In many ways, Jose Canseco is the poster boy for one of baseball’s darkest eras. Along with Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, Canseco is synonymous with cheating and sold out many of his former friends and teammates in his 2005 book Juiced. While he should probably apologize, as he did this weekend, to his former teammates for betraying their trust for the sake of a book advance, he should not apologize for playing the role that he did in helping clean up the game.
In 2005, Canseco had the audacity to do what no one else did – name names. He didn’t do it for the good of baseball or because he had a disdain for the role steroids played in perverting the game, he did it for his bank account and ego.
Sometimes, though, it takes a villain to undo the wrongs that so-called heroes are unable or unwilling to undo.
It was only after Canseco’s book was published in 2005 that baseball adopted its new drug policy in 2006. Canseco certainly didn’t shine a light on baseball’s steroid problem, it was already well-known that some of the game’s biggest stars cheated. He did, however, cause a mass fervor over the caliber of names he accused of taking steroids.
It was only after Juiced was published that we saw the likes of Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa appear in front of congress after the entire country grew outraged over the bastardization of our national pastime.
In many ways, Jose Canseco, one of baseball’s biggest cheaters, served as the catalyst that helped create the mostly-clean game and anti-steroid attitude that we see the in the MLB today. Even more so than Bud Selig, who gets much of the credit for “cleaning up the game,” yet pushed the steroid issue aside for years.
Canseco was the domino that started the chain. Without Canseco, there might not be an Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez year-long ban. There might not be a way to strictly punish and shame cheaters like Ryan Braun or Nelson Cruz. Without Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro may very well be in the Hall of Fame.
Consider the pre-Juiced MLB to the product we see today.
In 2005, five teams had 200 or more home runs and nine teams had more than 188 homers. Last season, only the Orioles had more than 188 home runs.
In 2005, nine players had 40 or more home runs and 27 players had 30 or more. Last year, just two players hit more than 36 and only 14 hit more than 30.
In 2005, only 11 teams had ERAs under 4.00. Last year, 22 teams had ERAs of 4.00 or under.
With one poorly-thought-out book, Jose Canseco, one of the biggest cheaters sports has ever seen, helped clean up a game desperately in need of it. With one tell-all, Canseco pushed the outrage to a new extreme, an extreme that helped bring actual reform and new rules to target steroid users. With one attempt to get back at baseball, Canseco helped usher in a new, better era in the sport.