco is going to be when his nationwide "Hey, I Told You So" tour begins.

Of course, the decision to announce Palmeiro's positive test on this day is a curious one, but well in keeping with their uncanny "bad news right after good news" policy. It was most evident when Uncle Bud declared the day after the captivating Arizona-New York World Series that the game was in such hideous straits that four teams would have to die and soon.

After all, so many people who had found Palmeiro a resistible Hall of Fame candidate three weeks ago came around when he delivered his 3,000th hit, and now they get to hand-wring their way out of voting for him now. He was a feel-good story -- the forthright, stalwart member of the Zero Tolerance Club who said he had never, ever, ever taken a steroid, damn it.

Now it turns out he had never "knowingly" taken a steroid, and it is only a conference call or two from becoming, "I never knowingly took a steroid while wearing my space suit on the surface of Neptune."

Better yet are the caveats from Prez Bush and the steroid congressman, Tom Davis, both of whom stood up immediately and said, "We believe Raffy when he said he never knowingly took anything." They also said they believed him when he said he never took anything, period. So that only means that the same rules that apply in politics apply everywhere else, namely that, "It's wrong when your guy does it, and it's OK when my guy does it."

But we're getting tangential now, as the emanations from the Palmeiro suspension start to wash ashore.

The real fact remains that Canseco really was on to something here, and if we didn't know exactly how much before, we know a little more today, and are therefore less likely to dismiss his next claim so blithely. Now there's some galling news.

There have been, and will continue to be, more scholarly works on the subject -- the San Francisco Chronicle's ongoing BALCO coverage, Howard Bryant's "Juicing The Game," and the ongoing scientific studies showing the health and safety issues surrounding performance enhancers like steroids, THG and HGH. Canseco's story still has a lot of stretches of goofiness, in keeping with the author himself.

Still, the Canseco book was considered to contain equal doses of libel, disingenuousness, backstabbing and out-and-out stupidity, and Palmeiro's denial was one of the lead dogs in the attack posse. Now … well, that's a much harder sell. We still don't know that the book is absolute gospel in all things (and would bet against it if forced at gunpoint), but it gets a little less false as time goes on, and at some point its critics might have to acknowledge as much, as horrifying a prospect as that might seem.

Then again, as we have said before, this is still early in the game. People are still having trouble identifying the official start of the so-called Steroid Era (pitcher Tom House says he tried the stuff in the early '70s, which at least suggests that players knew about it then), and they are still engaging in quacks-like-a-duck games like guessing a guy's dosage level based on size, weight gain (or loss) and back acne.

In fact, people will start poring through their copies of "Juiced" (you know, the ones they said they never bought because they would never read a book like that) for more potential targets, and decide that Canseco's word alone constitutes proof. Which it doesn't.

But we do know one thing about the book now. It isn't as off-base as it was a few weeks ago. Why, in time, it might actually be useful in understanding the bigger story.

Just don't expect anyone to admit it right away.

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