Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Jose Canseco: Stool pigeon, baseball hero

Well, it's been a while since I updated here, but I figured I'd provide a preview for the upcoming Turret sports commentary -- you know, for all you faithful readers out there.

Jose Canseco: Stool pigeon, baseball hero
By Spc. Ian Boudreau
Turret sports editor

At different points during the ‘80s, I spent time learning how to ride a bicycle, watching “Thundercats,” and reading “Boys Life.”

But for a couple years I devoted untold amounts of change found in the family sofa and my dad’s pockets to baseball cards. I wasn’t very good about keeping them in order or preserved, and I didn’t know a lot of the players. I do remember, however, opening a pack of Upper Deck cards and finding the coveted image of Jose Canseco.

This was in 1988, and Canseco earned the American League’s MVP award while playing for Oakland, and every kid in my third grade class was green with envy when I brought his card to school the next day.

I left the card in my desk that Friday, and found on Monday that someone – presumably from the weekend’s Sunday school class – had stolen it.

My Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame in third grade were up, and Canseco’s would end several years later. In his own words, he was “blackballed” from MLB following accusations of steroid use (as well as other erratic behavior, such as a penchant for handguns).

Well, Canseco is back now, peddling a “tell-all” book called “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big,” in which he calls several members of the 500-plus home run club out for using illegal steroids, including MLB-favorite Mark McGwire and self-professed juicer Jason Giambi.

Canseco’s expressed attitude toward steroid use is blasé at its most critical, and almost adulatory at its least, but he’s certainly aware that he’s adding even more fuel to the flames of the ongoing steroid controversy in the major leagues.

Now, folks may be scratching their heads wondering, “Where does Jose Canseco get off snitching on current baseball players? Isn’t this a case of sour grapes?”

Well, in a word, yes. But it’s a valuable case of sour grapes, if you ask me.
No one might have been willing to publish Canseco’s tale two years ago, but with the recent BALCO testimonies leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, steroids use is a hot-button issue in professional sports now, and suddenly analysts across the country are wondering how to stem the tide of illicit drug use in sports.

The increases in testing and penalties haven’t as yet been very impressive, and it’s only effectively created a system where steroid-users have a couple more hoops to jump through to avoid getting caught.

But baseball is going to be hard-pressed to do anything else. Yet, reputations are still at stake, and the “Canseco Method” may prove to be a more effective deterrent than fines, suspensions, and additional testing.

The danger, of course, is that baseball could turn into a juiced version of bloody Renaissance revolutions in France and England, with accusations flying in one player’s word against another’s. But I’d say that the chance to eliminate performance-enhancing drugs from professional sports is well worth the risk.

And there’s no doubt that we’ll be in for some serious disappointments, whether the league decides to pursue accused juicers or not. McGwire, for example, and his many fans will have to give up his cherished record numbers, or at least learn to live with the dreaded asterisk in the books.

One way or another, baseball’s going to have to start working on a zero-tolerance basis when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs. Whether Canseco makes a few bucks off the controversy is immaterial. I’m just hoping that his book is able to put the fear of public opinion into potential steroid users in Major League Baseball.

And to whoever sat at my desk for Sunday school 16 years ago: I want my Jose Canseco card back.