Canseco’s Steroid Revelations Put MLB in a Tough Spot

The story no one in baseball wants to hear – rumors about steroid use – reared its ugly head once again this weekend.

With little more than a week left before pitchers and catchers report to training camps in warm locales, the steroid scandal is once again splashed across the sports pages of newspapers across the country. This weekend’s revelations focused around former Major Leaguer Jose Canseco and his upcoming book entitled Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big.

According to the New York Daily News, Canseco delivered on his promise to name names and point fingers. He accuses former teammates Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi of shooting up. He reportedly implicates famous sluggers who played with him on the Texas Rangers and even goes so far as to take a swipe at President George W. Bush, claiming that Bush knew that his players were using performance-enhancing drugs when he owned the Rangers in the 1990s.

Players, managers, and agents have of course already begun their damage control. Tony La Russa and Dave McKay, two coaches who led the A’s during Canseco’s time with the team, disputed the leaked material from the book. In The New York Times, La Russa stuck up for his former star slugger. “He’s hurting for money and he needs to make a score. What’s a more sensational thing to say, and who’s a more sensational target to pick than Mark?? he said.

Meanwhile, the Daily News claims that the leaked book, set to hit stores right at the start of Spring Training on Feb. 21, is already creating a stir among the higher-ups in Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association as they prepare for the worst. Yet, the issue is not a clear cut one, and it will only become further complicated as more information about the book is released. In the end, baseball could use this latest diversion to leave steroid use firmly in the past.

First, as La Russa pointed out, there’s the issue of Jose Canseco’s credibility. Truth be told, Canseco is not the most reliable of sources. He’s always had a tumultuous relationship with the media and has been into and out of trouble more often than he’s been traded. Anything he says should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

However, since Ken Caminiti’s 2002 admission to steroid use during his MVP season and the BALCO testimony that rocked the baseball world this winter, more people have been willing to listen to these steroid allegations. As ESPN contributor Mark Kriedler wrote back in 2002, “But what Ken Caminiti is saying, if you’ll take the time to find his words, is that the Jose Cansecos of the baseball world are far more right than wrong.?

Second, compounded with the issue of Canseco’s credibility is the unfortunate (for the author, at least) timing of the book. This winter saw more than its fair share of steroid stories. Leaked Grand Jury testimony sealed the fates of certain sluggers while the development of a new steroid policy showed that baseball was ready to address a serious problem. Now, Canseco’s book really does seem like the icing on the cake. By releasing the book now, it is as though Canseco just wants to cash in on a public itching to hear more about what All Stars, what future Hall of Famers, and what average players juiced up during the past 15 years.

In response, already embattled Major League coaches such as La Russa and McKay are vehemently backing their players. But is that the right move to make? I don’t think Canseco’s book should be taken for much more than a gossipmonger trying to pick up a quick buck, but that’s only in terms of the namedropping. The real message of Canseco’s warnings – that, at one point, 80 percent of Major Leaguers used steroids – is much more likely to be true, and this isn’t something Major League Baseball can sweep under the rug.

It’s admirable that managers stand behind their superstars, but that is not the right move to make anymore. With a public that grows increasingly skeptical anytime a La Russa says that a Mark McGwire, a known user of Androstenodione, is completely innocent of using performing enhancing drugs, it’s time for Major League Baseball to reassess its responses to these steroid revelations no matter how dubious the source may be.

This raises a sticky question: Should Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association out steroid users in an effort to reclaim the purity of the game? If players stepped forward or were outed by their peers, the argument goes, the public would begin to believe those who claimed not to be users. These moves would also restore confidence in the integrity of today’s game. But considering the strength of the Players’ Association and the delicate nature of the controversy, it’s probably not the best idea for players to out their peers and thus alienate what could be a large percentage of the union. However, coaches and teammates could be better off if they remained silent on this issue instead of rushing to the defense of every nice guy or hard-working player implicated in the scandal.

In the end, Major League Baseball is in a Catch-22 situation. They shouldn’t publicly out those who used steroids during the Juiced Era, but those involved in the game shouldn’t be turning a blind eye to reality. This isn’t to say that Mark McGwire is definitely guilty and that Jose Canseco is telling the truth. But if Major League Baseball is truly intent on leaving the steroid scandal in the past, the iron wall of support for all players should come down.

Records and personal achievements of superstars from the past 15 years will always be in doubt in the public mind. Here’s to hoping that the next 15 years won’t produce an environment for any more asterisks, suspicions, syringes, or gossip-driven books.

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