Canseco shows, tells little at Dodgers tryout

Slugger's drives reveal little power

as to steroids, he says, `Read the book'

March 02, 2004|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

VERO BEACH, Fla. - Jose Canseco was one of the players who knocked the cover off baseball's dirty little steroid secret. Now, he wants to get back into the game he claims has blackballed him since his disturbing revelations helped persuade Major League Baseball to take a stand against performance-enhancing drugs.

Canseco showed up yesterday at an open tryout camp at the Los Angeles Dodgers' spring training facility, but he raised more questions than he answered with his eight-hour showcase in front of several Dodgers executives.

Canseco, 39, who last played in the majors in 2001 with the Chicago White Sox, clearly wasn't in any kind of baseball shape. He couldn't lift his throwing arm above his shoulder during outfield drills. He hit one home run in two batting practice sessions. And, if not for his imposing physical presence, the player wearing No. 521 would not have stood out among the dozens of minor league castoffs and delusional wannabes who traveled to Dodgertown - many just to tell their kids they once had a tryout with the Dodgers.

The prevailing theory around the batting cage was that Canseco is hawking the book that he has been threatening to write since he claimed a couple of years ago that 85 percent of major league players were using steroids.

Canseco seemed to confirm that suspicion when he responded to several steroid-related questions with a simple mantra: "Read the book."

Trouble is, there isn't any book ... at least not yet. Canseco and his representative, Doug Ames, claim that they have a publisher (Judith Regan) and a ghostwriter, but admit that they have yet to put much on paper. This could make it hard to meet their stated September release date, but it was difficult to separate fact from fiction during a sometimes surreal afternoon.

One minute, Ames was telling everyone that Canseco had worked out for five weeks in preparation for this tryout. The next minute, Canseco was complaining that it was hard to get his timing down after working out for just 10 days. The 25-day discrepancy could easily be explained away by the fact that both appeared to be making things up as they went along.

It wasn't even clear whether Canseco had been invited to the one-day tryout or just called the Dodgers and told them he was coming. He expressed surprise that the Dodgers wanted to see him, while they politely explained that he had been told up front that there was almost no chance that the team would sign him to a contract.

The only thing more surprising was the level of media interest, but everybody knew the reason for that. Canseco was the most prominent player in the early stages of a steroid controversy that has developed into a full-blown scandal.

"We've discussed that a million times," Canseco said, but not because he seemed to have a problem with the line of questioning. "There are issues ... the book I'm writing ... why I'm being blackballed from baseball."

He even had a little fun with the issue when a reporter asked him if he stood by his statement in 2002 that 85 percent of baseball players had at least tried steroids.

"I think I'm being misquoted," he said. "I said 80 percent. That's just another exaggeration by the media."

OK, so does he stand by his claim that 80 percent of baseball players use steroids? "I think the numbers may have changed since then," he said. "With what has gone on, the number maybe has diminished."

The number may have diminished by one, since Canseco claimed yesterday that he would be able to pass a steroid test if an interested team asked him to take one. He dodged the obvious follow-up.

"No one knows in the past whether I would have passed, because no one tested me," Canseco said. "To understand the present, you must understand the past."

Apparently, Canseco has spent some of his free time the past couple of years boning up on Eastern philosophy, either through martial arts instruction or the occasional Kung Fu rerun. He also spent time in a Florida jail for probation violation after his conviction on charges stemming from a barroom brawl and was under house arrest for a time before moving to Los Angeles to be closer to his daughter.

He intimated that he was the victim of some judicial persecution - something about a switched urine sample that led to a positive steroid test and a probation violation - but held tight to whatever secrets he still has to sell.

"Read the book," he said again, and again.

The tryout, by Canseco's account, went pretty well for a guy who really wasn't prepared to attend a tryout camp. He had a couple of singles and a walk in seven plate appearances during a camp game, but the prodigious swing that produced 462 major league home runs only revealed itself in a couple of batting practice swings - one long fly over the left-center-field fence and another that cleared the fence in foul territory.

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