I’ve almost finished the twelve-year-old copy of Jose Canseco’s Juiced that my son gave me. I’ll admit that I have a lot more sympathy for Canseco as a human being than I previously did. Any man who loved his mother and loves his daughter as this fellow does… and his father was one of those we know from Little League games who screams at his kid every time he’s not a polished All Star in the field. Combine that with a generally low self-image, and you have a recipe for foolish choices. This lad needed some good advice along the way, and he doesn’t seem to have gotten much.
Canseco’s take on baseball’s racism in the Nineties pulled me in the other direction, however. If you want to take control of your future by changing the rules and moving the foul lines, Jose, don’t complain because you see doors opening for blue-eyed blonds that close in your face. Haven’t you already pried enough doors open by crowbar that weren’t supposed to admit you or anyone else? I don’t know why people of color assume that the blond-and-blue stereotype doesn’t work against us Caucasians, too, who are dark around the edges—but my black friends are always shocked when I pull the veil from that illusion. Van Johnson and Robert Redford: good guy. Claude Akins and John Ireland: bad guy.
Of course, the stereotype of the little guy who just can’t perform as well as the big guy cuts across racial boundaries. It’s practically universal. It’s what I founded this site to combat—in baseball. I can’t do anything about it in a job interview or on the dating scene, where employers and the ladies eagerly join ranks to elbow shorter men out of the picture. Jose certainly didn’t suffer from that kind of invidious prejudice.
And if some Latinos were at a disadvantage in professional baseball twenty-five years ago because no one on the coaching staff could speak their lingo, doesn’t that make the duty of a seasoned veteran like Canseco on the Texas Rangers all the more imperative? And what big-brotherly guidance did he provide to Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, and his childhood buddy Rafael Palmeiro (who was quite fluent enough in English and apt in American culture, however, to know better)? He sabotaged careers and lives by abusing his position of authority to introduce forbidden substances into the clubhouse.
Now, Canseco would say that the stuff was already there—a claim that he often contradicts by virtually celebrating his role in being its special conduit (for instance, in the Rangers’ case). He would also say, and does say, that he created rather than destroyed careers. I wonder how Palmeiro feels about that, in retrospect? I was once one of Rafael’s biggest fans. I didn’t want to believe that he had cheated—I thought he had probably failed the test because of some drug that he was using to speed recovery from a specific injury. I have little doubt that he could have reached 3,000 hits without steroids; in fact, I think they probably impeded his ascent to that plateau, inasmuch as they turned him into a dead-pull hitter who tried to jack every pitch he saw over the wall. Now, as a ballplayer, he is ruined in memory forever. None of us who considered him a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer would cast that vote today.
To me, the most repellent thing about Jose’s unrepentant, almost boasting autobiography is its failure to grasp the glory of the game. It makes you recognize your God-given limits… and then you learn on your own how to transform those liabilities into assets. You become the best you could possibly be. But for Jose, the formula takes a shocking turn: through the use of outlawed substances, you become better than you could possibly be—you reject what God created and substitute a fraudulent “you”. You acquire no humility, no wisdom… but perhaps you do acquire lots of money.
There we go: do whatever it takes to get rich. Thanks for that lesson, Jose—as if it needed another preacher from the pop-cultural pulpit! And, yes, Don Fehr and the Players’ Union and the team owners like George Bush all must have known exactly what was happening as they feverishly kept brushing the steroids scandal under the rug while pointing at the ceiling. Are you comfortable having a band of such hypocrites as allies? “Yes, I did it. Everyone else was doing it, too—or else they came up and begged me to show them how. And we were just making ourselves into the superhuman machines that the fans wanted to see… and we would have been sacking groceries or selling used cars, otherwise. And we Latinos especially needed an inside track to correct for latent racism. And, anyway, the stuff is physically good for you if you use it right.”
If your lawyer presented arguments like these in a murder trial, you’d have grounds for appeal based on an incompetent defense.