Was it Roger Clemens, the formerly surefire Hall of Fame pitcher? Not exactly. Was it Andy Pettitte, his goody-two-shoes buddy and longtime teammate? Nah. Star shortstop Miguel Tejada then? Uh-uh. And you can cross that surly poster child Barry Bonds off the list for a change, too.
The media's convenient scourge of the Mitchell report, which named about 90 current and former baseball players as steroids abusers, was none other than Jose Canseco. His sin was emerging as a seer and the voice of reason in the crisis, while fans should ask why much of the sports media were asleep at the switch and failed to uncover the wrongdoing.
I suspect that plenty of sports reporters view Canseco as the enemy, even more so than some of the accused players. Why? Simple. They are angry because Canseco scooped them in baseball's biggest scandal ever -- yes, it's weightier than the dark time when eight Chicago White Sox players took money from gamblers and conspired to throw the World Series in 1919, forever becoming immortalized as the Black Sox.
Bryan Curtis, writing in Slate in 2005, reviewed Canseco's book "Juiced" by saying it "was meant as a confessional. It reads more like a huckster selling long-life elixir at a rural county fair."
While that's a nifty literary line, it goes a long way toward underscoring the media's distaste for Canseco and its apparent discomfort that he beat them to the huge story.
Naturally, many reporters have done solid, dogged detective work for years on the story. "Game of Shadows," a book by written Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, was a media sensation for revealing Barry Bonds' indiscretions with steroids. Among others, T.J. Quinn also deserves high marks for his reporting.
Telling the truth
This wouldn't be the first time that a baseball player was scorned by sportswriters for telling the truth and hurling a big exclusive in their faces. In 1970, the landmark "Ball Four" was published and set a standard for the genre of sports books.
It was the hilarious and stinging tale of how many baseball players depended on "greenies" -- the dugout nickname for uppers -- to help them stay sharp, especially when they had nagging injuries or hangovers.
Author Jim Bouton, a once-promising Yankee pitcher in the early 1960s whose career went south after injuries, was castigated by sportswriters for writing it. (One went so far as to call him a social leper). But Bouton, too, told the truth and blew the lid off a scandal that made the leaders of the national pastime squirm a bit.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not about to cast an 11th-hour vote for Canseco to be named Time's Person of the Year. Sure, he has acted like a jerk as a celebrity. He's no angel.
Heck, you'd have a hard time painting him as a hero in all of this. Canseco abused steroids, too, of course. He squandered a remarkable talent for playing baseball. If his run-of-the-mill statistics can't get him accepted into Cooperstown, I can think of another Hall of Fame that would welcome him: the Egomaniacs Hall of Fame. On a first-round ballot.
When Canseco hit 40 home runs and stole 40 bases in the same season -- a remarkable accomplishment -- early in his career, a skeptical sportswriter remarked that someone from an earlier era, such as Mickey Mantle, could've accomplished the same feat if he had really tried. Canseco's response was along the lines of "Bleep him -- I did it."
If my memory serves me well, Sports Illustrated once brilliantly needled Canseco's massive ego in a profile, published around his prime in 1990, by beginning every paragraph with the words "Jose Canseco."
Shrill, but right
The conventional wisdom says that the steroids fiasco is to sports as Watergate was to politics, a permanent embarrassmen and cause for anguish and debate for centuries to come. If you accepted that line of reasoning, I'd go one better: I'll suggest that Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon White House attorney general John Mitchell, is to Watergate as Canseco is to the steroids saga.
The shrill Mitchell was portrayed as something of a crackpot by the media in the 1970s as she darkly warned of wrongdoing by all the president's men. But Mitchell's ominous, the-sky-is-falling tone was absolutely vindicated as the sordid story unwound. So much so, as a matter of fact, that Martha Mitchell's story will be hailed in an upcoming movie called "Dirty Tricks." In the ultimate form of Hollywood redemption, Meryl Streep will portray Mitchell.
Similarly, the nettlesome Canseco was originally ridiculed when he claimed that a lot of star baseball players were cheaters.
That is what's wrong with sportswriters. Well, along with their uses of bad puns, penchant for taking themselves and their beat way too seriously and inability to dig deep and avoid looking like little boys and girls who stand in awe of their hero subjects.
Sportswriters' first instinct in this case was to blame Canseco because he looked like an easy target -- an unpopular, preening, publicity-seeking has-been lurking on the far down side of a career, which once had "Hall of Fame" written all over it.
I wonder who will get to play Canseco's part when HBO, in what seems like an irresistible idea, gets around to putting the steroids saga on the small screen? If the sportswriters had their way, they'd vote for Carrot Top.
I can't wait to read the sports media's reviews of that flick.
MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: Did Jose Canseco scoop sportswriters to the rich steroids exclusive -- and, if so, do you think the media should be embarrassed that a fading jock scooped them?
WEDNESDAY PET PEEVE: Boston University professor Chris Daly is making quite a name for himself, saying that young reporters may not be as qualified to cover the presidential race as some journos who are older and presumably wiser(!). Unfortunately for Daly's reputation, the name Daly is getting is dumbbell. He seems clueless, even though he spends time around smart young people all the time in his work. I think it would be instructive to let young reporters loose on the campaign trail -- and minorities and foreign-born writers and anyone else who doesn't represent the mainstream media. The more the merrier, and let's try to get as many voices as possible into the political-reporting process.
THE READERS RESPOND to my column urging the media to stop accommodating lunatic killers, like the loser in an Omaha shopping mall recently, who kill people because they want to be famous:
"Mr. Friedman: You are one of the few in the media discussing the obvious motive of most mass shootings. Thank you for that." Jim Otto
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By Jon Friedman