Jose Canseco, the retired slugger, says he injected steroids into Mark McGwire's buttocks. (Isn't the word "buttocks" inherently silly? I always want to pronounce it "buh tocks," in the Forrest Gump manner, as if it's two words.) Nearly 20 years ago I did a long story on Canseco for the Miami Herald's Tropic magazine (you know, the one edited by Weingarten and Shroder). We went on a little fishing trip, caught some fish in the Pacific just outside the Golden Gate. Canseco had a rather difficult personality, extremely cocky, swaggering, and I vaguely recall that the article suggested this fact in various ways. He hated the piece, and undoubtedly wanted to crumble my skull as though it were a fortune cookie.
Canseco was one of the first of the obvious steroid abusers. He denied it at the time, but in his new book confesses all. There really shouldn't have been any confusion about the matter, since a person doesn't gain 25 pounds of solid muscle in the off-season just by hitting the gym. Fans would come to batting practice just to see Jose launch home run balls. His body was preposterous.
But there's the rub: Fans liked, and still like, these huge, artifically created sluggers. Home runs are more fun than doubles. From a safe distance I always enjoyed watching Canseco swing a bat.
Without hard evidence of steroid abuse, the baseball world pretended the problem didn't really exist. It could be ignored, in any event. Everyone was complicit in this denial: Fans, sportswriters, managers and owners. The attitude of "innocent until proven guilty" applied. With no system for testing players, baseball became a chemical free-for-all.
Last night I heard some journalists on the radio talking about the Canseco book, and they sounded like defense attorneys, impugning the credibility of the accuser. It's true, Canseco isn't the ideal witness, and it would be a shame if a clean player got dragged into the steroids mud unjustly. But the simple fact is that the game turned into a home run derby before our eyes and we didn't do a thing about it. We engaged in a collective suspension of disbelief. The game got juiced. It was obvious! The evidence swaggered to the plate.
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