Call Canseco's allegations a strike to our comfort zone

February 08, 2005|By Laura Vecsey

JOSE CANSECO promised to name names in his blow-the-roof-off-the-sucker book on steroids. But the president of the United States?

As owner of the Rangers, George W. Bush couldn't see All-Star players Canseco, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro shooting each other up in the boys' room?

Or so Canseco alleges ...

Talk about aiming for the top.

If Palmeiro is offended, enraged or freaked out by being one of the names Canseco names in his forthcoming tell-all, at least he isn't the leader of the Free World.

If the future president once turned a blind eye to why his baseball-playing employees were getting bigger, stronger and thicker in the jaw ...

In truth, there's hardly any one of us in the sporting world without taint in this steroid matter.

If you watched, rooted during, wrote about, read about or paid tickets to attend any game in which Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa "saved baseball" back in the steroid-infused home run race of 1998, you were part of baseball's drug culture.

It's a toxic area and era that now must be contained, either by asterisk or official acknowledgment by baseball that every record, every pitch and every hit has been cast in suspicion.

Dead ball. Juiced ballplayers. Same thing.

It's not just Jason Giambi or Barry Bonds or McGwire, it's everyone.

If that seems like too much credibility to give to a loser like Canseco, then someone else needs to explain how history will differentiate between what was "real" about baseball from about 1988 to 2003 and what was juiced.

As a buffoon who squandered his career and as an embittered pariah who did not appreciate being the only steroid user "blackballed" by baseball - which is his assertion - Canseco is several rungs below Pete Rose in the shame strata of baseball infamy.

But a year ago, when Rose's confessional book hit the stands, at least we all could recognize the self-serving mea culpa for what it was.

Yes, Rose gambled on baseball. He committed the unpardonable sin and in admitting such, hoped to pave the way for his reinstatement and his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In the end, what is of greater harm to baseball?

I think Rose, for all his hits and Hall of Fame worthiness, is rightfully banned for life. He knew what he was doing was wrong, which is why he lied all those years.

With steroids, no one's going to get the chance to lie anymore. The grand jury testimony leaked out of San Francisco made sure of that. So did Ken Caminiti's admission.

Now Canseco is refusing to let the matter live on in the gray area of denial. He's a rat, but that doesn't mean he's not telling the truth.

That's why there's no revelation in Canseco's tell-all that's more startling than what he alleges about Palmeiro.

As distinctly unmuscled and refreshingly accommodating to media and fans, Palmeiro has long been riding his career toward a Hall of Fame induction. He has all the credentials, with the 500 homers and the bearing of a baseball "immortal."

Cuban-born, Palmeiro has had a rise that has become part of the fabric of baseball. His original baseball story has already been fitted for the ultimate crowning glory.

A year ago, at age 39, Palmeiro returned to the Orioles - a franchise where he wants to finish his career and whose cap he wants to wear into Cooperstown.

Unless Palmeiro, his records cast in a cloud, becomes the player voters make an example of.

Last March, with the steroids scandal in full bloom, Giambi and Bonds as star "witnesses" in the federal investigation of BALCO, Palmeiro was asked what he felt was going to happen with drug-testing policies and potential penalties for steroid users. He was clearly not amused.

"I have other things to worry about. ... Let the people who are involved or on trial fix this," Palmeiro told me in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"This has nothing to do with me," he said.

And, yesterday, he strongly denied Canseco's allegations, issuing a statement that said, in part, "At no point in my career have I ever used steroids, let alone any substance banned by Major League Baseball."

If there was ever a player you wished were telling the truth, it was Palmeiro. But as odious as Canseco's motivation is, he has little reason to call out former fellow teammates for libel.

Is it coincidence that the year drug testing started in baseball, Palmeiro's numbers declined?

The anecdotal evidence of steroid use in baseball suggests Canseco is as easily more correct than he is corrupt in his allegations.

The most damning aspect of adding a name like Palmeiro's to the list of alleged users of performance enhancing drugs?

If he did use steroids, turning a solid career into a long and great career, then his statistics and longevity could be open to interpretation.

Likewise, if Palmeiro did as Canseco alleges, then any player could have used steroids.

Raising these unpleasant possibilities may not have been Canseco's motivation for writing the book, but it is the terrible result.

Palmeiro may feel victimized, hurt, angry, insulted, wronged, outraged. At the moment, he's not the only one with strong, conflicting feelings.

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