Tuesday, December 6, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #93 Jose Canseco

Continuing the series of posts featuring my favorite top 100 ballplayers of all-time.

It all seems so logical now... Major League Baseball has a sudden muscle expansion and home-run explosion. The natural theories regarding the effect of age on prime performance no longer apply. Logic appears to be obliterated as it appears reaching and passing 35 isn't a burden to a ballplayer, and in some cases, it becomes a advantage. Time honored records start falling like raindrops in Seattle. And we all just stood and cheered because everything was perfect... except it was not.

It is hard to pin-point baseball's root juicer. I've seen an interesting theory pointing to Jeff Bagwell, although he was rumored, he never appeared in the Mitchell Report. Former Braves pitcher Tom House admits and describes he (and others) "used" as far back as the 1960s and 70s. Given the dramatic differences in body types from the typical ballplayer in the 60's and the newly engineered ballplayer of the 2000s, you can draw you own conclusions. I have found one of the best sources on this subject is the website BASEBALL'S STEROID ERA.

Looking at his career with the benefit of hindsight, there is no doubt Jose Canseco benefited greatly from his steroid use. I've heard him called a mediocre ballplayer transformed into an MVP by unregulated science and institutional ignorance. I can't argue against that. I know he juiced, along with a whole bunch of other players in his era. I also remember him creating the 40/40 club in 1988 and the laser shot home runs he delivered. Most vividly, I can still picture the towering fifth deck home run he hit off Mike Flanagan in the 1989 ALCS in Toronto. Real or fake... it was impressive.

In my eyes Jose Canseco has transformed his juicer legacy into something else, something positive. To me, he is the canary in coal mine for baseball's steroid era. Life for an actual canary in a coal mine can be described in three words "short but meaningful". Early coal mines did not have ventilation systems, so miners would routinely bring a caged canary down into new areas. Canaries are especially sensitive to methane and carbon monoxide, which made them ideal for detecting any dangerous gas build-ups. As long as the bird kept singing, the miners knew their air supply was safe. A dead canary signaled danger and the need for immediate evacuation.

When Jose Canseco wrote his 2005 book JUICED - the baseball world was appalled. The claims he made (example: 85% of ML players were users) and the names he named were considered preposterous. He was ridiculed, shunned, and cast out famously in front of a congressional hearing as a liar. The trouble was... Jose Canseco was right. He told the truth. He exposed the sham. One by one the players he identified were exposed: Rafael Palmiero, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and on and on and on.

Jose Canseco is not on my list because I wish to celebrate or honor him as a steroid user in baseball. Jose is on this list because eventually he had the courage to face the facts, tell the truth, endure the scorn and come out on the other side. The game is better today because of him.


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