Making his point

The Baltimore Sun

You know you have to buy Jose Canseco's new book, Vindicated, if only to keep the characters and their plot lines straight.

So ... Mike Wallace was hitting on Canseco's wife at the gym? Alex Rodriguez was yelling, "Ow, that hurts" when Canseco stuck the needle in his butt? Who was this "Max" guy again?

But there's a much bigger reason for America to pay close attention to the sequel to Juiced. Because America was absolutely dead-on certain that Canseco's first steroid confessional/tell-all, from 2005, was as big a piece of fiction as Harry Potter -- and America was dead-on wrong.

And because it's way past time for those of us observing the entire performance-enhancer fiasco in baseball to get beyond picking whom we believe based on who looks believable. Or, worse, whom we want to believe.

No one wanted to believe Canseco three years ago, because much of his playing career had been a cartoon, a caricature of a bloated, ego-mad ballplayer -- bulging muscles, tape-measure homers, fast cars, fast women, colorful rap sheet and, finally, a fly ball bouncing off his head.

That might have made him a fool, but it didn't make him a liar. Not then, and not now. Heck, he was an established expert in the doping field, just like Roger Clemens' primary accuser, Brian McNamee. They might be snitches, but they know what they're snitching about.

So, even the parts in Vindicated -- due for release Tuesday but out with excerpts this week -- that sound like something out of a late-night telenovela have a thread of believability in them. The Jose/A-Rod/Jose's wife drama seems too soapy to be believed, until you see the reports that congressional investigators were told that the former Mrs. Canseco compared, uh, other physical enhancements with Clemens' wife at a now-infamous and disputed party.

Vindicated also reminds us that we're still suckers for marquee names. The book's thin connections between Rodriguez and steroids are being hyped all over, which has to thrill Magglio Ordonez, whom Canseco said he directly injected. Bet he doesn't mind being baseball's most underrated offensive player now, huh?

(Meanwhile, if Mike Wallace did pursue substances after the discussion with Canseco described in the book, then I can never watch 60 Minutes again. I'm taking out my syringe costume and my asterisk sign and heading up to the next taping at CBS's studios. Who's with me?)

Canseco deserves the benefit of the doubt, the kind he did not get from many people on the first book tour. Until someone proves him wrong about any of what he writes in the new book, he ought to be believed. Nobody has proved him wrong about the first one yet.

More important, nobody has ever seen a big-time athlete's denials of an accusation of doping hold up. Certainly not in baseball. Far more often it's the opposite -- the angry, vehement denial, then the avalanche of evidence against him, then a stricken face in a congressional hearing room. Or, in one celebrated case, a perp walk. At best, you'll get a shamed apology well after the fact.

The gutter-level dishonesty of so many of these so-called idols has badly warped our instinct for trust. It leaves possibly innocent people to be presumed guilty. It also makes us question why we chose to believe or not believe certain individuals. So it is with this, now, Canseco's word versus Rodriguez's.

Canseco, though, has the proven track record.

A few talking heads have already presented Rodriguez as a tragic figure wrongly persecuted by a self-absorbed, jealous publicity hog. Old habits are hard to break.

This, however, also will color many opinions of the Canseco book allegations: Rodriguez represents the game's best hope to erase Barry Bonds and his "tainted" home run record from the books, and no one can afford for the record breaker to be tainted, too.

There's nothing particularly likable about Rodriguez, besides his talent and the ridiculous numbers he puts up -- but there's a lot more riding on his credibility than merely whether he gets booed a lot at Yankee Stadium.

Baseball's credibility and that of its most ardent backers are on the line. They can't afford for Canseco to be right.

Again.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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