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'Juiced' slugger goes to bat for steroids

Jose Canseco tells his story in brash style

Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ’Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big, By Jose Canseco, Regan, 290 pp, $25.95

Approaching Jose Canseco's book on steroids, one might expect a dose of contrition paired with predictable warnings to youth about the dangers of dabbling in drugs. Whatever else it may be, ''Juiced" does not deal in platitudes. It is not a conventional apologia. To the contrary, Canseco revels in his role as ''the Chemist" or, as he fashions himself, ''the godfather of steroids in baseball."

Canseco was the American League's rookie of the year (1986) and its MVP (1988). He is also an evangelist, and constructive uses of steroids and human growth hormones are his gospels. Within 10 years, he writes, most pro athletes will be taking steroids.

''Believe it or not," he writes, ''that's good news." Indeed, ''human life will be improved, too. . . . We will be able to look good and have strong, fit bodies well into our sixties and beyond. . . . Steroids, used correctly, will not only make you stronger and sexier, they will also make you healthier."

Canseco has no regrets, no qualms, about his own use of steroids. He brims with self-confidence, convinced that at age 40 he could still bang out the 38 home runs he needs to reach the 500-homer club, but he says he's been made a scapegoat by Major League Baseball and the players association.

As the game tried to recover from the season-ending strike in 1994, a proliferation of home-run hitters proved beneficial. The ''Bash Brothers" -- Mark McGwire and Canseco -- had set the look back in the late '80s, but it was the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa battle in 1998 that brought the homer battle to unprecedented levels, when McGwire powered out 70 and Sosa hit 66.

By 2003, Canseco asserts, it was harder to find a player who wasn't using steroids than one who was. The owners, he says, were complicit in accepting the spread of growth-enhancing drugs. Canseco even says, ''There was no question that [Rangers owner] George W. Bush knew my name was connected with steroids."

The Rangers traded to acquire Canseco anyway. On arrival, he educated and injected several fellow teammates.

As players bulked up, so did ballpark attendance and player salaries. Steroids were illegal, and owners faced a double dose of bad news: ballooning salaries and fear of exposure. The pendulum swung, and owners began to grandstand, wringing their hands about steroids, and decided to blackball the player most closely identified with steroids: Canseco.

His cockiness and lavish lifestyle made it easier on them. Canseco never whines about racism but reports a double standard. McGwire was the ''All-American boy," but the Cuban-born, darker-skinned Latino bore the brunt of the blame.

When McGwire was chasing, and surpassing, the home-run marks of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris, reporters discovered the substance androstenedione in McGwire's locker.

Canseco suggests that Big Mac planted it on himself so the media would attribute his burst of power to a legal testosterone booster and would not look further to the obvious conclusion: illegal steroids. The media wanted to believe McGwire was legit. McGwire skated free; Canseco did not.

Therein may lie the reason Canseco wrote ''Juiced." With its juicy comments on personalities throughout the game, Canseco is likely to be shunned by players concerned about taint by association. He names names; if you prefer, he's ''ratted out" McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, and Ivan Rodriguez -- former teammates he says he personally injected. He also says that players such as Sosa, Barry Bonds, Bret Boone, and Miguel Tejada are obvious users. Canseco enjoys being more than a little brash in the process, yet one doesn't get the sense he is settling individual scores.

Canseco was marginalized, unwelcome in baseball circles. ''Juiced" stakes a claim to his position in the history of the game, while explaining his exclusion. If he sought retribution, he may have extracted a measure of it.

There is no question: Steroids can be dangerous if used excessively. With a proper program, though, nothing but good can come of steroid use -- or so Canseco asserts. A ballplayer who dies young, like Ken Caminiti, has inevitably mixed steroids with cocaine or alcohol.

For Canseco, proper use precludes drinking and drugging; athletes are healthier. It's not a pact with the devil, but a rational decision both for business and for life. Steroids offer strength and stamina, power and confidence.

Canseco is never short on self-confidence. ''I have personally reshaped the game of baseball through my example and my teaching," he writes. He is a crusader for steroid use, pure and simple. A pariah now, he styles himself a prophet. Don't be surprised, he writes, if we look back on these pariahs as pioneers.

Baseball fans, and perhaps most Americans, have a strong sense of nostalgia for times when life seemed simpler. As one reads how Canseco, who played with the Red Sox in 1995 and 1996, experimented with chemicals, syringes, and injection techniques, one might recall a skinny splinter of a ballplayer who broke in with the Red Sox in 1939. ''The Kid" was self-consciously thin, and he wanted to bulk up, too. Ted Williams turned to drinking several milk shakes a day.

In today's era of outsized comic book characters and video-game superheroes, the muscle-bound look is in, and some players have achieved spectacular results. Whatever the ego of the man who wrote it, Canseco's inevitably self-serving ''Juiced" comes across as a dash of realism and candor, which may also help to prompt stricter controls and testing, perhaps to adopt Olympic standards -- if that is what audiences really want.

Bill Nowlin has written 10 Red Sox-related books, most recently ''Blood Feud: The Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Struggle of Good Versus Evil."

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