-- The following excerpt of Jose Canseco's new book was provided to ABC News by the publisher, Simon Spotlight (a division of Simon and Schuster). The book will be published on April 1.
Chapter Two: The Entertainers
When someone gets around to writing the real history of baseball, I'm going to be remembered as the guy who did more to change the game than any other player. And I did it twice. I fundamentally changed the way the sport is played. The first time was when I introduced my fellow players to steroids, launching the Steroid Era, a decade that saw superhuman athletes breaking all of baseball's storied records. And the second time was when I saw that things were getting out of control, and that I had to tell the truth about what was going on.
Unfortunately, nobody wanted to hear the truth. I was excoriated by the press, booed by fans, and called a liar and a snitch by people who professed to care about the game. But here's the irony: nobody cared about the game as much as I did. And I have cared about it my whole life.
I was born in Cuba, and my parents moved to Florida when me and my twin brother, Ozzie, were just kids. I liked baseball from very early on, thanks to my father, who would take us out on weekend to teach us how to play. Or try, anyway. He seemed to enjoy telling us how terrible we were. But despite the insults, I refused to give up — maybe because I didn't want to be terrible, which I guess was his whole point.
We didn't have much money, but we did okay. And maybe that wasn't such a bad thing. As Joe DiMaggio once said, "A ball player's got to be kept hungry to become a big-leaguer. That's why no boy from a rich family ever made the big leagues."
When I was about eleven or twelve, I joined a local Little League, and my very first team was the Cincinnati Reds. I loved the uniform so much that I used to wear it to school under my regular clothes. The other kids made fun of me, but I didn't care. Baseball was already in my heart, my main interest in life.
In high school, I was kind of a runt — five eleven, 165 pounds — but I was already seriously into baseball, and everything I did, every minute of every day, was designed to make me a better player. It was a struggle. I had pretty good hand-eye coordination, and I had a good swing, but things didn't quite click, and I didn't make the varsity team until senior year.
On Saturdays, I'd always watch This Week in Baseball, a television show. My favorite player was Reggie Jackson, but not because I aspired to be like him. He was such a god that to even fantasize about hitting like that seemed almost sinful. It was enough to just sit quietly, in awe, and watch.
In 1982, I was drafted by the Oakland Athletics, and I got off to a slow but steady start. Before long, however, I had really improved my swing, and on good days I was knocking 400-foot homers out of the park. The fans loved it. I noticed early on that fans reacted more to home runs than to anything else that happened on the field. As I began to hit more and more home runs, I became more of a crowd favorite. Every time I was up at bat, they'd cheer like crazy. They were looking to be entertained, and I was looking to be entertaining.
In 1984, my mother finally succumbed to a long illness. Toward the very end, I went home to say good-bye to her. I sat next to her, on her bed. She had slipped into a coma, but I took her hand in both of mine and promised her that someday I would become the best baseball player in the world. I'm sure she heard me. I imagined her smiling on the inside and saying, "I know you will, hijo. I never doubted you. I'll be watching from up there."
A week after the funeral, still in Miami, still grieving, I went off to the gym, to try to sweat out some of the pain. I ended up running into a friend of mine, a guy from high school, a weight lifter, and he could see I was an emotional wreck. We got to talking. I told him about my mother, and about the promise I'd made, and he could see I was determined to reach my goal. Well, as they say, one thing led to another, and before I knew it, he was injecting steroids into my gluteus maximus. And that's how it started. It was that simple. I'm a kid in a gym, lost and weepy, and a friend offers me a way out. Or what I thought might be a way out.
Right after he shot me up, I half-expected to feel this huge rush, and that maybe I'd run into the street and flip cars over just for fun. After all, as a wrestler once put it, when you take steroids, you can just lie in bed and feel yourself grow. But that didn't happen. Nothing happened. I waited for that initial rush, and as I waited, I began to freak out a little. I wondered if I was going to develop a third eye, smack-dab in the middle of my forehead. Or if one of my arms was going to blow up like a balloon and pop. Or maybe I'd go home and look in the mirror and find a complete stranger staring back at me. None of that happened, of course. Nothing happened. At least at first. I finally noticed something about three weeks in, and even then the change was gradual. One day, I was doing my regular workout, but it somehow felt much more efficient than what I was accustomed to. I felt like I had more energy, more of a pump. Within a month, I started gaining weight and seeing some real definition, and as the weeks went by, I felt myself getting stronger and stronger. I felt good about myself, too, confident, and that gave me a genuine psychological edge. I began to think, Man, this stuff is really working!
At that point, I honestly came to believe that steroids were going to help me keep my promise to my dying mother — nothing would stop me from getting better at baseball, nothing would stop me from being the best — and that's when the game really took over my life. It was the only thing that mattered. I didn't do drugs, and a beer or two was about all I could handle. And sure, I found women wonderfully distracting. But at the end of the day, it was all about baseball. That's all that mattered. I loved the game. I lived and breathed and dreamed the game.
And I kept at it, stayed focused on the goal. Everything I did was designed to make me a better player. In 1986, I was named the American League's Rookie of the Year, and it began to look like I was on my way. But it wasn't happening by accident. After regular practice, while all the other players went off to the bars, I'd go to the gym and work out. On days off, I'd take more batting practice and hit the gym. I was going to turn myself into a baseball machine, for my mother, and I would do anything I had to do to get there. I read everything I could get my hands on about vitamins and supplements — even in body-building magazines! — and I scoured other publications for new studies on steroids, growth hormones, and other performance-enhancing drugs.
The industry was still in its infancy back then, but I found that exciting, and I experimented with different products, becoming my own guinea pig. I tried every combination you can imagine. I was testing it on myself, and retesting, and mixing and matching every product on the market, trying things no one had ever imagined, and I was doing it to turn myself into a super athlete. I even kept notes! I had a journal where I would keep track of every detail, how much of this or that, when, how I felt twelve hours later, a day later, and at the end of the week. I figured out how to eat to maximize the effectiveness of the steroids, how to train while taking them, and the best time of day to stick myself with the needle, during the season and in the off season. Before long, I was tipping the scales at 240 pounds, most of it muscle, so obviously I was doing something right.
The next year, 1987, Mark McGwire joined the Athletics, a tall skinny kid with absolutely no muscle on him, and I guess he was impressed with my physique, because he had a lot of questions about my regimen. The following year, not surprisingly, McGwire underwent a miraculous transformation, and shortly thereafter the fans began to call us the Bash Brothers. I wonder how that happened?
In 1988, I became the first player in major league history to hit 40 home runs (42, actually) and steal 40 bases in the same season. The 40-40 club had only one member, yours truly, and suddenly baseball fans were paying attention. It felt absolutely great. I had a .307 batting average, 120 runs scored, 124 runs batted in (the most in the league), and I also led the league in home runs, with my 42. As a result, I was named, unanimously, the American League's Most Valuable Player. And you know what? I was the first unanimously elected Most Valuable Player since Reggie Jackson, my hero.
When I was told about the award, it was an emotional moment for me. Only four years earlier I had promised my mother I'd become the best baseball player in the game. It was the last promise I made to her, and this Most Valuable Player award meant I had kept my promise. I was the best in the game. I had done something — the 40-40 — that no player in history had ever done before. The dedication, hard work, and focus had paid off, and in record time.
In 1989, however, I broke my wrist and missed half the season, but I still helped the Athletics win their first World Series in fifteen years (in the half I played, anyway). That, combined with my MVP title from the previous year, helped me land a five-year deal with Oakland for $23.5 million. At the time, it was the biggest contract ever for a baseball player.
The next year, my back started getting worse. I'd been having trouble with it since I was a kid, and suddenly I hit a wall. I was juicing up to get through it, which is not without some irony: that same year, steroids were finally added to the list of substances prohibited under baseball's drug policy. The Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990 reclassified them as Schedule III controlled substances, and the criminal penalties for their use were increased.
In 1992, late in the season, I got traded to the Texas Rangers. I wasn't happy, as Oakland had been my only home in baseball, but I tried to make the best of it, and the guys were welcoming. It was particularly good to be playing with Rafael Palmeiro, a fellow Cuban who grew up in Miami, on the same streets as me and my twin brother, Ozzie. I made friends with Pudge Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez, Latinos like myself. All three men made an effort to make me feel at home, and I returned the favor by lecturing them on the joys, and perils, of steroids. This was a drug, after all, and not without its dangers. Loss of hair, acne, shrinking testes — to name a few. I'd read about mood swings and surges of anger, too, and I'd had experiences with both of those myself, but they were part of my personality, and I can tell you unequivocally that they had nothing to do with steroids.
You couldn't blame all bad behavior, on and off the field, on steroids. Some people just behaved badly naturally, and who was to say it was 'roid rage? (I still remember the day Roger Clemens picked up a broken baseball bat in the middle of the 2000 World Series and chucked it at Mike Piazza as Mike ran to first base. What was that about?) Before long, my new Rangers teammates were looking pretty buff and feeling good, and I warned them about getting too carried away. If you don't lay off the stuff from time to time, I told them, your body can lose its ability to produce its own testosterone. And you don't want to get too big. If those muscles got out of control, the tendons might not be able to support them. (That's what they say happened to Barry Bonds in 1999, when he blew out his elbow. But, really, what would I know? It's not like I have any real experience in this area, right? I mean, the man was clean, wasn't he?)
That same year, my debut year with the Rangers, we were playing against the Cleveland Indians and I was in the outfield. A long fly ball hit me in the head and bounced into the stands for a home run. It was pretty humiliating, and I'm sure you've seen that clip a bunch of times. (If you haven't, you can probably find it on YouTube.) The next year wasn't much better, and the year after that — 1994 — we had the baseball strike, which took the luster off a good year for me.
When we finally returned to the business of playing ball, I decided to claw my way back to respectability, and I got a little help from steroids. Or maybe more than a little. The juice made me stronger, faster, and better, and the fans noticed.
In 1998, I hit 46 home runs and stole 29 bases. It wasn't quite the 40 I'd stolen a decade earlier, but it felt good. If it had been a normal year, those numbers would've been all over the media, but nobody noticed because Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in the middle of their home run race, both of them determined to best Roger Maris's single-season record. The fans couldn't believe the way these guys were hitting — they'd never seen anything like it — but I was pretty sure I knew why. They were hitting the way they were hitting for the same reason I was hitting the way I was hitting: steroids. Baseball had been dying on the vine, but suddenly the game had a few rock stars, buff rock stars, and those rock stars were filling seats.
Did I say nobody noticed me? Well, allow me to correct myself. That same year, in September 1998, to be precise, a baseball writer described me as "the most conspicuous example of a player who has made himself great with steroids."
A day or two later, during a game against the Boston Red Sox in Toronto, if I'm remembering this correctly, some of the fans took it upon themselves to boo me when I stepped onto the field. I didn't let it faze me. Instead, I struck a pose — as my old friend Madonna might have done — and flexed my bulging muscles, Arnold Schwarzenegger-style. The crowd went nuts. It was showtime, folks. This was what sports in America were all about!
The following year I played for Tampa Bay, and I stayed with them for part of 2000. But I ended the year with the New York Yankees, who won the World Series. The next year, 2001, I was traded to the Chicago White Sox, and the year after that I signed with the Newark Bears, part of the independent Atlantic League. I then joined the Montreal Expos, which was the beginning of the end for me, and in May 2002, reluctantly, I retired from the game.
But that's not exactly the right way to put it. The fact is, I was pushed out. The owners had decided to make an example of me. By pushing me out, they gave everyone the impression that steroids would not be tolerated. Period. That wasn't the real message, though. Far from it. The real message was that they would be tolerated, even encouraged, just as long as the players were discreet. The real message was, "Keep doing those steroids, and keep hitting those beautiful, 600-foot moon shots, but by God, don't get caught, boys. Because if you get caught, it's going to be tough to protect you." The owners were supposed to be trying to do something about the illegal use of steroids, or at least look as if they were trying, so they needed the players to be discreet and considerate. By blackballing me, the guy who had brought steroids into the game, Major League Baseball was telling its players not to get caught.
I'd had a respectable career — 462 career home runs, four-time winner of the Silver Slugger Award, an MVP, World Series rings, and more fun than any man is legitimately entitled to — so it was hard to accept that it was really over. I was only 38 homers short of 500, and I was not going to be given a chance to reach that magic number. And I'll tell you, being kicked out like that hurt like hell.
I love baseball. No one knows how much I love this game. I played through three major back surgeries, a shoulder surgery, and several hand surgeries. I love the game for the electricity, for the fans, and for the chance to swing just right and launch that ball. There is nothing better than hitting a home run that travels five hundred, even six hundred feet. And I was good at it. When I went up to bat, the fans took note. "Here comes Jose. Prepare to be entertained." But now, suddenly, it was over. At the age of thirty-seven, I'd been turned into the poster boy for "plausible deniability." In getting rid of me, the bosses were not only acknowledging that baseball had a problem with steroids, but also alleged they were actually doing something about cleaning it up.
I remember going to a Dan Marino pro-am golf event shortly after I got dumped, and running into Alex Rodriguez.
"You know what's going on, don't you?" he said.
"With the league. They're blackballing you."
"Yeah," I said. "I know."
It was hard to believe. Only four years earlier I had hit 46 home runs in a single season, something that maybe two or three dozen players had managed since baseball began, in the 1870s. Now I was expected to believe that there wasn't a single team in the entire league that could use a guy with my talent. In 2001, the last season I played, I batted .258 and hit 16 home runs in only 76 games. That's on pace for a 33-run season. Only eighteen guys in the entire league hit over 33 home runs in 2002!
The day after Alex Rodriguez stated the obvious, that I'd been blackballed, I ran into another player, Alex Fernandez, who told me the same thing. Not that I needed to be told. I had been out looking for another job, and not a single team would offer me a contract — not even at the league minimum. At one point, I offered to donate my salary to a local children's charity, but still nobody wanted me. They wouldn't take me for nothing. Hell, maybe they wouldn't have taken me if I'd offered to pay them.
I was so desperate to get back in the game, in fact, that I did an open tryout for the L.A. Dodgers, a team that was in miserable shape back then. I ran well, I threw well, and I hit well, but they still didn't want me. And man, it burned. I was 38 lousy home runs short of 500. That meant the world to me, but clearly it meant nothing to them. I remember Tommy Lasorda telling me that the team didn't want me, and after I'd gone off, with my tail between my legs, he came running after me. "Jose!" he hollered.
I turned around. For a moment, my heart jumped. Maybe he'd just been messing with me, having a little fun. The team wanted me after all! "What?" I said tentatively, trying not to let my excitement get the better of me. "You mind autographing this ball for me?"
Later that week, I went to speak to Don Fehr, executive director of the Players Association, who said he'd try to help me. This is the guy who is in charge of taking care of players, making sure they are treated fairly, and I never heard from him again.
The whole experience was incredibly debilitating. I was just asking for a chance to show them I still had it, but they weren't interested. They took a piece of me, a piece of my heart, and it seemed to be the one piece that was holding me together as a person.
Then, to add insult to injury, I ran into Barry Bonds. He and his wife were in L.A., having a house built, and I bumped into them when I was en route to pick up my daughter, Josie. The first words out of Barry's mouth, before even a hello, were straight to the point, but I didn't understand what the hell he was trying to tell me. "I'm not on steroids," he said. "I'm not doing anything." He picked up his shirt to show me his new, smaller body.
"Why are you telling me?" I said. "Why are you trying to make me believe that you're clean? Why would I give a shit?"
"What are you getting so upset about, man? I'm just saying."
As I drove off, I remembered an earlier meeting with Barry Bonds, and suddenly our little encounter made perfect sense. It was back in February 2000. We were in Las Vegas, for the Big League Challenge, a home-run hitting contest at Cashman Field. I was given $100,000 just to show up, and I was told that the winner would take home $600,000. I'd just had back surgery, though, so I figured I'd be lucky to hit anything at all.
When we were in the locker room, changing before going out into the field, I took off my shirt and found Bonds staring at me, his eyes bugging out of his head. "Man," he said, "you are ripped!"
I guess I was. I looked like Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV. There wasn't an ounce of fat on me (if I may so myself). I was 255 pounds of chiseled, high-def power.
"You have to tell me what the hell you've being doing," he said.
"I'll tell you after the game," I said.
We went outside, and I knocked several moon shots out of the park, including twenty-eight bombs in the last round. I went home with the $600,000 enchilada.
Bonds hadn't even made the finals, and he was in a lousy mood, but he waited for me because he wanted us to have our little talk. I told him everything I knew. It was Jose Canseco's Guide to Steroids 101, and over the years I'd had that identical conversation with hundreds of other guys, players and non-players alike.
A few months later, when the regular season got underway, Bonds showed up with an extra thirty pounds on him, all of it muscle. And I'll be the first to tell you: you don't get that kind of muscle just from working out. It's literally impossible. Now, I'm not saying I saw him use the stuff, because I didn't, but I was pretty much an expert on the subject of steroids, and I can tell you that steroids had changed the man — including the size of his goddamn head. That head was hard to miss!
And of course his performance spoke volumes. Here was a guy who'd never broken 50 home runs in a single season, and suddenly he hits 73, breaking the previous major league record, McGwire's 70.
Even the fans couldn't believe the way he looked. "My God," they'd say. "Get a load of the size of him! The man is a monster."
And can you blame him? Bonds had watched McGwire take over the game, his game, and he was simply doing what he felt he had to do.
In retrospect, I'd have to say that this was when the press started paying a little attention to the problem. Some reporters had been trying, half-heartedly, to look into the story, but nobody wanted to hear it, and nobody was listening.
Rumblings about drug use in professional baseball going back to the late 1980s, when the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 was passed, creating criminal penalties for unauthorized use of anabolic steroids.
Nothing much happened, though. And nothing happened in 1995, when Randy Smith, the Padres general manager, sat down with a reporter from the Los Angeles Times and spelled it out for him. "We all know there's steroid use, and it's definitely becoming more prevalent," he said. Two players were also interviewed for the story, Tony Gwynn and Jason Giambi, and they were quick to back him up. They said that at least 30 percent of the guys on the field were using.
What they weren't telling them was this: steroids were a goddamn gift. They could take a mediocre player from the obscurity of the minor leagues to big money in the majors. For a more seasoned player, steroids led to broken records — and maybe even the history books.
Mark McGwire was a perfect example of the benefits of steroids. He had always been a good hitter, but he began as a skinny kid with no muscle, and he bulked up until, in 1998, he broke Roger Maris's single-season home-run record. How'd he do it? Guess. Who cared? No one. Not even most of the reporters.
It's not like they didn't notice, though. Whenever a reporter sat down to talk to me, I'd often catch them looking at my body, and I could see them thinking, Are you even human? That must've gone double for McGwire.
Then in August 1998, an Associated Press reporter found steroids in McGwire's locker. (Androstenedione, actually, a steroid-based dietary supplement.) This might not have been such a big deal, but the fact was that McGwire and Sosa were in the middle of chasing Roger Maris's 61-home-runs record, so people paid attention.
McGwire had an answer for the press. "Everything I've done is natural. Everybody that I know in the game of baseball uses the same stuff I use."
That was almost enough to make the story go away, which is what Major League Baseball wanted. They even made excuses for McGwire. Andro was perfectly legal, they pointed out. It had been banned in the Olympics, sure, and the National Football League had banned it, too, but if it was really so terrible, how come you could walk into your local health-food store and find it on the shelves?
It wasn't until later, in 2002, at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, in Washington, D.C., that baseball commissioner Bud Selig, along with Don Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), were told to make a strict drug-testing program part of the collective-bargaining negotiations for the new Basic Agreement.
This was not good news. MLB had been fighting for years to make sure the players wouldn't be tested for steroids. And it was easy to see why. They wanted players on the field that had superhuman powers. They wanted home runs. And they wanted steroid-enhanced athletes who were fun to watch. That's what put asses in the seats, and anything that stood in the way of that—anything that might be bad for the suddenly booming business of baseball — was just unacceptable. The Senate Commerce Committee must've been made up of a bunch of killjoys. Didn't they love baseball? Why couldn't they leave these nice, muscular boys alone?
Sh-- happens, though.
In August 2001, Korey Stringer, a lineman with the Minnesota Vikings, died in the middle of a summer workout, and the implication was that baseball wasn't the only sport with a little steroid problem. Nobody ever accused Stringer of juicing up, and nobody suggested he had, but people wondered, and that was enough. I'm sure it was hard on his family and friends.
Then in February 2003, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler collapsed and died during spring training. The cause was listed as heat exhaustion, but an autopsy found ephedra in his system, and the drug — a stimulant thought to enhance athletic performance — was immediately banned from the minor leagues.
Mandatory drug testing was put into place shortly thereafter, and during the 2003 season, the MLBA announced that 5 to 7 percent of players had tested positive.
In September of that same year, Federal Agents raided the offices of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), operated by Victor Conte. A number of world-class athletes were allegedly getting performance-enhancing drugs from the organization, and ten major league players were called to testify in front of a San Francisco grand jury. These included Barry Bonds, who was with the Giants, and Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, of the Yankees. (Dozens of professional football players were also implicated, along with track star Marion Jones, but that's another story.) None of the baseball players were actually charged with using performance-enhancing drugs, but Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, was indicted for money laundering and for selling steroids without prescriptions. Later, the plot thickened. A pair of reporters at the San Francisco Chronicle, who later went on to write the book Game of Shadows, found out that some of the players had been notified before their so-called random tests. And the following year, the same reporters got hold of transcripts from the grand jury hearings and published some choice sections. Giambi, for example, flat out admitted that he had injected himself, and Bonds said he might have taken steroids, unwittingly, when his personal trainer rubbed a cream on his legs that possibly contained the illegal substance.
What the hell did people expect? If you wanted to compete, you needed steroids. You couldn't naturally gain thirty pounds of muscle in three months, and the competition was gaining that and more. If you didn't do steroids, you lost your edge.
What were people not seeing? Steroids had changed the game. They were changing the way the game was played. They were changing the record books.
And here's the thing: everyone knew. Nothing happened in the clubhouse that wasn't approved by the ownership. From top to bottom, the whole thing was institutionalized. Everybody knew about the bogus B12 shots, and everyone was using them. And you want to know why they were using them? They were using them because they were afraid of losing their jobs. It's that simple. They had to perform to stay in the game, and steroids gave them the edge they needed. I know this because I loved that edge and I came to need it, and it got to a point where I knew I'd be lost without it.
Think about it in terms of your own life. If somebody said, "Here. Take this painless little shot. It'll make you better at your job, and your financial future will be all but secured." What would you do? I know what I would do. Hell, I know what I did.
Even the sports agents were in on it. The more money a client made, the more the agent made. Agents wanted their players to be big and strong and fast, so that they could compete well and get increasingly lucrative contracts. And it's funny, because there was actually a story in a paper back then, I believe it was the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where someone took a player's height, weight and body mass, and, using a bizarre semiscientific formula, was able to determine what kind of salary he might expect. The conclusion? Over an eight-year period, the salaries of the jumbo-size players increased by about 60 percent over their medium-size counterparts. Is there a moral to the story? Yeah, I guess: steroids make you rich. Big and rich.
The same thing was going on in wrestling. In track. In cycling. In the Olympics. It became an international phenomenon. At one point, I heard they were thinking of testing golfers!
What can I tell you? Steroids had taken over sports.