Jonathan Eig -- Jose Canseco, the Man Who Saved Baseball
Manny Ramirez returned to the majors this weekend, to the delight of Dodgers fans, following a 50-game suspension. Yet, when the news broke in early May that Los Angeles's star outfielder would be punished for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy, it was another slugger who called a news conference.
Jose Canseco, best-selling author and baseball's steroidal sage, rented a big ballroom at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills and waited for the reporters and television crews to show up. But the news media already knew what Canseco was going to say, which was, essentially, "I told you so."
Only one reporter and four camera crews arrived.
Canseco would have been better off if no one had come at all, because, suddenly, the pathetic turnout and empty seats became the story. Those four news cameras shot from the back of the room to better emphasize Canseco's isolation. The lonely Associated Press reporter started his story this way: "Jose Canseco has spoken, but is anyone listening anymore?" And a wiseguy headline writer at Yahoo.com zinged the big man with a headline that read "Jose Canseco only has to picture one person in underwear."
It's not easy being the man who saved baseball.
He's not The Natural. The Un-Natural is more like it. But in his own clumsy, hormonally imbalanced way, Canseco has done more than any player of his time to help baseball overcome the errors of its recent ways. The worst of the Steroid Era appears to be over, and Canseco deserves a fair chunk of the credit.
Canseco is the owner of what may be the greatest blooper in baseball history. In 1993, in a game against the Cleveland Indians, he allowed a fly ball to boing off his head and over the fence for a home run. Much of his career since that moment has seemed to go the same way. Canseco has put himself in the wrong place at the right time. His 2005 book, "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big," called attention to the abuse of steroids. He confessed in the book to using steroids and named other suspected users when no one else was doing so.
His testimony before Congress that same year was forthright and straightforward, when others around him ducked and lied. Steroids, he told lawmakers, were as prevalent in baseball in the late 1980s and 1990s "as a cup of coffee."
Yet despite his attempts at honesty and his accurate assessment of the way steroids permeated the game in the late 1990s and the early part of this decade, Canseco keeps taking his lumps, many of them self-inflicted.
He's tried reality TV. He's tried promoting himself as a martial-arts movie star. He's tried celebrity boxing (and failed to score a knockout against former "Partridge Family" child star Danny Bonaduce). According to one news report, he even tried blackmailing ballplayers to keep their names out of his follow-up book, which he optimistically titled "Vindicated." And now he says he's planning to sue Major League Baseball for lost wages and defamation of character, saying he was blackballed from the game for his whistleblowing. It's a ridiculous claim. When Canseco finished his career in 2001, he was washed up. And his book wasn't published until four years later.
Canseco did not return my phone calls requesting an interview, despite the fact that his lawyer insisted to me that Canseco wants nothing more than to be understood.
"I have regrets," Canseco said in a recent public appearance. "The way people look at my career was compromised by using [steroids]. Then the whole thing fell apart. . . . I was cut off."