SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Just a couple of weeks ago, Alex Rodriguez was engaged in some idle chatter in the Yankees' dugout, laughing a little as he returned a bat and helmet to their racks.
He said his offseason had been interesting enough, too interesting maybe, but, you know, the usual in his teeming orbit.
Told that he was due for some quiet now that he probably had negotiated the last baseball contract of his life, that it could be about baseball again, A-Rod smiled wistfully and said, "I doubt it."
So, on cue, along comes Jose Canseco.
That Canseco belongs in the Hall of Fame, not as a player but for his contributions to the game, is not an entirely unreasonable opinion. The former AL MVP hit 462 home runs, stole 200 bases and was for a time the most ferocious hitter in the game.
But his gift to baseball has been his candor – self-indulgent, money-grubbing, ego-driven and spiteful candor, but candor nevertheless.
The Canseco Report, which didn't cost the owners a dime, predated the Mitchell Report (which went for about $20 million) by three years and gave us, among others, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi and Juan Gonzalez.
Soon, in his latest book, "Vindicated," which might have been subtitled, "How I, Jose Canseco, Can Possibly Live with Myself," we'll get Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez and, wouldn't you know, Mike freakin' Wallace, among, presumably, others.
I'd say the only thing that has ballooned on Mike Wallace is his tan. But, I'm no Gary Wadler, either.
In the meantime, we assume again the impossible position of gauging Canseco's credibility.
To replay: He is, admittedly, half-man, half-syringe. He is all anti-hero. He is annoyed baseball dumped him and his act seven years ago. If he could find a big enough gas can, he might torch the whole place.
Reportedly, he attempted to bribe Ordonez into financing a movie in exchange for better treatment in the new book. And he apparently has seen more big-league rear ends than the visitors' bench at Fenway Park.
He also has been right, a lot, and too often to be little more than a vindictive jerk swinging wildly at baseball icons. For all the clunking around, he has not been sued. Nobody is this lucky.
Then again, Canseco has been dropping hints about his former pal A-Rod for a while now, long enough to wonder why A-Rod wasn't Chapter 1 in "Juiced." Maybe it stung Canseco when Rodriguez blew past 500 home runs last summer. Maybe there simply couldn't be a second book – or a second payday – without bigger names and bigger reputations. At least one publisher and one writer found the newsworthiness and/or credibility factors of Canseco's redirect to be beneath their standards, yet we still discover Canseco believed A-Rod to be "jonesing" for his wife.
In Tampa, Rodriguez told reporters Canseco wasn't telling the truth, or at least he had no reaction to the book, which maybe isn't the same thing, but Rodriguez has denied these things in the past.
"I dealt with it last spring and the year before that and the year before that," he told them.
He added hard-bound accusations carried the same emotional weight as the rest: "Zero. No effect."
No more, presumably, than having all of New York on his butt (which, apparently, is one of the few Canseco has not seen).
What we know is Rodriguez was not in the Mitchell Report. Granted, neither were, perhaps, hundreds of others. He also was not a target of any aspect of the Mitchell investigation, according to sources. He was not interviewed by Mitchell's people, and in a sign his name never arose even peripherally, he was not advised by the union to hire legal counsel.
Statistically, he hit 36 home runs as a 20-year-old and 54 as a 31-year-old, with little variance in between. Structurally, he has grown bigger and stronger, but well short of freakishly so. Emotionally, he never has whipped a stray bat head at Mike Piazza.
Anecdotally, the whispers that chased the likes of Clemens, McGwire, Palmeiro and, apparently, Barry Bonds from the game have let Rodriguez be.
With the steroids era having grown tired of the same old names, even the fresh ones from the Mitchell Report, it yearns now for a fresh reputation. A-Rod's. He is the heir apparent to the home run crown, the most recognizable figure in the game, Bud Selig's only hope to restore something like integrity to sports' sacred record.
Only a fool would hazard a hard guess either way. Not when the pages of this sordid era hold equally as many Paul Byrds as Barry Bondses, 50 Jason Grimsleys for every Roger Clemens. Only a fool would stand out in front of any of this and choose Rodriguez's honor over Canseco's story.
So, here goes:
I'm with A-Rod.