Last week came the news that yet another standout baseball player, this time David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, had flunked a Performance Enhancing Drug test in 2003. Amidst the flurry of media attention that followed, my pal Jose Canseco (hey, I once interviewed the guy) stepped in with some typically audacious comments.
Canseco told Pedro Gomez of ESPN.com, “I’ll tell you this, Major League Baseball is going to have a big, big problem on their hands when they find out they have a Hall of Famer who’s used.”
It’s curious to consider who he may be talking about (probably not Lou Gehrig, I’m guessing.) References to Canseco’s quip have of course blown up around the Internet and blogosphere. One post, aptly titled Jose Canseco Just Ruined My Life (mine too) listed seven Hall-of-Fame members who played with the former Oakland Athletics slugger at different points. The copied list is as follows:
- Nolan Ryan (Texas, 1992 – 1993)
- Rickey Henderson (Oakland, 1989 – 1992)
- Wade Boggs (Tampa Bay, 1999)
- Reggie Jackson (Oakland, 1987)
- Don Sutton (Oakland, 1985)
- Rich Gossage (Oakland, 1992)
- Dennis Eckersley (Oakland, 1987 – 1992)
If I had to bet, my money would be on Jackson, one of the early players to grasp the importance of weightlifting. A 1987 story from the New Yorker, entitled “The September Song of Mr. October,” paints a picture of the 40-year-old slugger over-the-hill and preparing for the final season of his storied career:
Jackson worked harder than anyone else in the gym. “When I quit I’ll become a body builder,” he said with a load of weights on his back. “Just for the hell of it. For vanity.” He worked his quadriceps, his calves, his triceps and biceps. Between sets, he ran in place with the quick, short steps of a shadowboxer. He wore a baseball cap, sweatpants, and a blue rubber shirt. Sweat washed over his face and dripped off the point of his chin. He had always looked more like a heavyweight fighter than a ballplayer.
I remember reading this a few years ago and even feeling a little suspicious then.
Jackson of course denounces steroid use on his official website. That’s fine. It doesn’t really mean anything in this day and age. Ortiz said similar things. So did Rafael Palmeiro.
With that said, I’m kind of surprised Canseco only claimed one Hall-of-Famer had used. Looking over the list, nearly every guy looks mildly suspect, with the exception of Don Sutton and Rickey Henderson, the latter of whom was recently quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle saying, “They kept that shit a secret from me.” (Canseco also absolved Henderson of any steroid usage, saying he’d never seen anything to suggest it.) However, Eckersley, Boggs and even Ryan wouldn’t be all that surprising of dopers, given their mid-to-late career struggles and resurgences.
This all may sound blasphemous but consider the following: A few years ago, news surfaced that an Atlanta Braves pitcher from the 1960s and ’70s Tom House had experimented with steroids during his career. In the Associated Press story that broke, House said other players had used streroids as well. I subsequently emailed Jim Bouton, another pitcher from this era, who wrote the classic diary of the 1969 season, Ball Four. I asked Bouton if he thought House was telling the truth. If I remember correctly, Bouton said he doubted it, but that if steroids had been prevalent in his era, guys like Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford would definitely have used them to gain an edge.