Book Review: Jose Canseco’s Juiced

By Leeshai Lemish
The Epoch Times
Mar 19, 2005

Jose Canseco, with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2000, prepares to go to bat during a Spring Training game against the Philadelphia Phillies at the Florida Power Park in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

It’s not every day you feel sympathy for a guy like Jose Canseco. After all, he had once been the male American dream incarnate who had everything: good looks, huge biceps, an MVP trophy, a World Series ring, a relationship with Madonna, money, Corvettes, and superstardom. Still, he ungratefully blew it all with reckless driving, domestic violence and, with his new book, barefaced promotion of steroids as a way of life and betrayal of his former teammates. But after reading his book Juiced, I find myself feeling empathy- not anger or hatred- toward the former right fielder whose picture off the back of a Macaroni & Cheese box was once a collector’s item. He looked like a dejected child at last Thursday’s Congressional hearing, his head and massive shoulders drooped as he sat at the right end of a row of awkwardly out-of-place jocks.

Still, the message in his book is as dangerous as the chemicals it promotes. It is also a jarring call for re-evaluation of some of our current American values: bigger, stronger, faster, richer; sex, fame, and money.

Canseco’s is not the most eloquent book- in fact, it’s quite repetitive and poorly written- but it is explicit. It includes images of him injecting Mark McGwire in the butt with steroids behind the doors of a bathroom stall, as well as Canseco’s disclosure of the effect steroids had on his own genitalia.

In spite of his efforts at becoming superhuman, Canseco actually comes across as a vulnerable human being. As Canseco starts off “Juiced” with memories from his youth, it is immediately clear that he has long suffered from an inferiority complex.

“You’ll Never Add Up to Anything,” Canseco’s father used to tell him and is also the title of his first chapter. Even as he became a high school baseball star, his father would ceaselessly yell at him from the stands for the mistakes he made. Jose felt he was always second to his twin Ozzie who had more athletic talent, and he looked down upon his own skinny body.

Canseco felt everyone was against him. He was made fun of even as a top prospect in the Oakland Athletics’ minor-league system. Although many young players go through similar rookie treatment, Canseco argues that as a Cuban-born Latino he was a victim of the baseball world’s bigotry.

Even as a Bash Brother superstar in the late 80s and early 90s, off into what appeared to be a Hall of Fame career, Canseco felt he was Major League Baseball’s unwanted son. While “All-American players” like McGwire and Cal Ripken Jr. could do no wrong, Canseco felt the media, the fans, and the owners were always looking for him to make a mistake.

“It became a cliché in the media that I was conceited and arrogant,” he writes. “But in fact, I was never that type of individual. My whole time in the major leagues, I was never completely convinced that I belonged there. I was never sure that I was good enough to be on the same level as all these amazing athletes I was competing against.”

STEROIDS IN THE HOUSE – Former Major League Baseball player Jose Canseco is sworn in during a House Committee hearing investigating steroid use in baseball in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Although Canseco eventually felt that he needed steroids to have a fair chance, the story of his early success in professional baseball is written to the script of clean, humble living and sheer determination.

In the minor leagues, he lived on the floor of a crowded apartment. Every day after practice he would jog five miles to the gym, lift weights like crazy, and then jog five miles back.

Even without steroids, in the early 80s, Canseco was named as the A’s top minor-league prospect. But he is convinced that – especially with his arthritis, scoliosis, and other diseases – he never would have been a major-league caliber player without the drugs.

And Canseco is not shy about promoting a drug, whose known side-effects include infertility and sudden death, to young players who would practically sell their soul to make it big.

“Competition is fierce, the money is unbelievable, and a majority of players have been using steroids,” he says. “Today, you can get $5 million out of college.”

Although his book leads off with a disclaimer that it “does not intend to condone or encourage the use of any particular drugs, medicine, or illegal substances,” the message is as loud as a Canseco 500-foot homerun: “Steroids are the future… And believe it or not, that’s good news.”

He says the temptation is even stronger for the increasingly large number of Latino players in the big leagues. “Let’s say you’re a talented young player from an impoverished area of Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic… To score that big paycheck, to set up your family and become one of the richest people in your country or on your island, you’re going to need to guarantee that performance- and the only way to ensure that is to make the most of the opportunity presented by steroids and growth hormone.”

According to Canseco, steroid usage is almost as common in Major League Baseball as extra-marital relations, which he says all players, except Roger Clemens, engage in.

He wrote that players like Jason Giambi would just carry the steroids along with them in a shaving bag. Others would ask trainers to take care of their ‘roids or ask the clubhouse boy to throw out their vials. Canseco says he was widely known as “The Chemist,” and “The Godfather of Steroids,” whom players would approach for advice about how to best use the substance.

Critics have pointed out inconsistencies in Canseco’s book, the fact that he denied steroid use as a player for years, his jealousy of McGwire and other players, and his vengefulness toward the owners for blacklisting him from the game as likely motivations for such inflammatory work. Indisputable, though, is that MLB has realized it has a serious problem on its hands, one that goes beyond Canseco, Giambi, and Barry Bonds and now even includes lawmakers.

More importantly, Canseco’s book raises important social questions about male role models, discrimination and sensationalization of aggressiveness in the media, and how far people are willing to go for their pursuit of power and fame. Thanks in large part to our social forces, Jose Canseco, like countless sluggers before him who “had it made,” hurt others and is left feeling hurt.

The good news is that his book, even if not completely accurate, is helping push baseball over the steroid hump and deal with the problem. In any case, the new season is just around the corner and along with a new club, fans can also look forward to an increasingly diverse league, to hit-and-runs, suicide squeezes, pitchouts, and backdoor curveballs; to peanuts, foul balls, and keeping score; and to athletes who use their time and money to play positive roles in their communities.

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