Letter to the Editor
The New York Times
Published: December 19, 2007
Whatever else its eventual impact, the Mitchell report last week immediately recasts the importance of the small library of books documenting — and in some cases, shaping — baseball’s steroid era.
In fact, given its timing and high profile, the report could well go down as almost the Rosetta stone of steroid literature, giving the general reader a key to unlocking a world of secrets previously off limits to most and to seeing in full Technicolor what had for many been restricted to black and white.
To take but one example, Roger Clemens has been added to the ranks of those linked to steroid use — despite his most recent denial Tuesday. This is hardly a surprise to those of us who have worked the steroid beat over the years.
In fact, as the ghostwriter for Jose Canseco’s tell-all memoir “Juiced,” I can now reveal that serious thought was given to including Canseco’s recollections of golf course conversations with Clemens about steroids. At the time, we decided to focus on players Canseco injected — since those revelations would carry the maximum impact.
But as with the Mitchell report, “Juiced” was always clear that it was naming only a small subset of the huge group of ballplayers who had turned into juicers. Even now, with so much evidence in, it seems incredible that so many could still be in denial about Clemens and many others.
Careful study of the books on steroids in baseball can disabuse anyone of the impulse to hew to conventional wisdom. The consensus seems to be that up until now the three most visible — and influential — books on the steroid era have been “Game of Shadows,” Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams’s distillation of their Balco reporting for The San Francisco Chronicle; “Juicing the Game,” Howard Bryant’s exhaustively reported walk-through of the era; and “Juiced.”
Each had its limitations read alone. The Balco book, for all its authoritative evidence, was only partly about baseball and, relying on leaked grand jury testimony, never presented the athletes’ juicing decisions in the wider context of their sports or their lives. The Bryant book, probably the smartest of the lot, was faultlessly careful in its conclusions and would benefit from an updated edition, given all that continues to unfold.
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images, 1990
Jose Canseco, right, accuses Mark McGwire of using steroids while they were members of the A's.
As for “Juiced,” it is true, as some critics charged upon its publication in early 2005, that it displays remarkably little interest in the game. Since Canseco confirmed in 2005 that I was the ghostwriter, I don’t mind revealing that Canseco had precious little patience in discussing baseball. Even the details of towering homers he had hit flat-out bored him.
Above all, the Mitchell report targets denial and ought to leave more than a few people embarrassed at having dismissed the evidence of widespread juicing.
The report even gives us a new exemplar for unbridled hypocrisy: the former Yankee strength and conditioning coach Brian McNamee, whose 2000 piece for The New York Times denied steroid use in baseball even as he was injecting Clemens with steroids that same season, according to the Mitchell report.
As a young beat reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle starting in 1994, I had been on friendly terms with Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics. I remember being startled the first time I talked to him at any length. He wheeled around from his locker with a smile and encouraged me to try MET-Rx, which he said would help me put on muscle, adding, “I don’t know if you work out, but ...”
A couple of years later, I was covering the team when Jason Giambi became buddies with McGwire and almost swelled before our eyes. But like most baseball writers, I never found a way to get a word into print alerting the general fan to what was taking place behind the scenes.
It felt like too little too late in 2000 when I submitted a piece to The Times, which it published in Aug. 20, 2000, headlined, “Baseball Must Come Clean on Its Darkest Secret.”
“It won’t be easy, but baseball has to find a way to crack down on steroids, which more and more big leaguers appear to be using every year and which could threaten to turn the game into a freak show,” the article began, continuing with the assertion that, “Mark McGwire has used steroids. This is now clear to any person who looks at the facts about androstenedione, the testosterone-booster McGwire was taking two seasons ago when he broke Roger Maris’s single-season home run record. It’s a steroid. That’s what most scientists say — and what the government will most likely say sometime soon.”
The most fascinating reply was the article-length response published in The Times six weeks later, by McNamee, headlined, “Don’t Be So Quick to Prejudge All That Power.”
“Kettmann alleges steroid use,” McNamee wrote. “He marks today’s players as cheaters, and not the role models we want them to be. I beg to differ. Players today are so much smarter when it comes to their bodies: how they work them, and what they put in them.
“Kettmann’s article insults the players, the teams’ medical staffs and the teams’ organizations.”
It was jarring, then, to read in the Mitchell report that: “According to McNamee, during the middle of the 2000 season Clemens made it clear that he was ready to use steroids again. During the latter part of the regular season, McNamee injected Clemens in the buttocks four to six times.”
John Hoberman, a University of Texas expert on steroids who was cited at length in “Juicing the Game,” mentioned that 2000 Times article in his book, “Testosterone Dreams,” and now describes the McNamee rejoinder as “rank hypocrisy.”
“It is one more sign of the pervasive dishonesty that pervades doping subcultures,” Hoberman said this week in an e-mail message.
The Mitchell report adds to the case that Canseco was a unique figure in introducing other players to steroids — and that his assertions in “Juiced” were on target.
Looking back on how this story has unfolded over the last 10 years, it becomes clear how easy it is for those with a vested interest in obfuscation to cast doubt on the credibility of just about anyone.