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Baseball needs to pick up where Canseco left off

Posted: Tuesday April 1, 2008 12:43PM; Updated: Tuesday April 1, 2008 5:15PM
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Jose Canseco
Jose Canseco might be telling the truth, but his reputation is still taking a beating.

It has become increasingly difficult to discern who looks guilty amid baseball's parade of steroid suspects and whistle blowers, when everyone is wearing a clown's nose. Next up on your lineup card: Jose Canseco and Alex Rodriguez.

Do you believe the lug-head prose of Canseco in his latest potboiler? Canseco is the 43-year-old lounge act who is scarily comfortable in his skin as a smarmy opportunist while outing his old syringe buddies' dark secrets, this time in Vindicated. A-Rod is his current target.

"He's not who he portrays himself to be," Canseco said in a recent phone interview with SI. "He's a phony.... He's a talented individual -- and I'll say he's the best player in baseball -- but did he use steroids? Yes, I believe he did."

Do you buy the artful A-Rod's boilerplate no-comment reply to Canseco last week?

"His lawyers want him off the subject. The less he says the better for him," Canseco said. "Basically, what are you going to say against the truth?"

Rodriguez is the 32-year-old reigning MVP, home run champ and an image paradox. He poses as a family guy and yet found himself labeled as "Stray-Rod" by the tabloids last year. He usually chooses his words from a PR crib sheet but, when left to his own verbal devices in February, A-Rod exaggerated the number of times he was drug tested in 2007 to make baseball's anti-doping program sound more vigilant than it is.

Is there anyone who can tell honesty from hyperbole? Is there an angel of mercy who can save baseball from the kind of joyless epic of innuendo that accompanied Barry Bonds on his way to Hank Aaron's record and threatens to do the same along A-Rod's path to trump Bonds?

Do angels have bald heads as sleek as Airstream trailers? Jeff Novitzky, the IRS special agent who gave us BALCO, is expected to interview Canseco when the Vindicated book tour swings through the Bay Area on April 9 and 10.

This is where Canseco's real tell-all account could unfold. He will be talking to Novitzky freely -- happy to do it, Canseco said -- while surely understanding the perils of lying to a federal investigator.

Topic A will be Canseco's insights on Roger Clemens. But what if Novitzky asks, "Who is Max?" In Vindicated, Max is the alias Canseco uses to describe the steroid source he introduced to Rodriguez in the late '90s. There were internal debates at the book's publishing house about whether Max would be named. Did Max want money for his story? Jennifer Bergstrom, the book's publisher at Simon Spotlight Entertainment, did not allude to any financial or legal entanglements when she explained in an e-mail, "It was a very difficult decision, but we decided it was up to Max to come forward himself."

Novitzky isn't bound by editorial guidelines. He is free to ask Canseco for Max's identity, particularly if this person has tentacles to BALCO or other steroid distribution rings.

"If he asks, I'll look for guidance from my attorney," Canseco says, "and we'll see how we can help."

If Novitzky chooses to investigate A-Rod, his slow-drip meticulous methods mean uncovering the truth could last as long as it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

Baseball could expedite closure -- for once. MLB recently created what you might call a Nip It Police. As recommended in the Mitchell Report, commissioner Bud Selig has formed an investigative unit -- filled with veteran detective types that evoke either visions of Costner in The Untouchables or Shaggy in Scooby-Doo (you pick) -- which is free to probe steroid allegations even when a player has not failed a drug test.

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