Jose Canseco’s Wax Shadow

Jeff · February 15, 2005 at 7:58 am · Filed Under Mariners 

The word “sincere” comes from two Latin words, sin and cere, that together mean “without wax.” Artisans working with stone could fix errors by binding cracks with melted paraffin, a tactic that created statues and bowls with beauty — but no staying power, no durability. A sin cere work of art was one that not only looked good, but would stand the test of time.

Though books are often termed works of literary art, Jose Canseco’s effort merits neither that term or the term “sincere.” As such, it will fade into obscurity as the ramblings of a deluded, greeded huckster. Ball Four? More like bollocks.

So why write about his prattlings? Because the developing party line in sports journalism appears to be “sure Canseco is unreliable, but we can’t really dismiss his allegations.” With reporters the calibre of Larry Stone taking this easy out, a one-and-done condemnation of the messenger and his message seems worthwhile.

First, Canseco has zero credibility. He’s broke, reduced to selling off his Rookie of the Year ring and AL MVP plaque (and selling out former teammates) in a desperate bid to raise cash. Worse, he can’t even keep basic ‘facts’ undergirding his stories straight. In the 60 minutes interview, we learn that Canseco either injected Mark McGwire with steroids “often,” “more times than [he] can count” or “twice,” depending on whether we believe the written or spoken versions of his lurid tales.

One could conclude that the timing of the book’s release, which comes as baseball implements a new steroid policy, is a coincidence. Of course, you would also have to conclude that Canseco said George W. Bush knew about the steroid abuse simply out of Canseco’s concern for the truth, rather than as a cynical book promotion strategy. If you conclude that way, though, I have a night in the Lincoln Bedroom to sell you.

The Romans had another two word phrase that they used to determine what was behind certain phenomena: cui bono (who benefits)? Indeed, who has the most to gain from inciting an opportunistic moral panic over a hot topic? Certainly not McGwire, or Bret Boone, or Major League Baseball. The list of beneficiaries seems to start and end with a list of Ozzie Canseco’s twin brothers.

Some try to put the burden of proof on the victims. Assuming the allegations are untrue, it is said, we should expect McGwire, Boone or others at whom Canseco has directed mud to sue for libel. If they do not, the argument goes, that tells us something.

Maybe players implicated will choose a legal remedy. There are two very strict legal standards, though, that have made it very tricky to win libel cases. First, you have to prove that something is false, and it’s extremely difficult to prove a negative. Could you prove you have never done steroids?

A public figure defamed by the book would also have to prove that Canseco acted with “actual malice,” showing a “reckless disregard for the truth.” That’s tough to prove, too, because it’s tough to see inside someone’s mind.

Finally, to win a libel suit is also difficult and time-consuming. Even if a party was confident they would prevail, it would take years, and would have the counterproductive effect of keeping the allegations in above-the-fold headlines. If you’re Rafael Palmeiro, a four-year court battle might look much less enticing than allowing dismissiveness and derision of Canseco win the day.

It’s possible that someone will sue. But we shouldn’t draw any conclusions based on whether someone files a libel suit, and to think in this manner reverses the necessary presumption of innocence.

Let me state the obvious: of course there are steroid users in baseball. No one doubts that. But it is unwise and unfair to let that truism kick critical analysis out the window. Legitimate concern over drugs in sports should lead one to investigate how best to curb abuse, something that crass opportunism undermines. Information is never completely separate from its source.

Reporters know that. It’s their business. To acknowledge that Canseco may be less accurate than a stopped clock — but to implicitly endorse the line he pushes — is disingenuous.

If drug abuse is anywhere near as widespread as Canseco claims, then there are numerous other witnesses — ones without book deals and disasteful histories. Ones that might hold some semblance of sincerity.

Jose Canseco does not, and neither does his book. He might be riding high on attention from the 60 Minutes interview, but there’s an old story about flying with wings made of wax.

It ends badly.


60 Responses to “Jose Canseco’s Wax Shadow”

  1. chris d on February 15th, 2005 10:05 pm

    There is a story on just up that states that 10 years ago an FBI agent told baseball security chief Kevin Hallinan that Jose Conseco and a number of other MLB players were using illegal steroids and of course this Hallinan denies that ever occurred. MLB is going to pay a price for their greed and lack of integrity and unfortunately the innocent,naturally talented players during the questioned years will be impacted. It will be interesting to see what happens with this, where it ends.

    I believe that what Jose is saying is true, and of course McGwire and Bonds and Giambi and Sosa are going to say no way!!

    Bonds may be in deep doodoo with his ex-mistress reporting that he “knew” he was taking steroids. He told her that and to the Grand Jury it is thought that he said he applied a cream not knowing what it was. What happens if the Grand Jury calls her to the stand. Uh OH!!

  2. msb on February 15th, 2005 10:28 pm

    #50– of course, if Canseco *has* convinced himself of all he says, he just might pass a polygraf. (you know, Alex Rodriguez told him in 2001 that baseball was blackballing him. he did. really. Of course, Alex didn’t recall that conversation.)

    Taking it as a given that there has been steroid use, and we may never know how widespread it is/was, what bothers me more is Canseco’s willingness to swipe at anyone (Ripkin got ‘special treatment’ from everyone in the game that Jose never got, John Hirschbeck went ‘a little berserk’ calling games after the Alomar incident) The offhand Boone anecdote bugs me more, I suppose, as it hits home with both the M’s and with what the Boones have been in baseball.

    According to Canseco, he got to 2nd (on that double he never hit) and Boone had arms bigger than Jose’s, and why Jose just couldn’t believe his eyes. Just to be accurate, Canseco had last seen Boone on the field in 1999. Boone was a chunky 185 (17% body fat, per Boone) when they both played in two interleague games in Atlanta June ’99. In 2000 Canseco didn’t see Boone at all– either during the season when he played at 175 (after Boone did his first organized offseason workout), or at the end of the season when he’d eaten back all the lost weight while on the DL. He did see Boone (from 1st we assume) in spring of 2001 when Boone was at 190 lbs (7.8% body fat, per Griffin)

  3. George Southrey on February 15th, 2005 11:27 pm

    The current situation with Jose Conseco is eerily similar to that of Whitaker Chambers more than 50 years ago. To those who are not familiar with Chambers, he made allegations claiming that many well-known and highly respected people at the time were communists. He claimed to know this because himself had been a communist and had worked together with these people as spies.
    Chambers was not an admirable character. He was an admitted liar, and a confessed communist spy, among other things, and the people he accused were for the most part pillars of the American political scene. There was hardly a person in the United States who believed him.
    One of those named by Chambers, Alger Hiss, had testified under oath to a Senate committee that he was not and had never been a communist, and after Chambers accused him in public, was pressured by his supporters to sue for libel. Hiss was a well-known figure on the national and international scene and the list of those vouching for him was impressive, including a Supreme Court Justice.
    The problem was that Chambers was in fact telling the truth. And when the libel case went to trial, Chambers produced his evidence. Hiss ended up being sentenced to prison for perjury (lying to the Senate). This case still stirs passions today.
    Now fast forward to 2005, and put Conseco in Chamber’s position. To those who dismiss his claims because of his reputation and his motives, and to those who defend those accused by Conseco, there is a lesson to be learned. He might be right.
    You can rely on the legalities, that there is no way to prove or disprove, that there is no hard evidence, or that no policies were violated. You are indeed innocent until proven guilty. Legally.
    Or, at the end of the day, you can just plain ask yourself: Do you really believe that Barry Bonds never knowingly used steroids? Do you really deep down believe that Boone or McGwire or Sosa never used steroids? Do you really believe that Jose Conseco is so ‘clever’ that he would simply throw out the random names of inncocent teammates like Wilson Alvarez to add credibility to an otherwise fabricated story?
    Sorry for the long post
    George S

  4. 51 Rules! on February 16th, 2005 1:54 am

    This is not intended to support Canseco’s allegations, but I don’t think the fact that he misremembered hitting a double really means much. Most people’s memories are not as accurate as you might think, and that probably goes double for those who have used a lot of drugs, like Canseco. Since he certainly hit many doubles in his career, he could easily have one memory (of hitting a double) mixed up with another. I’ve had memories that I later realized were somehow mixed up or filed in the wrong order somehow. I suppose its even possible to remember things that didn’t actually happen, like it may happen that a person says one thing (or thinks they say one thing), and the person listening hears something else or records something else in their memory.

  5. Ken Hanselman on February 16th, 2005 10:00 am

    Canseco’s emergence in 1988 as an Atlas-sized masher showed players (and management) that weight training was not (as was perceived at the time) a bad thing for baseball players. So, lots of players got into weight training. Since Canseco proudly admits that he supplemented his training with steriods, he automatically assumes that everyone else did, too. And, since he is already known to have jealosy and spiteful issues with other players and baseball as a whole, we can understand why he’s so willing to “out” almost every other player who had obviously benefitted from weight-training. Canseco really does believe that Boone and others were using, since he’s convinced himself that it’s the only way to get bigger. It’s not. You can get just as big without using steriods.

    Another thing. Boone’s sense of humor is well-documented. If Canseco (a known steroid user and promoter) had pulled into 2nd base as he claimed, and commented on Boone’s ripped body, what do you think Boone’s response would’ve been? “Shh…don’t tell anyone.” But, what Canseco can’t see is that Boone was JOKING!

  6. msb on February 16th, 2005 3:22 pm

    from Tom Verducci, SI

    “Baseball’s official position is that it does not anticipate any followup action to Canseco’s book, though — true story — the A’s did dispatch an employee to the clubhouse bathroom to take visual measurement of the stalls, imagining if two 250-pound men actually could fit in without rupturing a disk or wiping out the plumbing.”

  7. planB on February 16th, 2005 9:01 pm

    Jeff Merron ESPN article, fact-checking a few points from Canseco’s book (including his alleged conversation with Boone at second):

  8. Pete A on February 19th, 2005 9:35 am

    While I agree that we shouldn’t conclude that someone took steroids based on a factually-challenged, secret code allegedly shared with Jose Canseco, I believe Boone’s integrity *should* take a beating here. And Edgar’s, and Jamie Moyer’s, and Cal Ripken’s, and every other player in the majors who encouraged — actively or by their silence — their union representatives to block any serious steroids testing before this year.

    They — every one of them, who didn’t push the Union to separate the clean from the dirty — are the reason many of the most cherished records in the history of the game will be besmirched for generations to come. They didn’t care enough about the integrity of the game to stop homerun records from turning into a joke.

    Blame Bud Selig? Come on, let’s not let our fandom or the broadness of culpability blind us to all who really deserve a major league chunck of the blame.

  9. eponymous coward on February 19th, 2005 10:46 am

    So, while we’re at it, how about tossing Gaylord Perry out of the Hall of Fame for cheating? Why is a spitball OK, but steroids somehow make records “cheap”? Does not having a racially integrated game before 1947 invalidate any “cherished records” before then?

    (Note that steroids weren’t against league rules prior to testing- but spitballs certainly were, have been since 1920 except for pitchers who got them grandfathered in after Mays killed Chapman.)

    This is a serious question, folks, not being snotty- it’s my honest reaction whenever I hear about how steroids cheapen records. I have a hard time seeing why you’d consider records attained with many of the best players of the game excluded due to skin color as more sacrosanct than records attained with chemical assistance.

  10. Pete A. on February 21st, 2005 4:09 pm

    Why complain about steroids more than spit balls? For that matter, why complain about steroids and not other performance enhancing substances, anywhere along the slippery slope from greenies to caffeine or vitamins?

    For me, it’s a matter of both extent of the effect and acceptance of substance, primarily the former. Jose claimed not only that steroids gave him an edge, but that they made the difference between him being an MVP and him not being good enough to make the majors. At an age where we would normally expect him to be considering retiring, Barry Bonds is the best player in the game by a huge margin. McGwire and Bonds didn’t just reach the HR mark, they shattered it. I don’t know the true extent to which these cases are attributable to steroids, but until I do, I’m not going to put steroid use in the same category as occasionally doctoring the ball.

    Secondly, steroid injection (outside of proper medical supervision) just seems a log uglier. Kids die from injecting steroids. We care about steroids on a societal level that has no parallel with use of a spitter.

    Granted these are a bit arbitrary, but they are, I believe, valid reasons for the distinction. Life is full of arbitrary decisions on continua, and not having a precise definition of where to draw the line does *not* mean either that we should not draw it, nor that we cannot recognize that certain acts are clearly on one side of it.