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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A Writer on Steroids

Tony LaRussa is Angry

He is angry at his former star, manchild outfielder Jose Canseco, who not only has admitted in his new book that he shot steroids while with the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers, but also that he injected other players—including Mark McGwire, who LaRussa later managed in St. Louis.

Why is LaRussa angry? He says that McGwire couldn’t possibly have taken steroids, because McGwire wasn’t that kind of a guy. Whereas Canseco, you see, didn’t respect the game, and it’s far easier for LaRussa to believe—in retrospect—that Canseco was taking steroids.

LaRussa has carefully claimed that he did not know, at the time, that Canseco was taking them, but that by the early 90s, the manchild outfielder’s behavior had changed.

“In Jose’s case,” said LaRussa in a story published Saturday on MLB.COM, “we had some suspicions. Mostly what I looked at was a change in the way he went about his business. And that’s what I confronted him on.”

The story continues, “The manager repeatedly insisted that he was never certain Canseco used steroids, but that he suspected that it was a possibility.”

Holding Tony LaRussa up to close scrutiny is not only applicable here, but necessary. He was the manager of the team when Canseco was shooting up (and quite possibly shooting up some of his teammates). LaRussa has taken on the role of defender of McGwire, and by extension the organizations he has been involved with, under his own volition, and he has just as much to gain or lose from all of this as any of the players involved under his watch.

Someone is Lying

Canseco, on the other hand, claims that he and other players even joked about steroid use—that it was an open secret. Is Canseco telling the truth? If he is, that’s damning evidence that LaRussa either willingly had his head in the sand about the whole business, or that he was thoroughly unaware of what his own star player was doing to the bloodstreams of several of his teammates.

Is Canseco lying? Given his quite open, baldfaced desire to make as much money as he can from the remaining shreds of his baseball career, as well as his delusional idea that he was good enough to still play but was “blackballed” from baseball, it’s quite possible that Canseco is simply lying.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Canseco is lying, and that LaRussa had no clear evidence that Canseco or any other player in his employ was using steroids.

How, then, could the skipper know for sure that McGwire wasn’t? Because McGwire was playing harder than Canseco? Because McGwire smiled at LaRussa and obediently did his pre-game warm-ups? Because LaRussa wanted to believe that McGwire wasn’t capable of the destructive behavior Canseco so readily fell prone to when blocked out of his brain on steroids?

The problem with gauging steroid use—and this point is anecdotal—is that the drugs, many of which are very different in their composition, seem to affect players in different ways. Some guys get lazy on steroids and stop working hard, like Canseco; some guys grit their teeth and tough everything out, like Ken Caminti, until they collapse.

So the fact that McGwire didn’t pop off like Canseco did says nothing about whether Big Mac was shooting steroids. McGwire had androstenedione, a then-legal supplement, in his locker back in the 90s, which proves that McGwire wasn’t above taking things to increase muscle. Some have suggested that someone—maybe McGwire himself—planted the andro to throw people off the trail of other, illegal supplements that he may have been taking, but there is no proof of this.

One thing that’s very clear about all baseball scandals, be they concerning the Black Sox, Pete Rose, or steroids, is that the truth will eventually out. Whether anyone will care enough about baseball in 20 years to sort it out is another matter.


This issue is not primarily about Tony LaRussa, but it does concern him, and the climate in which alleged use of steroids took place. Canseco’s assertions against other ballplayers, and against his (and other clubs’) managers, trainers, and owners, are ludicrous, offensive, self-serving, and quite possibly libelous, but they may also be true. And not dealing with that possibility would be the stupidest thing baseball could do right now.

Unfortunately, Sandy Alderson, MLB’s Executive VP of Baseball Operations and the game’s appointed pointman on this issue, is hardly the impartial source you’d want to run an investigation.

Alderson, in fact, is one of the least appropriate people you could ask for to head up any fact-finding mission of this kind; he was GM of the Oakland Athletics from 1983 through 1997, meaning he was LaRussa’s boss during the time in question! That Alderson has publicly denied any interest in investigating Canseco’s charges is hardly surprising. Such an investigation might bring some unpleasant fact-finders to his own door.

Not that there’s any chance of this ever being done, but MLB ought to investigate every single one of Canseco’s charges—and do it fairly and openly. If there are users, they should be fined, suspended, and possibly banned. Let the players association bitch and moan—it’s a fight they’ll lose, both in courts and in the public eye.

For years, star players, such as Jeff Bagwell and John Smoltz, have complained to union leadership that the bad acts of users have tainted all players, and the problem is only getting worse. Remember the White Sox’ refusal to submit to testing last spring because they didn’t want to endorse such a pathetically ineffective program?

This situation, from the players’ side, is serious enough that heads should roll, starting at the top. How could Don Fehr defend his, and some of his players’, actions? Since when does protecting a labor union's interests include shielding law-breakers who harm the reputation and work conditions of the majority of union membership?

On the chance that Canseco is proven wrong by a thorough investigation, MLB and all the aggrieved players can then sue the lying son of a bitch for millions of dollars.

But let’s not stop there, while we’re on a roll! Don’t skimp on investigating managers, trainers, and club executives, either. Because it’s dollars to donuts that plenty of management types, aware of exactly what was going on, cynically let the whole issue roll along out of their craven fear of confronting it.

Did George Bush, former MLB owner, know exactly what was going on inside his clubhouse? Maybe not; he was probably no more hands-on with the Texas Rangers than he is “running” the country. But by the late 1990s, everyone in baseball knew that there was a serious problem with players abusing steroids, and yet no owner had the guts to speak out, because the home run gravy train was still delivering them fat profits in a timely fashion.


Canseco at least has had the courage—a funny kind of courage, but courage nonetheless—to be honest about the fact that much of his playing stardom came out of a syringe, and not what he developed on his own or what God gave him. But that may be the only commendable thing about him.

He is certainly a favorite of those who want to continue the push toward legalizing more and stronger steroids, but will Canseco have any other legacy in sport besides that of a talented but easily led fool?

Jose Canseco, primarily concerned with his own ego and wallet, wants to make a splash as he leaps off the tallest cliff on the mountain. In excerpts from his book, Juiced, released to the press, Canseco consistently mentions how HE became a huge superstar through steroids, and HE did this and HE did that and HE revolutionized the game by shoving needles into his teammates’ asses, blah, blah, blah. (As a matter of fact, many people in the game believe that steroid use started long before Canseco's professional debut.)

But has Canseco ever considered the very real possibility that bulking up with steroids hastened the demise of his own career? Plenty of anecdotal evidence exists to suggest, in fact, that steroid use has a significant long-term negative impact on flexibility.

Canseco’s decisions to sell his MVP trophy, World Series rings, and Rookie of the Year ring, and sever any relationships he ever had in baseball, are his business. But these acts, and his desperate, ego- and greed-driven willingness to spread acid all over other people in baseball, and char their reputations, shows a lack of respect for the game itself and for the players in it.

The players Canseco “outed” for their alleged steroid use may indeed have been guilty of using illegal drugs. Outing anyone without a fair review of the facts, however, is an ethically tricky process, one I’d personally prefer not be left up to the unilateral whim of a desperate waste case intent on pushing the benefits of steroids to America’s young athletes. Forgive my French, but what an asshole!


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