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Published: Sunday, 2/13/2005

Canseco puts steroid talk on front burner

Jason Giambi is guilty. Mark McGwire is guilty.

Juan Gonzalez is guilty. Ivan Rodriguez is guilty. Rafael Palmeiro is guilty.

Barry Bonds is guilty.

Jose Canseco is most guilty of all.

Guilty by association. Guilty by reputation. Guilty by circumstance. Guilty by deed.

The BALCO drug case in San Francisco enlightened baseball fans to the extent and depth of steroid use in baseball. But it wasn't until excerpts from Canseco's upcoming book were released to media outlets that people across the country began to understand that steroid use isn't an aberration.

Canseco's reputation as a disgruntled former player, who in his mind never received proper respect from coaches, fans and media despite falling just short of 500 career home runs, won't improve if he sticks to his story. But his royalties should.

And if Canseco doesn't stick to his story?

Can you say, "multiple lawsuits?"

Canseco not only admits to using steroids to enhance his baseball performance in his book and in a 60 Minutes interview with Mike Wallace airing tonight on CBS, he also drags a host of former teammates into the gutter with him.

None of this should shock those of us who have marveled and wondered about the physical transformation of Giambi, McGwire, Gonzalez, Canseco and Bonds.

They all developed into muscle-bound caricatures - narrow waists, broad shoulders and Popeye-like biceps - power hitters who turned into home-run machines.

Bonds ranks No. 3 with 703 career homers. McGwire ranks sixth (586), Palmeiro 10th (551), Canseco 26th (462) and Gonzalez 32nd (434).

Widespread steroid use among some of its elite players doesn't change my opinion of baseball. It remains a great game.

Besides, baseball players have always skirted the rules. Spit balls, vaseline, sandpaper and corked bats are as American as apple pie.

Pitcher Gaylord Perry, who doctored baseballs, is in the Hall of Fame. I don't hear anyone wanting to put an asterisk next to his numbers.

Baseball officials have already said they won't investigate accusations made in Canseco's tell-all book. Baseball's remedy to a potential steroids epidemic is to look the other way. If commissioner Bud Selig isn't concerned, why should we be?

I recall when Canseco, playing for Oakland in the American League Championship Series, became the first player to hit a home run into the fifth deck in the SkyDome.

At that instant, I didn't question whether Canseco's homer had been aided by his use of performance-enhancing drugs. That was before any public discussion of steroids. I just thought it was an unbelievable display of power.

Certainly, some fans will be turned off by the steroid scandal. I hate the fact that young baseball players may feel pressured to emulate their heroes by using steroids.

However, it's unlikely that a majority of fans will start hating baseball because some of the sport's biggest names may have needed a steroid fix to pad their numbers.

We've used every excuse in the book to avoid talking about steroids and baseball going together like peanut butter and jelly. We're finally out of excuses.

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