Jose helped me appreciate baseball


By Alun Thomas

If it wasn’t for José Canseco I don’t think I would have ever started watching baseball at all. In 1999 I had never watched a single game. Three hours of watching men standing around with intermittent excitement wasn’t my idea of wasting my life. I could do that watching soccer in half the time. But one June evening that year I stumbled across a game between the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Baltimore Orioles, hardly a dream match up. Just as I was about to go for my evening run, up stepped a huge fellow with a great mullet. He looked like a pro wrestler compared to the others. Just his look captivated me. Staying to watch one pitch, he blasted it out of the park. Not only was that the first home run I’d ever seen live, it was my first exposure to Canseco. I stayed around to watch him bat again. He hit another homer. I’ve followed baseball ever since. Thanks José!

During an interview with Fox Sports Radio the day following his ‘Sixty Minutes’ appearance to discuss his new book ‘Juiced’, Canseco was told by interviewer Chris Myers that people got into baseball solely because of his larger than life persona in the late 80’s. Canseco agreed as you would expect. I’m living proof that this is true. Yes Canseco took steroids and tarnished his already troubled career, but he hasn’t harmed himself in my eyes. He cheated. So what? Don’t we all? I cheated in a number of my exams at school by bringing in carefully concealed notes and writing various terms on my hand. I was never caught. So now I admit it. Can I expect my degree to be taken away? That’s as ludicrous as taking away Canseco’s 1988 MVP. He won it, fair or not. Let sleeping dogs lie.

Most of the attention of this saga has centered around the allegations that Canseco injected Mark McGwire with steroids. In the book he says it happened routinely. Then in his interviews he claimed he only did it twice. That led to claims of Canseco making this up and his many other inconsistencies over the years. Is there any reason not to believe McGwire wasn’t on steroids? In his early career he was a thin, tall fresh faced kid. Then he transformed into a bulky monster hitting home runs at will. Why wouldn’t he have been on the juice? As Canseco said, look at the age he was dominating the game, he was in his mid thirties. It used to be that an athlete was washed up at thirty. Now Barry Bonds at forty continues to hit balls out of the park to that loser in his boat. Canseco commented in his book how Bonds bulked up massively after seeing Canseco’s own superior physical conditioning in 2000. McGwire and the other accused ( Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez etc) will do anything to protect their images, no matter how much speculation continues to run rife. Maybe McGwire will one day reveal how he lost so much weight so quickly after retiring from the game.

I’ve always thought that people also credit steroids with too much of Canseco’s achievements. He hit 469 home runs. Does this mean steroids provided him with a swing, technique and a monster physique? No. He still had to work out, practice and train more than you and I ever will. Steroids may have made this easier, but just by taking them doesn’t give you a muscular build overnight. If they did we’d all be on them. He still had to hit the ball out of the park didn’t he? If I started taking steroids today and working out, could I pick up a bat and hit the ball out of the park? Are you joking? I’d be standing there waiting for the ball to be thrown, unaware that it already had been. Canseco claims to have mastered the art of steroid use, which he evidently seems to be proud of. I’m proud of him too. He broke rules that were there to be broken.

Canseco claims steroids increased his speed and power, writing that the powers of the drug made him feel ‘superhuman’. That’s a strong testimony. I feel like I need drugs to make my job easier. If they provide that kind of impact sign me up. The truth remains Canseco is tainted goods in baseball, but at least he has stood his ground, even if it is for the sake of making money. Reading about he and his brother assaulting tourists in Florida has a comical charm. Maybe not beating his wife, but it’s an essential part of the package that is Canseco. A type of renegade outlaw we all love deep down. Not the all American McGwire. Or maybe that’s just me.

When I sit down to watch another Chicago Cub World Series bid in 2005 I’ll thank Canseco. Just from one swing he helped me understand a game I previously ingored as dreary and worthless. It still can be, but so can any sport. It was the power of the home run that hooked me. It was José Canseco blasting two home runs in two consecutive at bats that keeps me listening to Pat and Ron in summer. MLB should thank Canseco for that. He isn’t a cheat in my eyes. He just did what he had to.