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Unabashed as Ever

Canseco is a long way from the majors -- the Valley Mets, to be exact -- but he'll still weigh in on Bonds and steroids

May 15, 2006|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

It's a gloomy Sunday morning, overcast and gray, a day made for sleeping in. But this is game day for the guys who scoff at softball, the doctors and lawyers and salesmen and teachers of the Los Angeles Men's Senior Baseball League.

They come to play on a junior college field, with clumps of green and patches of brown in the outfield, with a parking lot behind left field and trailers behind center field. The Valley Mets squeeze into the first base dugout, on three benches, with a chain-link fence for back support.

There are bleachers behind the Mets' dugout, five rows of weathered wooden seats with faded blue paint. Four fans watch the game, quietly, passing time until their friends and relatives are done playing. A dirt track surrounds the field, and joggers pass by now and again.

No one is selling hot dogs, or anything else. The scoreboard is turned off. There is no public-address announcer, not that the public would recognize these players.

Except for one, that is. As the cleanup hitter for the Valley Mets rises from the bench and shuffles into the batter's box, his manager grabs his video camera, and two players in the other dugout point their cellphone cameras toward home plate.

Yes, that is Jose Canseco, wearing his familiar No. 33. His days as a feared major league slugger are behind him, but not so far that he has any business swinging an aluminum bat. But this league plays with aluminum bats, so Canseco wags a 35-inch, 32-ounce model as he lets the first two pitches go by.

On the third pitch, he swings. The ball is gone in an instant, over the left-field fence and a second fence behind it, so far gone that one of the Mets runs out to measure how far the ball traveled by walking it off.

"About 480," Roger Clark says.

His teammates greet him at home plate. Canseco offers each one a forearm bash, the salute he and Mark McGwire popularized with the Oakland Athletics, so many home runs ago, so many years ago.

In the dugout, surrounded by the rest of the Valley Mets, Manager Gary Zelman's chuckle betrays the absurdity of it all.

"What a weapon," Zelman says. "It's like cheating."

*

Barry Bonds makes history with every home run he hits, but the thrill is gone. On opening day, fans in San Diego heckled Bonds unmercifully and taunted him with a variety of banners, including "Barry is a Cheater" and "Cheaters Never Prosper."

In the week preceding the opener, Commissioner Bud Selig authorized an investigation into steroid use in baseball, citing the "specificity of the charges" in the book "Game of Shadows." The book details alleged use of performance-enhancing substances by Bonds and other athletes.

Bonds has denied knowingly using steroids. In grand-jury testimony obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, he said substances identified by federal agents as steroids were described to him as flaxseed oil and arthritic balm. In the three years baseball has tested for steroids, Bonds has not tested positive.

"Do I believe he has used steroids?" Canseco said. "There's no doubt about it."

As his career ended -- and not by his choice -- Canseco reinvented himself as a whistle-blower. In a 2002 interview with Sports Illustrated, eight months after his final major league at-bat, Canseco estimated that 85% of major leaguers used steroids, a figure widely dismissed as ludicrous.

Last year, in his book "Juiced," he described his steroid use and fingered several ex-teammates, including his erstwhile "Bash Brother" McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. Denials followed, and with them accusations of Canseco skirting the truth to sell books.

As Congress pressured baseball to curb steroid use, the three men testified in Washington that spring. McGwire said, repeatedly, "I'm not here to talk about the past." Palmeiro declared, "I have never used steroids. Period."

McGwire had retired by then. Palmeiro failed a steroid test later that year. Canseco says he is working on a "no holds barred" movie adaptation of "Juiced."

So how much does Canseco believe his comments and his book account for Selig's decision to launch the investigation?

"Probably everything," Canseco said.

Canseco said he would be happy to speak with former Sen. George Mitchell, appointed by Selig to lead the investigation. However, Canseco said, he has not heard from Mitchell, or anyone else involved in the investigation.

"They can't talk to me," Canseco said. "I'm off limits. No one involved with Major League Baseball -- coaches, clubhouse kids, players, owners or managers -- can speak with me. It's an unwritten law they have."

Selig denied any such directive exists, unwritten or otherwise. He said Mitchell alone determines whom to speak to, and when.

"This will be a very comprehensive investigation," Selig said. "The senator is free to contact anybody and everybody connected with this issue."

Canseco predicted "nothing positive" would result from the investigation, noting that players have agreed to tighten baseball's steroid policy twice in the last two years.

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