THE BOOK violated the omerta of the clubhouse, so fellow ballplayers called the author a traitor and launched personal attacks upon his character. The commissioner's office issued a swift denouncement. And 25 years after it was published in 1970, Ball Four by Jim Bouton was selected by the New York Public Library to be among the most significant books of the century--the only sports book so chosen.
Juiced, by Jose Canseco, lacks the soul, humanity and humor of Ball Four. And appropriately, for an author with credibility issues, the one time Canseco references Ball Four he misses the year of publication by a decade.
Unlike the wry Bouton, a self-described fan of the game, Canseco is in a world all his own. Between the covers of the book he has no true friends or any clue of the concept of team. The outcome of seasons, including the world championship of the mighty 1989 Oakland Athletics, is not worth mentioning. Canseco loves nothing except the image of himself. He is Narcissus with a syringe.
But in one historically important way, Juiced shares the lineage of Ball Four: Like it or not, it defines an era from the inside out. Canseco holds up his favorite piece of equipment, the mirror, to the underbelly that baseball prefers you not see.
Bouton, an active player when he wrote his book, was more shocking with his unprecedented portrayal of ballplayers as pill-popping, booze-swilling, skirt-chasing, profanity-spewing frat boys. Look, they're human!
Canseco parachutes in well after the shock-and-awe phase of steroids in baseball has played out. The value in Juiced is not so much in breaking ground as it is in measuring, defining and cataloging an established phenomenon as only an expert in the field can.
Canseco was, as one agent calls him in the book, the Typhoid Mary of steroids. He brought them into the big leagues in 1985 and is the man most responsible for their spread. It was great while it lasted for Canseco and the other cheaters, juicing up with no fear of reprisal. But Canseco turned out to be baseball's Sammy (the Bull) Gravano. Assail his character? Attack his motivation? Of course he's an unsavory character. That's because, like Gravano, he's one of the bad guys. No one from the outside could reveal the culture as well.
So Canseco becomes our tour guide through the arc of steroids in baseball. We see them incubate in the Oakland clubhouse in the late '80s, begin to "blow way out of proportion" after the '94 strike and explode into a Wild West shoot-'em-up free-for-all in the late '90s. It all jibes with the rising number of bloated bodies.
When Canseco returned to Oakland in '97, five years after the A's had traded him to Texas, even he was astonished at how brazen the Athletics had become about their steroid use. They talked about steroids around the batting cage and carted them on the road in shaving kits. The culture of taboo had been replaced by one of acceptance, like cocaine in the '80s, when Tim Raines would slide headfirst so as not to disturb the vial of cocaine in his back pocket.
In the late '90s--Canseco does not specify the year--team trainers actively facilitated steroid use by recommending usage programs, providing names and telephone numbers of drug suppliers and joking with players by referring to steroid injections as "B12 shots." That is an explosive charge that warrants investigation by the commissioner's office. (Though Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office and general manager of the A's from 1983 to '97, said on Friday, "I'd be surprised if there was any significant follow-up.")