Jose's Other Message
by Glenn Dickey
Feb 25, 2005

IN HIS much-publicized book, “Juiced”, Jose Canseco accused the media of racism in covering the steroids issues. That’s extreme, but there often is a double standard in the way the issue has been covered.

And the one who has benefited most is Canseco’s former teammate and current antagonist, Mark McGwire.

There certainly have been white players who have been involved in steroids. Jason Giambi admitted it to a grand jury, Ken Caminiti admitted it after he was through playing, and steroids use may have contributed to his early death.

But the steroid discussion started in 1988 when the Cuban-born Canseco was rightfully accused of using steroids by Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell and it has centered on the black Barry Bonds for most of the last five years.

Meanwhile, McGwire has pretty much gotten a pass on this issue, even though a writer discovered that he was using a steroids-like substance, banned in other sports but not in baseball, as he was heading toward a record 70 home runs in 1998.

As one who has covered Canseco, McGwire and Bonds during the years they have played in the Bay Area, I can tell you that there has been a substantial difference in the way they were covered.

IN CANSECO’S early years with the A’s, he was regarded largely as an immensely talented player who succeeded because of his innate ability.

When I interviewed him for a magazine article after his 40-40 season, though, I learned that he was a real student of the game. It was no accident that he had improved his batting average from .240 as a rookie to .307 that year, or that he had improved his power numbers. He described how he kept a record of how pitchers got him out – or tried to – and worked to improve his hitting. He talked about the pitches he looked for in different counts and situations, and when he looked for pitches he could hit for home runs.

Later, Jose made it easy for people to dismiss him as stupid by doing some things that were, well, stupid. He quit his efforts to become an outstanding all-round player, concentrating on hitting home runs. He stopped working on his fielding and even got hit in the head by a fly ball one time.

Now, many question his credibility with his charges about players using steroids. My opinion: He’s reaching with some of his charges about players he doesn’t know, but I believe him when he says that McGwire took steroids while with the A’s.

BONDS HAS had an even rockier time with the media, both locally and nationally, than Canseco. The reason: Bonds has made it clear he doesn’t care what anybody writes or says, and that’s the ultimate insult to a writer or TV/radio personality.

There has been constant speculation in the media in the last five years about Bonds weight and strength gains, attributing that to steroids.Some writers even think that Bonds shouldn’t be in the baseball Hall of Fame when he’s eligible, saying that his home run records have resulted from steroid use.

But steroids are not a magic pill. They don’t give a hitter the bat speed that Bonds has, which enables him to wait until the last split-second before committing to his swing.

Steroids help players build muscle because they can work longer and show more results from weight training, but the player also has to have the commitment to do the work.

Bonds is totally committed. He has a rigorous off-season training program, which extends even to a very restrictive diet. But the news about Bonds is always about steroids, not about hard work.
You don’t read, either, about Bonds’ intensive mental preparation. For half an hour before the game, he sits at his locker, mentally imagining how the game will go, and especially how he will be pitched to – if he is.

He sits in on pitchers’ meetings, so he knows how to position himself in the outfield. In between innings, he’ll go into the batting cage behind the Giants dugout to hit against a pitching machine programmed to throw left-handed, because he knows opposing managers will have a left-handed reliever to face him in late innings.

BONDS CAN be difficult, especially for a reporter on a deadline, but McGwire is no day at the beach, either.

Early in his career, McGwire was the All-American boy, eager to please, but he turned sour quickly, perhaps as a result of the injuries that threatened to bring an early end to his career. He sniped at writers trying to interview him, he stiffed fans by staying home on “Fan Appreciation Day” one year with the A’s.

Though the A’s badly needed veteran leadership when the great players from the championship teams left, McGwire refused the role. He helped Giambi, who worshipped him, but that was it.

His personality didn’t improve with the St. Louis Cardinals. Early in his 70-homer year, he complained about being in a “zoo” because of the crowds watching him take batting practice. He relaxed only when Sammy Sosa shamed him by taking such obvious delight in being part of the record chase.

Writers have been quick to point out that Bonds’ record years came after his weight gains, supposedly steroid-induced, but McGwire’s weight also went up, from about 225 as a rookie to an estimated 275-280 in his record-setting year.

His home run totals also made a remarkable jump from 39 in 1995 to 52 the next year, 58 combined between Oakland and St. Louis in 1997, then 70 homers in ’98 and 65 the following year.

YET, THERE was little written about the correlation between McGwire’s weight gain and his home run totals, which is a constant for Bonds. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that there is a double standard, and it’s based on skin color.

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E-mail Glenn Dickey at glenndickey@hotmail.com

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