Sunday, January 07, 2007

Biggest Influence in the Game

Jose Canseco. Bash brother.

The mere mention of the name leads even the non-fan (skipping the casual analogy altogether) with opinions dancing about in their head. From reality show appearances to rumors with a single named popstar, Canseco has never shied away from publicity. But, the biggest piece of publicity involved a little book he wrote, "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big."

Where would the game of baseball be without this book? The stone age as far as a comprehensive drug testing program? Probably. When this book was published, everyone immediately called him a liar and a cheat and promptly forgot about the book. Then the congressional hearing came about.

This was the forum that made Rafael Palmeiro a national joke and Mark McGwire a national hoax. "The game was tainted," yelled pundits from the rafters to any and all that would listen. Only grudgingly did they give credit to the man who gave the cry its initial credibility.

Did Canseco mean to start all of this? Or was he just looking to get his puss in the public eye again? (Speaking of which, has there ever been a more recognized baseball player than Jose Canseco since the Silver Age of Mickey Mantle? Only Derek Jeter in today's game would even come close.)

No matter his intentions, he got the game started on its path to a legitimate drug testing program with teeth, something needed since the days of Steve Howe. Just like McGwire helped to heal the game after labor difficulties, Canseco helped the game after the difficulties of the steroid issue, by exposing how rampant the abuse was.

Is Canseco a hall of famer without this addition? Probably not as my win share analysis put him closest to Andre Dawson and John Kruk. Still, he's close, as 30th all time in home runs and 61st all time in RBIs will attest. But, like Joe Torre, who is also very close, it is the other qualifications for the good of the sport (like managerial accomplishments or broadcasting skill) that make him a hall of famer.

Like him or not, as one of the most recognized ball players of the last 25 years, one of the most successful, and the one with the biggest impact on the future of the game, Jose Canseco belongs in the Hall of Fame.


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