Now that he's settling into retirement, Jose Canseco is threatening to write a book that will blow the lid off steroid and supplement use in baseball.
Mention that to Barry Bonds and ask him what he thinks.
''You want an interview or you want to irk me?'' Bonds said, a scowl replacing the smile he wore a moment earlier as he chatted in the San Francisco Giants' locker room.
Steroids and supplements are not Bonds' favorite subjects, and Canseco probably should not ask him to write a foreword for his book.
Bonds has grown weary of suspicions that chemicals have helped him transform his body in recent years into a Mr. Universe contender and given him the extra power to hit 73 homers last season and 15 so far this year.
He has denied using steroids and said tests would show he's clean. Of course, baseball has no drug tests, so people will just have to take Bonds' word for it. Or not.
Bonds has an upper torso that looks six sizes larger than the one he had just a few years ago. The bulging veins on his biceps look like fat worms. Even his shaved scalp seems to ripple with muscles.
He says that's all from fierce workouts, four to five hours a day, in the offseason. Maybe so. More to the point, does it matter?
Unlike the Olympics, the NCAA, pro football and several other sports, baseball has no rules against steroids. The players association won't stand for drug tests and the owners aren't pushing for them. It's not in either side's economic interest to stop players from bulking up to hit more homers.
There are two parts of the steroid debate that baseball is avoiding by keeping its head buried on the issue. One is about health, the other about the concept of a level playing field.
For Bonds, neither one is particularly relevant.
''Doctors ought to quit worrying about what ballplayers are taking,'' Bonds said when told doctors have suggested that widespread use of steroids in baseball -- 10 to 50 percent, by some estimates -- may cause liver, kidney or heart problems.
''What players take doesn't matter,'' Bonds said. ''It's nobody else's business. The doctors should spend their time looking for cures for cancer. It takes more than muscles to hit homers. If all those guys were using stuff, how come they're not all hitting homers?''
Canseco admitted trying his share of chemicals as he built himself up into an incredible hulk during a career that promised greatness but fell short of Hall of Fame certainty because of injuries.
He spurred the muscle-building boom in baseball, along with former Oakland Athletics bash brother Mark McGwire, who acknowledged during his 70-homer season in 1998 that he used testosterone-booster androstenedione.
Bonds broke that record last season and, like McGwire, believes that bigger muscles are a small part of hitting homers.
They're entirely right in that regard.
Hitting lots of homers takes superior hand-eye coordination, great reflexes, bat speed, knowledge of pitchers, anticipation of pitches, a grooved stroke, among other things. Muscles help, which is why Bonds, McGwire, Canseco, Sammy Sosa and others beefed up, but they're not everything.
Yet to dismiss steroids as innocuous or irrelevant is to miss a larger issue. Sure McGwire hit plenty of homers before he took andro. But Ben Johnson was fast before he took anabolic steroids. Whether the steroids gave Johnson a small or great advantage over Carl Lewis at the 1988 Olympics doesn't matter. Any advantage was considered cheating, and using steroids was against the rules.
McGwire couldn't cheat or break any rules because there weren't any in baseball. And there still aren't.
Right or wrong, the sport has decided it doesn't need a drug policy to regulate steroids and supplements. Anyone can use them. Whatever Bonds does, as he says, is his business. To a degree.
Kids watch the pros and try to take after them. The more players are perceived to be using steroids and supplements, the more young athletes will try them.
McGwire realized that as andro sales soared in the months after he acknowledged using it. A year later, he said he stopped using it because he didn't want kids taking andro in his name.
If Bonds is not taking steroids, as he says, he would be a model for pure hard work -- a man who transformed his body in his 30s and broke records by grunting through workouts, studying pitchers and sharpening his skills. That's worth believing in and hoping kids will copy.
Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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