Canseco is instructive, too, on how and why steroids work so well. They made him faster and stronger, allowed him to swing a heavier bat, helped him maintain his bat speed over the length of otherwise grueling seasons and swelled his confidence. "The powers you gain can feel almost superhuman," he writes. It's riveting testimony, not from a lab technician, university professor or union lawyer, but from a real-life case study. One of many satisfied customers.
Less convincing--though it is the basis of front-page headlines and a reported $500,000 book advance--is the naming of names. True to his notorious persona, Canseco drives recklessly here. He casts suspicion on Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Miguel Tejada, Bret Boone and Brady Anderson as steroid users without claiming any firsthand knowledge.
Nothing, however, is oblique about the manner in which Canseco attacks Mark McGwire, his primary target, whose pregame bathroom-stall steroid-shooting rendezvous with Canseco is the book's preeminent image. Canseco writes that McGwire used steroids as far back as 1988, when he first discussed them with McGwire, and that McGwire later took Jason Giambi "under his wing." The Cuban-born Canseco seethes at what he perceives as the preferential treatment afforded McGwire by baseball and the media, attributing it to the fact that McGwire is white. In short, Canseco does his best to smash McGwire's iconic stature. The McGwire that Canseco knows refers to reporters with a homophobic insult, is socially awkward and, above all, is a chemically made slugger (though he praises his natural swing). " McGwire," he writes, "was right there with me as a living, thriving example of what steroids could do to make you a better ballplayer."
Since last playing in 2001, McGwire had retired to his family, to golf and to a noticeable public silence, especially as performance-enhancing drugs became the most important issue in baseball. But in response to Canseco's allegations McGwire released a five-paragraph statement on Sunday in which he said, "Once and for all I did not use steroids nor any other illegal substance." McGwire declined SI's request for further comment through his representative, Marc Altieri, who said, "We are going to let the statement stand on its own. It is meant to be a definitive statement."
In an updated preface to Ball Four in 2000, Bouton wrote, "I believe the overreaction to Ball Four boiled down to this: People simply were not used to reading the truth about professional sports." The truth in Juiced, as it was in baseball's Dark Ages of steroid use, is elusive. But truth there is, somewhere--hypodermic needles in a haystack.
If Canseco's portrayal of the era seems overly harsh, imagine how a Pittsburgh Pirate would have described cocaine use in baseball in the '80s. The view from Pittsburgh, where even a team mascot was implicated, would offer the worst-case scenario that might seem out of scale to someone elsewhere. So it is with Canseco, the self-proclaimed "godfather of steroids."
Ultimately the book sparks more debate than it settles. But when Canseco writes, "I know the real story of steroids in baseball better than any man alive," who would dare argue? Written from that platform, Juiced may not command our faith, but it does demand our attention. --T.V.