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The Liars Club
S.L. Price
December 26, 2005
The congressional hearings on steroids in baseball, the bigger-than-sports story of the year, turned into a three-ring circus. And only the clown, Jose Canseco, may have told the truth
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December 26, 2005

The Liars Club

The congressional hearings on steroids in baseball, the bigger-than-sports story of the year, turned into a three-ring circus. And only the clown, Jose Canseco, may have told the truth

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"You're a lucky guy," the man replied.

"I'm not," Canseco said. "I'm not lucky at all."

Congress was still investigating Palmeiro for a possible perjury charge then, and baseball was days away from announcing its new policy on performance-enhancing drugs. No one was questioning Canseco's credibility anymore. "Whether or not it was his intent," says Richard Lapchick, director emeritus of the Center for the Study of Sport and Society at Northeastern, "he performed a service for American sport."

Yet even with a book called Vindicated due in the spring, Canseco didn't have much interest in I-told-you-so's. The day he heard that Palmeiro had tested positive, Canseco said, "I felt sad for him and sad for the players." The fact that baseball officials left Canseco but not Palmeiro off the Latino Legends ballot distributed last fall to fans was just the latest example, he said, of their plan to blackball him. "The truth always comes to the top," Canseco said more than once. But later, reclining by a fire that blazed to life with the flick of a switch, he said, "Today the truth means nothing; perception means everything. We are a lost society of lost souls: liars, con artists, manipulators."

It's only right that he's conflicted. Canseco may well help end the Steroids Era, but he also helped start it, and if he told the truth now, he also lied then. In 1988, when accused of steroid use on the eve of the playoffs, he issued a typewritten statement calling the charge "completely false and untrue." Asked about that in Santa Monica, he at first denied it, then backpedaled, mumbled something about how reporters twist words, and gave up. "No matter what I say, no matter what the truth is, people are going to perceive whatever they want," Canseco said. "It doesn't really matter."

He's trying to move on. He had spent the afternoon flogging a script called Mr. Mayhem, showing production companies a video of himself kicking and spinning. He wants to be the next martial-arts hero, a Latin Van Damme--a natural next move, the 41-year old Canseco said, "because I've always considered myself an entertainer."

His ex-wife, Jessica, left him for good after he went to jail in 2003 for allegedly violating his probation (stemming from a felony aggravated-battery charge following a 2001 bar brawl in Miami) by testing positive for steroids, and he says he's still in love with her. Since October he and his twin brother, Ozzie, have been facing an $835,000 judgment after a jury found them liable for their part in that bar fight. (The criminal charge was dropped.) Yet what haunts him most is his certainty that the commissioner's office and the players' association teamed up to lock him out of the game after his final season, 2001. He still dreams of baseball. "I wake up in the middle of the night sweating, sometimes with tears," he said. "Like: Wait, am I still playing?"

He stared at the fire. A set of colored contact lenses turned his brown eyes a reptilian shade of gray: In a bad horror movie he'd be cast as a zombie, or the devil. It had been eight months since the hearings. If Canseco hadn't been proved exactly right, he seemed to stand closest to the truth. Anywhere but in a land of lost souls, that might count for something. "People in my industry are never truly happy and always lonely," Canseco said. "We'll leave it at that."

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