Every word in Jose Canseco's book could be true.
Or only a few.
Either way, it's exactly what baseball deserves. Just about everybody else involved in the game tripped over themselves trying to blur the lines between fair and foul for the last 15 years or so. By default, that makes even a convicted criminal and shameless publicity hound like Canseco as reliable a source as any other. It's what happens when honest men keep quiet.
''If this is all made up, he'll suffer some serious damages,'' ex-A's pitcher and one-time teammate Dave Stewart told the San Francisco Chronicle. ''But if you're an admitted steroid user, believe me, you'd know who uses them.''
Canseco is one of four stars from the game's supersized era who have either publicly acknowledged using juice or, according to reports, testified to that effect before a grand jury. One of the four, Ken Caminiti, is dead. A second, Gary Sheffield, says he took them unwittingly. The third, Jason Giambi, has yet to confirm any of the sordid details that made the newspapers when his testimony in the BALCO investigation was leaked.
Canseco, on the other hand, is more than eager to talk and apparently he's naming names. The buzz surrounding his version of events is so considerable that his publisher, HarperCollins, has moved the book's release date up a week, from Feb. 21 to next Monday and the CBS program ''60 Minutes,'' which planned to air a segment on Canseco on Feb. 20, will now broadcast it on Sunday. But they're not the only ones launching pre-emptive strikes.
No excerpts have surfaced yet, but accounts in The Daily News of New York claim Canseco writes that he injected Mark Mc-Gwire with steroids when they were teammates in Oakland and that he taught Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro how to use muscle-building drugs after he moved his operation to Texas in 1992.
All three of his former Rangers teammates quickly refuted the allegations, and McGwire has repeatedly denied using steroids. Then again, even after Associated Press columnist Steve Wilstein discovered androstenedione sitting in the open on the top shelf of McGwire's locker in 1998 before baseball banned the steroid pre-cursor the St. Louis slugger kept insisting that somebody ''stuck their nose in my locker.'' That's not what happened.
What did happen, though, was this: McGwire publicly acknowledged taking androstenedione the day after a club official was asked for comment. But a day earlier, this was what that club official said: ''Use the stuff? He didn't even know how to spell it.''
That kind of disinformation has clouded the issue ever since baseballs began flying out of ballparks across the land in alarming numbers. The suits in charge and too many ballplayers, managers and trainers who knew better said the baseballs were wound too tight, the bats were too hard, the new ballparks were too small just about every explanation was trotted out except the most obvious one. That the ballplayers had become too big.
That, however, was Canseco's explanation he alleged a few years ago that 80 percent of major leaguers had taken steroids and he's sticking to it. Without confirming any of the details, he told The New York Times, ''I will give a huge press conference, internationally and worldwide, when the book comes out. I'll answer any questions then.''
If anybody else who posted the numbers Canseco did 462 home runs in a big league career from 1985-01 promised to tell all, the hysteria would be more real than imagined. But because Canseco's past words and deeds outside the white lines have inspired so little credibility, this latest salvo is easy to shrug off. The incidents he will describe likely will be specific enough to ring true, but Canseco is the worst kind of messenger. On top of that, nobody likes a stoolie.
Spring training camps open in a few days, guaranteeing some uncomfortable moments for the players and club executives who will have to answer some tough questions. But it's high time for them to confront the same questions the game's fans have been wrestling with for a while.
How much of the offensive barrage we all witnessed was the natural progression of athletes working smarter and harder, and how much was simply better hitting through chemistry? And how do we compare the legitimacy of the era that just ended with those that have gone before it?
Those aren't just philosophical queries, either. Before you look up, Barry Bonds will be closing in on Hank Aaron's career mark of 755 home runs and baseball's higher-ups will have to decide how to mark the occasion, or whether to mark it at all.
The only thing we can be sure of is that Canseco won't make the short list of people commissioner Bud Selig seeks out for advice.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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