Saunders: Canseco is way off base

Orioles pitcher questions motivation for accusation

February 21, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - As Orioles pitcher Tony Saunders packed for his trip to spring training, a friend wanted to make sure the left-hander hadn't forgotten any of the necessities. Or the importance of having a sense of humor.

"He asked if I had all my syringes," Saunders said, the joke going over well for a player who otherwise hasn't laughed much lately.

Saunders, 30, remains bitter at the accusations of steroid use that appeared in Jose Canseco's new book. They were teammates briefly with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999 - about six weeks before Saunders broke his arm for the first time while throwing a pitch.

"There's a phrase from him where he says he'll challenge anybody to a polygraph test. I've already said, anytime, anyplace, anywhere. I've got no reason to hide from anything," said Saunders, the former Glen Burnie High standout who's attempting a comeback after retiring in 2000.

"Then the next thing I heard, he will only do a polygraph if it's pay per view, so that shows what his motives are. It's just a shame."

In his book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big, Canseco included Saunders among a group of more high-profile players he suspected or outright accused of using steroids.

"When my agent first called me the Saturday before it actually came out, at first I thought he was joking," Saunders said. "Then when he read the paragraph to me, I wasn't happy."

Saunders, who won a World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997, signed a minor league contract with the Orioles last month. He retired after breaking his arm for a second time on Aug. 26, 2000 while on a rehab assignment with the Devil Rays.

"I guarantee if I never had that injury, I'm nowhere near that book. But it's something everybody remembers me for, so he decided to use a career-ending injury as a punch line for his book," said Saunders, who took his physical yesterday and threw with the other pitchers in the Orioles' first official workout of spring training.

"Our lockers were right next to each other, but we weren't friends. We'd talk to each other like people do walking into a clubhouse. That's about it. I didn't go over his house to hang out, and he didn't go over mine."

Canseco, who also has leveled accusations or aimed suspicions at current Orioles Rafael Palmeiro, Miguel Tejada and Sammy Sosa, apparently believes Saunders' weight gain before the first injury was related to steroids.

"You guys [reporters] have been around long enough to know, when are you ever alone in a clubhouse to be able to do that [stuff] like that?" Saunders said. "If I was doing that, I'd be afraid someone's going to catch me."

To further break down Canseco's credibility, Saunders pointed to the inclusion of former Tampa Bay outfielder Dave Martinez in the book.

"I can remember a conversation with Dave Martinez the last year we played together," Saunders said. "He said, `I know they'll help me, but I worked too hard on my career to do them now.' He was having really bad knee problems. He was like, `Even though I know it'll help me, I can't do it.'"

Having his name dragged into the steroid mess caused Saunders great embarrassment back home in Tampa, Fla., where he coached his daughter's soccer team and an Amateur Athletic Union baseball team.

"I had to go to the field that day and I was on the front page," he said. "I had sat down with my AAU team and explained to them why not to use steroids. Now what do I look like to them? Here I am begging them not to do it, and now I'm in a newspaper article about doing it. I contacted all of them and explained the situation.

"I'm not going to keep quiet. I'm not going to be like the rest of the guys who make statements through their agents. If he wants to do anything, anywhere, anytime, I'll be there. I don't care if his credibility gets demolished."

Saunders, 13-24 in three seasons with the Marlins and Devil Rays, has no illusions about making the Orioles' roster out of spring training. Returning as a left-handed relief specialist rather than a starter, he'll likely be assigned to Double-A Bowie.

"I'm a lot further along than I thought," he said.

If only he could get past Canseco's allegations.

"The funny thing about it is, I've talked to almost every specialist there is, and nobody can tell me why my arm broke," Saunders said, "but I'm glad he can."

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