“Godfather of Steroids” Makes a Book You Can’t Refuse
Jose Canseco, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big (Regan Books)
For someone who grew up hoarding the writer’s baseball cards and watching them plummet in value, Jose Canseco’s Juiced is the most fascinating literary event of the season.
Notice I didn’t say “book.” The resulting controversy has been as much of a text as the book has.
Juiced, subtitled Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big, is not so much an autobiography of Canseco and his unique career parabola (from his Rookie of the Year, MVP, and World Series peaks to his baseball-bouncing-off-his-head and “Win a Day with Jose” gorges) as it is an open letter to everyone involved or interested in baseball.
True, these “wild times,” “smash hits,” etc. are the author’s, and Canseco – or his unnamed ghostwriter – revels in dishing all kinds of sordid locker room tales: His wife, we learn, has a body that doesn’t quit (his words); Madonna is fun, but ultimately tiring, to make out with; and – the dirtiest little non-secret of all – Canseco and his baseball pals enjoy shooting syringes full of steroids into each other’s buttocks.
For once, believe the media: The star of this book is not the author, but steroids.
But, as the author writes: “Believe it or not, that’s good news.”
From Canseco’s introduction and prologue about steroids to its epilogue about the same, and with all its “juicy” tidbits and the naming of names throughout, the book is as riveting as a special baseball edition of Us Weekly would be. Ostensibly, Juiced’s gossip is the reason it has spent as much time on the bestseller lists as the author used to spend on the disabled list, and the media and book promoters have rightly hyped this theme.
But the actual descriptions of doping are of secondary interest to Canseco’s justifications of them, just as the book’s informal jock-talk is secondary to its actually having lasting literary value.
As misunderstood as the author has made his intentions appear, and, as mistaken as he sometimes is in failing to face his consequences, the book already has accomplished one of its major goals (one perhaps secondary to the selling of copies): It has helped stir national debate about the true availability and dangers of its topic.
As baseball players testify before Congress and the sport strengthens its drug-testing program, Juiced is becoming to baseball what Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was to the meat industry. After decades of denials throughout the sporting world, one of this world’s own, one of its fallen heroes, is purporting to state the truth, and a nation of fans angry at the ongoing BALCO scandal are reading.
Canseco’s motives might be more circumspect than Sinclair’s – making money, lashing out at an industry he claims blackballed him, contradicting his claim that steroids “will not only make you stronger and sexier, they will also make you healthier … give you a better quality of life and also slow down the aging process” with an unintentionally comedic warning before the book that “this book does not intend to condone or encourage the use of any particular drugs” – but that doesn’t change the fact that his book is the right one at the right time. Hate him for cashing in, but don’t hate him for writing it.
Canseco has since claimed he wanted to get people talking – even though the main claim presented in the text of the book is that steroids are good for you. But people are talking, about steroids and about the book – even if they haven’t read it, which is always a true sign of any book’s vitality.
The people who actually read the book – which I did in one sitting, in the span of an extra-inning game, finding the author quite chatty and likable – will probably agree with its assertions that baseball officials have tacitly condoned steroid use for years because of the related surges in home runs and attendance, that any health risks from steroid use are minimized by the more immediate lure of financial gain to a young ballplayer, and that baseball still has a double standard in its treatment of minorities.
This last claim is only peripherally related to steroids, as the Hispanic Canseco contrasts the media’s ridicule of him with its worship of fellow Bash Brother and alleged former steroid junkie Mark McGwire. One doubts Canseco would ever admit to being jealous of his white teammate, but he is, as McGwire gets mentioned on more than 30 pages.
But, jealous or not, his perception of this preferential treatment is worth reviewing. If Canseco is telling the truth about steroids, an admission that endangers him both legally and professionally (the slim chance he had of making the Hall of Fame has dissipated) – and an assertion that McGwire’s recent refusal to deny he ever used steroids seems to validate (although the consistency and strength of the denials of another player Canseco implicated, Rafael Palmeiro, again cast doubt on Canseco’s credibility) – it stands to reason he also is telling the truth about industry racism.
Whether factual or fictional, as the tipping point in a new dialogue about doping, Juiced is fascinating stuff. If you’re already talking about it, read it during the next rain delay.
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