I know what you’re thinking. “Not another book about steroids and Major League Baseball…I’m sick of the whole topic”. Well, I ask you to give this particular book a chance. I first heard about Juicing the Game while listening to the author, Howard Bryant, being interviewed on WGN radio as part of his book tour. I turned it on in the middle of the interview, and Bryant was basically retelling some of the anecdotes from the book. The truth is, the stories he told were so good, I wrote down the title at the end of the interview, and went out and purchased it the next day. My only fear was that Bryant had perhaps used all the best material on the radio show, leaving me to read nothing but filler. Turns out, my fears were baseless. To say Bryant’s book is about steroid use sells “Juicing” short. Bryant does not just give us the standard nuts and bolts about steroids and home runs. Instead, Bryant shows the reader how baseball culture changed to the point that the home run became so important that players, owners and press were willing to overlook baseball’s steroid problem as long as everybody was making money. In doing so, Bryant has written what may one day be considered the definitive history of baseball from 1992 to the present. Luckily for the author, baseball has provided him a compelling cast of characters, including: Fay Vincent, Bud Selig, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Cal Ripken, Donald Fehr, and George Steinbrenner. And while most people have fairly strong preconceived notions about what these men are like, Bryant does a good job of trying to show us the full picture of each one. Thus you may come away thinking that Fay Vincent is not quite the martyr he claims to be, that Giambi is more than just a cheating scumbag, that Steinbrenner’s distaste for the small market owners is not totally unfounded. I also found Bryant’s portrayal of Barry Bonds to be extremely even handed, although it didn’t do much to change my opinion of him.
The main drawback to “Juicing” is that it covers so much ground that it’s bound to run across some subject that doesn’t interest a particular reader. However, I found there was more than enough there to entertain me, and that many of the side stories were as interesting as the main narrative. Included among these were Sandy Alderson’s crushing of the umpires union, the full story of the Questec system and a look inside the contentious relationship between the big and small market ownerships in baseball. The only other downside I can think of is that people who saw me carrying “Juicing the Game” around would incredulously ask me “you’re reading Jose Canseco’s book?“.
In conclusion, if you’ve got any interest in baseball history, and what goes on behind the scenes with players and ownership, I cannot recommend this book more highly. It will definitely change the way you think about the game.