Who to trust, Canseco or McGwire?

Amid the hoopla surrounding Mark McGwire admitting he used steroids, an exchange he had with Bob Costas got my attention.  In an interview on MLB Network on Monday, Costas read excerpts from Jose Canseco’s autobiography, Juiced, which claimed he personally injected McGwire.

“‘Right before a game, we would load up our syringes and inject ourselves’,” Costas read, quoting the book.

“There’s absolutely no truth to that whatsoever,” McGwire responded immediately, not breaking eye contact besides to blink once.

“That’s not true?” Costas said.

“Absolutely not,” McGwire said.

“Why do you think Jose would say that?” Costas said.

“He had to sell a book,” McGwire said.

“So that didn’t happen, in the clubhouse?” Costas said

“Absolutely not,” McGwire said.  “I couldn’t be more adamant about that.”

Canseco, for his part, went on sports talk radio today, insisting he told the truth.  He had defended his former teammate one day prior.  As reprinted in the Oakland Tribune, where I read it, Canseco told Sirius XM Radio on Monday, “Mark, steroids or not, was one of the greatest nicest guys you could possibly meet.  People make a mistake and say, ‘Well, he used steroids.  He’s a bad guy.  He’s evil.  He’s not worthy.’  I extremely regret telling the truth.  I extremely regret writing that book.  This thing has taken on a life of it’s own, and it’s far from over, guys.”

But on Tuesday, following the interview with Costas, Canseco called McGwire a liar.

“I’m tired of justifying what I’ve said,” Canseco said. “I’ve polygraphed, I’ve proven that I’m 100 percent accurate. I never exaggerated. I told it the way it actually happened. I’m the only one who has told it the way it actually happened. Major League Baseball is still trying to defend itself. It’s strange. All I have is the truth, and I’ve proven that.”

What’s apparent here is one of these men is lying.  I’m not sure who I believe.  Both players lied or gave misleading statements during their careers.  McGwire vigorously denied using steroids in a Sports Illustrated cover story in 1998, while Canseco released a tutorial while playing for the A’s that said steroid use would be unwise because it would hinder quick twitch muscles.  He also claimed the following, in Juiced:

I remember one day during 2001 spring training, when I was with the Anaheim Angels in a game against the Seattle Mariners, Bret Boone’s new team. I hit a double, and when I got out there to second base I got a good look at Boone. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He was enormous. “Oh my God,” I said to him. “What have you been doing?”

“Shhh,” he said. “Don’t tell anybody.”

As reported by ESPN in 2005, the Mariners and Angels played five games that spring, and Canseco and Boone never encountered one another on the basepaths.

There’s also a part of me that feels Canseco knew, leading up to Juiced, that guys like McGwire, Boone and Jason Giambi were using steroids.  It had to be apparent.  I also think Canseco knew baseball would be unwilling to talk about steroids, providing him a great money-making opportunity.  So a part of me thinks he wrote about the obvious users and took creative liberties about their personal interactions where he had to.

I doubt Canseco called out anyone who wasn’t using, but it seems unlikely he and McGwire injected together at the ballpark.  McGwire and Canseco ran in different circles and had vastly different personalities, McGwire shy and reserved, Canseco charming and outgoing.  The Bash Brothers image about them was largely a marketing creation, just like the M&M image was for Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.  It seems more likely to me McGwire did steroids with his brother, a professional bodybuilder who lived with him.

This doesn’t mean Canseco has to fear a libel suit from McGwire.  Proving libel is not simply a matter of believing a person is lying.  There are two different thresholds for proof, depending on whether a private or public individual is claiming libel.  If a publication makes an error about a private individual, that individual need only prove negligence for a civil judgment.  McGwire is a public individual, though, so he would have to prove malice, that Canseco knew he was lying when he made his claims.  Proving that is typically difficult, if not impossible.  It’s why Barry Bonds may never do a day in jail.

What McGwire could prove, if he wanted to, is that Canseco’s book was devastating to his image.  But I doubt McGwire would go to those lengths, private as he is.

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