(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 5)

José Canseco played professional baseball for seventeen years and during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was among the game’s most popular and controversial players. Canseco demonstrated a rare combination of speed and power; he was the first player in Major League Baseball to hit forty home runs and steal forty bases in the same year. Throughout his career he won many awards, set a few records, and made a lot of money. A fitness enthusiast and weightlifter, Canseco helped set improved standards of physical fitness in baseball. Before he broke into the major leagues, teams discouraged players from lifting weights during the season, fearing they would become muscle-bound and lose flexibility. Following Canseco’s lead, baseball players became stronger, faster, and more powerful. Off the field, Canseco was controversial as well, partly for his brushes with the law in California and Florida and partly for a brief relationship with pop singer Madonna.

Out of baseball, Canseco has demonstrated a talent for remaining controversial with the publication of his tell-all book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ’Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big. In this work, Canseco claims that almost every successful baseball player since 1990 has used steroids, and not just the mediocre players willing to try anything to remain in the big leagues. The superstars were using steroids, breaking records on the baseball diamond, and reaping multimillion-dollar contracts in return. Canseco names names.

According to Canseco, Mark McGwire, his former teammate on the Oakland Athletics franchise, used steroids; so did Barry Bonds, a baseball superstar on the San Francisco Giants franchise. So did Sammy Sosa, a star player for the Chicago Cubs; so did many other stars. “The challenge is not to find a top player who has used steroids.” Canseco claims, “The challenge is to find a top player who hasn’t.”

A “juicer,” as Canseco explains, is a person who uses steroids; to be juiced is to be developed by steroids. In this way, the title of the book refers not only to Canseco but also to baseball as a sport. Just as many baseball players benefited from using steroids, Canseco claims, franchise owners benefited because more athletic players exhibited a more exciting brand of baseball, which lead directly to more fans in the stands, more media coverage, and more television and advertising revenue.

Predictably, sportswriters who reviewed advanced copies of this book howled in protest. None of the other professional sports leagues is as obsessed with its own history as is Major League Baseball. A hard-core baseball fan cherishes the singular history of his or her favorite team, if not the league as a whole. To such fans, Canseco’s brash claims seem to taint the record-breaking achievements of modern superstars. Many reviewers considered Canseco’s book mean-spirited because it seems to call into question the achievements of other athletes, including Canseco’s teammate McGwire.

The national sports media and other book reviewers, however, seem to have missed the point. Juiced is not primarily a book about baseball; it is not simply about Canseco’s love for the sport that made him famous and wealthy. It is about Canseco’s love for steroids, about his claim that they enabled him to compete at the highest levels for far longer than anyone could have expected. Juiced is offered as proof of his claim that combinations of steroids and human growth hormone can turn almost anyone into superman or superwoman. Considered in that light, there is no reason for Canseco not to offer McGwire, Bonds, Sosa, and other athletes as evidence for his claim.

Juiced begins with an account of Canseco’s childhood in Cuba and Miami. The early chapters are dominated by José Canseco, Sr., a Cuban patriarch who demands excellence...

(The entire section is 1595 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 5)

Newsweek 145, no. 9 (February 28, 2005): 57.

People 63, no. 9 (March 7, 2005): 54.

Reason 37, no. 2 (June, 2005): 55-58.