Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jose Canseco is my hero

Jose Canseco is my favorite baseball player of all time. I don’t believe that he belongs in the Hall of Fame because he didn’t bring anything to the table defensively but some of my favorite athletes in other sports will never get into their respective halls of fame either.

I first became aware of Jose Canseco back in the late 80s. He was built like a defensive end long before you saw baseball players hitting the weights to build muscle. Before Jose turned in that 40/40 performance in 1988 it was widely believed that weightlifting would diminish flexibility and bat speed. Jose Canseco was a key factor in the Oakland A’s success and a lot of people forget that Mark McGwire was really the Robin to Canseco’s Batman. Over the years McGwire emerged as the hero, at least before he scurried away from the truth like a cockroach suddenly bathed in light.

I knew Canseco was on Steroids back in 1988. I was 17 and had no background in physiology nor did I ever dabble in steroids myself, but I knew he was juicing. Whenever anybody is built like that you have to be suspicious, but when somebody weighs 250 pounds and runs fast enough to steal 40 bases over 158 games you can take the suspicions to the bank.

I also recall reading an article on Jose Canseco and saw pictures of him in the minor leagues; pictures of a comparatively scrawny Canseco standing next to his equally scrawny brother. At the age of 17 I knew that it wasn’t natural for a guy to pack on that much muscle in such a short period of time. He had to be on steroids.

Of course there were plenty of media types who refused to speculate on that. I still remember listening to Jim Rome lash out at people who questioned the authenticity of Mark McGwire’s physique. Rome seemed to think that McGwire just spent more time in the gym than anybody else and he readily admonished people for being jealous of his work ethic when they speculated that those muscles came from a bottle.

That’s why to this day I think Jim Rome is the biggest moron in all of sports. Here’s a guy who gets paid to spew his opinion all day. He’s got no reason to hedge. You can’t get sued for slander and libel for expressing an opinion, where as real sports journalists can’t speculate without proof. Of course most sports journalists balk at having to cover anything resembling real news. They’d rather wax philosophically about the meaning of the game and focus and stats. Some guys like Jim Rome, who served as apologists for the better part of a decade, can share some of the blame for ruining baseball. I’d say guys like Rome are more to blame than Bud Selig because guys like Rome played an active role in dodging the issue. Selig just pretended not to see a problem which is a reasonable position considering most people weren’t making an issue out of it.

When Jose Canseco’s book, Juiced, was published people were furious. He was accused of being dishonest and throwing former teammates under the bus for the sake of getting paid. Everybody Canseco named called him a liar but nobody took legal action. The steroid apologists argued that it’s hard to prove a negative, but the reality is that none of those guys wanted to have private investigators poking around. As the issue of steroids become a priority and major league baseball implemented testing the truth slowly came into light. Raphael Palmeiro famously tested positive for Stanzinol, a powerful steroid, less than six months after testifying before Congress that he had never used steroids.

People started to give Canseco some credit but there were still suspicions that he got lucky when Palmeiro came up dirty. One of the reasons people questioned Canseco was because he dropped Alex Rodriguez’s name into the mix. A lot of people felt like Jose did that to sell books and possibly to impugn the integrity of baseball in general since A Rod was the golden child. Everybody loved him and believed that he would re-legitimize the game by setting all the records the right way. That all came unraveled over the past several weeks. A Rod, like McGwire, Palmeiro, Roger Clemens and numerous others, cheated and lied. His integrity is gone and his accomplishments are tainted. Baseball now has two black eyes.

Jose Canseco won’t go down in history as the guy who cleaned up baseball. I wouldn’t even go so far as to credit him with being a whistle blower. He simply came clean about a subject with which he was familiar. He confirmed what a lot of people had suspected for years.

Going forward it’s irresponsible to think that steroids will go way. The NFL has had a testing policy for years and steroids are still a rampant problem. Testing procedures are a joke but the goal isn’t to eradicate steroids so much as it is to create an illusion of propriety. Most NFL fans will agree that the majority of players in the NFL would fail the tests used in the Olympics and it’s understood that the 4 game suspension imposed by the NFL is a punishment for stupidity more than it is a sanction for cheating. Baseball is taking the same approach. Players are still taking steroids; they’re just smarter about hiding that fact.

So I’m going to go ahead and appreciate Jose Canseco because as far as I can tell the only difference between his career and that of everybody else is that he’s willing to admit that steroids helped him out. He’s never made any bones about that. Which is more than you can say for A Rod, who is now claiming that he’s not sure if steroids provided him with a physical advantage or if it was just psychological.

A Rod’s act of contrition is making me sick. I understand that he has to see himself as a brand and take steps to protect his image but he’s laying the BS on really thick. He’s tried to blend a heartfelt apology with a litany of excuses. He was young and na├»ve. He felt a lot of pressure to live up to his massive contract. He never went to college. His nameless cousin injected him with an over-the-counter substance purchased in the Dominican Republic.

When asked what steroids did for his game he answered that he felt that steroids “like anything else” are 50% mental. Then he said that if you drink water believing it will make you better you will perform at a higher level. Perhaps he didn’t compare steroids to water, but why did he even go there? It’s like he’s trying to make sure his confirmed steroid period doesn’t get subtracted from his legacy when it comes time to tally up the final numbers.

Jose Canseco never hemmed or hawed about what he did. If you ask him he will tell you exactly what he took, provide the dosage and outline his regimen. Canseco has never tried to dismiss the impact steroids had on his performance. He’s said all along that they made everything come easier. Steroids cut his workout time in half, helped him recover from injuries faster and allowed him to play longer.

Moreover, Jose Canseco doesn’t claim that he was misled by anybody or blame his youth for his mistakes. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Canseco call taking steroids a mistake. It seems as though he went into the world of steroids with eyes wide open. He doesn’t blame his steroid use on ambitious trainers, mysterious cousins or teammates with vials of tainted B-12. Jose Canseco is far from being a role model, but what athlete really is. These guys are human beings who get paid a lot of money to be really good at playing a game—not to be team players—not to be role models, but to perform at a high level as individual athletes. It’s important to keep your expectations reasonable.

These guys know that steroids are illegal and regardless of whether or not their league specifically outlined a policy prohibiting the use of steroids they know that steroids are tantamount to cheating. I knew that when I was 17. Professional athletes take steroids because they want to have an edge. That’s the one thing that all great athletes have in common. Steroids provide a significant advantage and when you minimize the risk of getting caught it’s a temptation few are going to pass up.

Do you think it’s magic when a QB manages to cut his recovery time in half coming off of major surgery? Were you really under the impression a 40 year-old pitcher could still bring 100 mph heat in September? Had you been holding out hope that Alex Rodriguez was actually from the planet Krypton?

Maybe A Rod thinks he can get away with his sob story because the fans and the media have proven themselves willing to accept this nonsense for so long. College football fans will marvel at a linebacker’s work ethic when he packs on 50 pounds of solid muscle over three years and not for one second consider the possibility that it wasn’t real. When you ask reporters and columnists why they don’t pose the steroid question more often they’ll tell you that it’s not fair to assume that everybody is on steroids.

But everybody isn’t falling under suspicion, only people who do freakish things. It’s a logical question and anybody who has hit the weights or the track in hopes of being a better athlete can tell you that some of these guys make it look too easy. The reason the average jock doesn’t spend 9 hours a day in the gym is because the human body isn’t built to endure that kind of regimen unless you’re providing it with unnatural levels of testosterone and growth hormone.

People don’t want to accept that. During Mark McGwire’s magical pursuit of the single season home run record there were people who pondered the physical transformation of Big Mac. He was a bulging beast of a man who, at an age when a lot of players see their skills diminish, was performing at the highest level of his career. Nobody wanted to talk about it. They wanted to enjoy history.

Well that history is ruined. Everything that has happened in baseball since the middle of the 80s is under suspicion…including Cal Ripken’s streak. Yeah, I said it. Cal was part of a tainted era and it’s not hard to believe that a guy obsessed with playing more than 2000 consecutive games wouldn’t be tempted to improve his recovery time between starts. It’s not like Cal was a young man when he broke Gehrig’s record and as far as we know Cal never passed a steroid test. More importantly, Cal played with guys who took steroids. Even if he didn’t take them he failed to take stand against them. That makes him, at the very least, an accessory.

Canseco’s hands aren’t clean. He was more than happy to pass his knowledge along to other players. They’d go to him for advice on what to take, where to get it and how to take it. Of course blaming Canseco for the problem is unfair; it’s all the players, coaches, general managers, owners, league officials, commissioners, fans, and reporters who looked the other way who made steroids the rule rather than the exception. Steroids were accepted by the people who mattered. Everybody’s guilty.

What sets Jose Canseco apart is his candor. You can say that he’s doing it for attention or money or to elevate his legacy by degrading the rest of baseball’s. I won’t argue that. But regardless of his motives it would appear that he’s being honest. That’s more than I can say for anybody else. So, Jose Canseco, you’re my hero.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Stealers win....we all lose.

Nice Timing

I thought we might have reached the “nobody cares” threshold regarding Michael Phelps but recently the Olympic….err, umm, athlete who won something at the recent games in…uhh…that one country issued an apology for getting caught on film taking a bong hit.

Man, with his lung capacity you’d better hope he brought his own.

Look folks, Phelps is 23 and he’s spent a significant portion of his childhood competing at an Olympic level which means he hasn’t had a childhood. If you think Lindsay Lohan has had it rough, check out the schedule of a world class amateur athlete sometime. He’s allegedly a world record holder and he can get across open water faster than Jesus Christ so let’s cut him a little slack and let him chill. He deserves a break and a family-sized bag of Goldfish snack crackers. Unless this was all a publicity stunt on his part to get a little ink right before the Super Bowl…you know, kind of like Santonio Holmes telling the whole world he used to sell drugs. Sorry, but if Santonio wanted to be a humanitarian he would have made that revelation upon starting up an outreach program.

Super Sunday

I watched the Super Bowl in spite of a full two weeks of idle threats not to. Yes, it's because I'm bitter and jealous because the Cleveland Browns are a joke, but let's be honest Steeler Nation: most of you weren't old enough to remember when the Steelers won two thirds of their titles. I know this because of been to Pittsburgh and can attest to the fact that the average life expectancy there is 40. Seriously, if you see somebody who looks 60 it means that they're getting ready to graduate from trade school. Ok, enough Pittsbugh bashing. They've got a great organization because they have owners who aren't stupid. DO YOU HEAR ME RANDY LERNER????

I did manage to avoid too much of the hype by watching a reruns of House but I forgot that the FCC requires at least 40 full minutes of verbal masturbation before every deciding championship game and I caught part of Faith Twain singing the official national anthem of WalMart shoppers and conservative Christians who burn books during the work week. God Bless America? Please, has anybody noticed how our “anthems” are simply reworded versions of English songs? I guess it was good in the sense that it reminded me why I hate country music. You know it’s bad if it can make the beauty pageant rejects they sign to Nashville record contracts seem unattractive. I used the remaining 3 minutes to round up some snacks.

Unfortunately I returned in time to be subjected to a really lousy arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner which was screamed at me by a chunky Jennifer Hudson. It opened like a Disney movie and turned into a Tim Burton joint. J-Hud, as the homies like to call her, seems to be on the Aretha Franklin diet program. Yeah, go ahead and call her curvy but when they have to reserve two seats for her at next year’s American Music Awards I’ll be sure to tell you I told you so. The girl can sing, but she didn’t do it on Super Bowl Sunday. I think she ate some of my guacamole instead. Right through the TV. That’s how bad she sucked.

The game proved to be pretty good although the officials seemed to have it in for the Cardinals all night long. They avoided ringing Pittsburgh up with penalties until the Steelers started snatching purses from women in the stands late in the game. The Cardinals managed to make a game of it in spite of tallying up more yards in penalties than the Cincinnati Bengals amassed all year. Still, you wonder if Deshea Townshend gets nailed for holding when he grabbed and dragged Kurt Warner out of bounds on Harrison’s 100 yard interception return for a TD, would the game have been the same?

Probably, especially considering that the Cardinals didn’t seem interested in playing unless they were behind. Once the Cardinals picked up the lead they quit and that’s why the Steelers marched right down the field and scored the winning TD with half a minute to play. I didn’t like a few of the calls that went Pittsburgh’s way but after everything was said and done the Cardinals laid an egg. Witty, no?

Then Ken Whiz-in-hut, the first Native American coach to advance to the Super Bowl, topped the whole thing off with the dumbest quote ever: we scored too quickly.

This is a popular thing for coaches to say when they battle back to take the lead only to have their opponent march right back and win in the final seconds. It’s like an excuse but it’s stupid because THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SCORING TOO QUICKLY!!! That’s true during the regular season, it’s true on prom night and it’s definitely true in the Super Bowl. You score when you can. Too quickly, indeed.

Yeah, stupid Larry Fitzgerald had to go and ruin the whole game by scoring from 64 yards out because as we all know the NFL doesn’t allow a team to play defense if they are ahead with less then five minutes left. Shut up Ken. You play to win the game and you win the game by scoring more points than your opponent. If you try to get cute and burn up the clock you just might burn up your chances to win…especially against a defense like Pittsburgh’s. Tell it like it is: you thought the game was in the bag and you stopped playing to win. That's what happened. Idiot. That's why the Cardinals were 9-7...the coach doesn't know how to put things away.

You lost because whatever you were doing on defense to shut the Steelers down all game long either stopped working and you failed to adjust, or you stopped doing it and let the Steelers win. Either way that loss is 100% on the coaching staff and the handful of defensive players who decided that Santonio Holmes had cooties. The guy’s a good athlete but the Cardinals made him look like Barry Sanders out there. It’s too bad because right up until that final drive the Cardinals’ defense was outstanding. But the game is 60 minutes long...unless you're at home, where it lasts forever. I guess in the span of the four hours and change from opening kick to final gun it's easy to lose track of two or three minutes of game time. I managed to lose at least a third of a bag of corn chips in the cushion of my couch...unless Hudson got them.

In spite of it all the game was the most entertaining part of the whole affair…unless you count the one hour episode of The Office that followed. The commercials were dull, probably because all of the companies with a sense of humor are out of business right now, and the halftime show was tired and old, much like that wrinkled old guy who was screaming into the microphone the whole time.

(As an aside, why is Danica Patrick still doing Go Daddy commercials? She's not nearly as attractive as we once thought and she's a mediocre race car driver. At least Anna Kournikova made up for her lack of skill be being legitimately hot and Maria Sharipova is both hot and talented. Mostly hot, which is the most important thing if you're doing commercials. The only attraction to Danica Patrick is that she's surly, but so far it's all bark and no bite. Until she throws down I really don't need to see her. )

Of course the worst performance on the microphone had to be Al Michaels. There was a time when he was one of the best broadcasters in the business but for some reason he was tough to take last night. He seemed too excitable and kept repeating the same 2 big words he memorized before the game. I don't think that word means what you think it means. Maybe John Madden ate his thesaurus before the game.

I’m not saying Michaels is stupid, but everything seemed forced last night. Ben Roethlisberger, on the other hand, seems stupid. Every time I hear that guy talk he sounds a little dumber. He might be a heck of a football player but when he talks I think my brain starts to smooth over. Maybe it’s Pittsburgh. It seems to me just about everybody who has ever played the QB position in Pittsburgh ends up sounding like a rube.

The good news is that he’ll have a future after he retires because the “analysts” the networks to hire don’t seem to exude much in the way of brain power. Fox has already turned the pre and post game shows into frat parties for old guys who hawk Levitra in their spare time and CBS isn’t upping the ante with their lineup.