The Most Influential Player of the Decade

by JimmyScott

It’s bandwagon time (or “bandwagen” if you’re German).  We’re at the end of not only the calendar year but the first decade of the 21st century.  Technically, the century began in 2001 and the first decade ends in 2010.  Look it up.  The lists you’re seeing now: Best of the Decade, Worst of the Decade, Most Mediocre of the Decade – these lists are really a year early.  But since the mass media runs much of our culture, we follow like chickens looking for heads.  If the bandwagon says our decade ends December 31, 2009, we’ll play by those rules.

With that in mind, it’s been an eventful past ten years.  Who would have thought coming into the decade that the Red Sox would win as many World Series titles as the Yankees?  Or that some of the game’s biggest heroes would be knocked off their pedastals for being human?  That baseball wives would make headlines, in some cases unexpectedly and inadvertantly?  Who would have thought on December 31, 1999 that the next ten years would throw names into the headlines previously reserved for pre-TMZ.com tabloids?  Meanwhile, we’ve had Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols and Pedro Martinez and a host of others provide hits, wins and fodder for an evolving media landscape that is changing even as you read this.

But who was the one person in the past decade who touched baseball, whose influence spanned beyond the diamond and reached into the clubhouse, the various executive offices of the game, both baseball and mainstream media, and into the consiousness of more than just baseball fans.  Who was the one person most responsible for creating change over the past 10 years?  You could argue it was George Mitchell, whose name adorns the cover page of MLB’s Mitchell Report, Major League Baseball’s attempt to investigate the full depth steroid and PED use had seeped into the game.  But Mitchell worked under the orders of Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball since 1992.  Selig has done his part to change the game, at times working in concert with Donald Fehr, now the outgoing executive director of the MLB Players Association.  But when it came to arguably the biggest scandal in baseball history, there was one man who was there in the scandal’s early days and who was there in the decade of the 2000s.  This man is directly and indirectly the most influential “player” of the past 10 years.  His name is Jose Canseco.

Jose Canseco only played 174 games in the decade of the oughts.  In 2000 and 2001, his last year in the game, he hit a combined 21 home runs and drove in 98 runs.  His on base percentage those two years averaged out to a strong .371.  But you can sense something was a little off when he played for 3 teams and only managed one plate appearance in the 2000 World Series for the champion New York Yankees.  By the fall of 2001, Canseco had become a baseball castoff.

For years, Canseco had been alleged to be a user of performance enhancing drugs.  As far back as 1988, fans had chanted “STEROIDS!” at him while he took his position in the outfield.  But you would bet even Canseco himself, the man who hit 462 career home runs, never would have thought that his influence on Major League Baseball would be most felt after his playing career had ended.

Tom Verducci wrote a famous article published by Sports Illustrated in June, 2002 titled Totally Juiced.  It was a damning and groundbreaking article for two reasons.  First, it confronted a topic in the mainstream that, until previously, had been largely denied by players, management and the mass media, the topic being the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in baseball.  Second, it started a new game of players guessing what the percentage was of their counterparts who used PEDs.  Ken Caminiti, who admitted to steroid use for the first time publicy in Verducci’s article, said the number was 50% (Caminiti would later be one of a number of high-profile MLB deaths in the 2000s).  Chad Curtis estimated 40-50% of MLB players used steroids in the same article.

But it is Canseco’s quote that showed 2002 was just the start of what was to come in the very near future.  Read this short excerpt from Verducci’s article:

“Upon retiring last month after failing to catch on with a major league team, Canseco, while not admitting steroid use himself, said that steroids have ‘revolutionized’ the game and that he would write a tell-all book blowing the lid off drug use in the majors. Canseco estimated that 85% of major leaguers use steroids.”

Three years later, Juiced came out (think his book title was any relation to Verducci’s SI article?).  It was Canseco’s promised tell-all book.  At first it was treated with derision.  As the years passed, people began to reluctantly consider it a true first-hand account.  The Mitchell Report, which came out in 2007 during the winter of our steroidal discontent, was filled with names of players and circumstances for their obtaining PEDs.  Canseco’s book was a major influence on the reason why MLB commissioner Bud Selig charged former senator George Mitchell to investigate how pervasive steroids were in the culture of baseball.  Canseco’s book also led to a culture change within the game that led the Players Association to twice open up the collective bargaining agreement with the owners and agree to harsher penalties for those who failed tests. 

Did the Association, Selig, Mitchell and others directly state Canseco was a reason for all of this?  No.  He’d been subtly – and not so subtly – labeled by the media as a buffoon.  Players thought he was a Benedict Arnold for ratting them out; worse than Jim Bouton in Ball Four.  Because his motives for writing the book were largely for revenge, attention and money, its revelations were received more as unsubstantiated gossip than facts as a result of real investigative reporting.  It took The Mitchell Report’s release for people to slowly give Canseco credit for telling the truth.

Canseco took on his original accusers, those who criticized Juiced, in 2008’s  Vindicated.  He also dropped another bomb.  He stated that he introduced Alex Rodriguez to a source to obtain steroids (and Magglio Ordonez as well).  Just like last time, the baseball world took on Canseco.  He was called a liar, a showboat; someone who would say and write anything to sell a book. 

One year later, A-Rod admitted it was true.  Of course, it was not because of Vindicated.  It was because of Selena Roberts and David Epstein, Sports Illustrated (again) writers whose sources leaked Alex Rodriguez was on a list of 104 MLB players who had tested positive for steroids back in 2003.  The story that most of the media seemed to forget was that Jose Canseco was, once again, vindicated.

Take a look at THIS CHART, which you can see on the website called Baseball’s Steroid Era.  Scroll to the bottom of the chart.  Whose name was there in the beginning?  That’s right.  It’s Jose Canseco.  Then scroll up to the 2005 era and see his name again, this time with links to other players.  The Canseco link ties him to the most and the biggest players named in The Steroid Era, from Mark McGwire to Roger Clemens to Alex Rodriguez.  His own use may have started in the 1980s, but his influence was most felt in the 2000s.

That is why Jose Canseco is the most influential player of the decade.

Jimmy Scott is probably the greatest pitcher you’ve never heard of.  Visit Jimmy Scott’s High & Tight to read more from Jimmy and guests Desi Relaford, Eric Valent & Real Baseball Wife Cassidy Dover.  You’ll also hear a new interview every Monday morning with former MLB players, agents, wives and others; giving new outlooks on this great game we call Baseball.  Go there now to hear Jimmy’s latest interviews with Rollie Fingers, Mike Vaccaro, Natalie Niekro and Lary Sorensen.  You can follow Jimmy on Twitter or Facebook.

24 Responses to “The Most Influential Player of the Decade”

  1. ThomasWayne Says:

    Notorious….maybe. But influential? No, if anything he would have been influential in the 1990’s when this was supposedly rampant like crazy for the entire decade. Half of this decade has been influenced by those supposedly trying to get clean of this era.
    And to think Canseco was my favorite player at the age of 16.
    I’ll be in confession (followed by depression) for the rest of the day now.
    TW

  2. Jerry Says:

    I don’t give Canseco any credit at all for telling the truth. He told the truth because there was money in it for him, once there was no more money in cheating himself. And he was the guy who introduced a lot of these guys to steroids in the first place.

  3. Raul Says:

    Jose Canseco opened his mouth about steroids because he was blacklisted. If he can make money by getting revenge, why the hell not?

    As for him not being influential, are you kidding me? Who else was a bigger driving force behind why we have drug testing in baseball now?

    Regarding Jerry’s comment:

    Anything worth doing, is worth doing for money. But if you can tell me how much Congress paid him for his testimony, that would be nice too. Because as far as I know, Congress paid him nothing, and he told the truth there too……which is more than you can say for some of the other scumbags on that panel.

  4. Brandon Says:

    As a person, I guess you could make that arguement. As a player, no way.

    I think it’s hard to pick who the most influential person is, because often we don’t realize a person’s influence until years down the road (like the president for example).

    For now, I’d have to go with Alex Rodriguez, who everyone in and out of the baseball world can recognize for various reasons, both good and bad.

    In the future, I’d hope that Albert Pujols is seen as the most influential player of our decade. Yes, he’s God to the baseball world, but outside of that he is not known well because unlike A Rod he doesn’t make the tabloids every week, or ever for that matter. Yet, he is by far the best player of our decade, for reasons not needed to be discussed. In an era shadowed by steroid use, hopefully we can look back and say that Pujols restored hope back into baseball. I hope he sets the benchmark for this statement:

    “Yes, you can be a truly outstanding player by playing the game the right way”

    The only other possibility I could think of is Jeter.

  5. AdamWhite Says:

    If the most influential isn’t Canseco, then who is it? ARod for pushing player compensation further? I’m struggling with this. No player brought a new pitch (Mike Scott) or new offensive tactic to the game – none that stand out to me.

    As for influential people, would it be Billy Beane for bringing alternative stats to the maintstream? Bill James? Seems like there are more interesting people here.

  6. Raul Says:

    The saber “movement” has probably grown more in the past 10 years than it has in the previous 30. Although I’m not sure whom to credit for that. Maybe Michael Lewis more than Billy Beane or Bill James.

    Without question though, steroids and PEDs have been the big story of the decade in baseball. I think people are hesitant to say Jose Canseco is the most influential, since people think it’s some sort of compliment or make it seem as if he’s winning an award. But what other person in the sport has brought about a bigger impact or change?

  7. Raul Says:

    Alex Rodriguez is probably the biggest personality in the game over the past 10 years, with good competition from Barry Bonds. But those guys are spectacles more than they are impactful and influential, I think.

    I guess you could argue that A-Rod’s contract changed everything. I’d still go with Canseco.

  8. Raul Says:

    And please don’t bring up this notion of players “playing the game the way it was meant to be played”.

    That whole concept is bullsh*t.

  9. Brandon Says:

    I guess I’m barking up the wrong tree for comparing a player like Pujols to a player who had less PAs in a season than guys get in a single year. I’ll save that for another argument.

    And how is the concept of playing the game the right way bullsh*t? Sure cheating has been in the game since the beginning. I mean the beauty of baseball is that you can “steal” a base. But still, isn’t the foundation of playing baseball to have fun and do your best? Yes that’s a simple statement and you’d be naive to believe that that is all that is going into baseball. Maybe I shoulda elaborated more on my statement, but there’s nothing wrong with praising a player who plays the game the right way: for the pure enjoyment of playing a game for a living.

  10. Raul Says:

    The problem I have with the concept of “playing the game the right way” is that people have varying interpretations of what that is.

    For a long time, trying to hit home runs was counter to the idea of playing the game the right way. For a long time, taking a player out with viscious slides was part of playing the game the right way. For a long time, even lifting weights was against the idea of playing the game the right way.

    What is playing the game the right way?

    Brandon writes:
    “for the pure enjoyment of playing a game for a living”.

    You can’t name one player that ever set foot on a professional baseball field that didn’t enjoy playing the game. Because they all enjoy it.

  11. brautigan Says:

    Raul: “You can’t name one player that ever set foot on a professional baseball field that didn’t enjoy playing the game. Because they all enjoy it.” That statement may be true now, but surely wasn’t when Jeff Kent played. When he was playing for the Giants, he once told me if it were not for the money, he would be much more content staying on his ranch…..”and I wouldn’t have to sign this autograph for you”. (He said that with a big grin……I liked Kent, although there were many people who didn’t. Maybe it’s because we had something in common….we both disliked Barry).

  12. Raul Says:

    I’m sure what Jeff Kent was referring to were the things that surround the game today. All the extraneous things outside the lines.

    But, good point.

  13. Brandon Says:

    Raul,

    You’re right about all baseball players, at least at the beginning of their career, play baseball for the pure enjoyment of playing. The problem comes in when you add all of the other things about professional baseball (contracts, the media, etc.) and it seems that players lose focus on the fact that they are still playing a game for a living. Hopefully, a player’s goal isn’t to get rid of the problems mentioned above, cuz contract disputes and media controversies and other bullsh*t will happen regardless. Instead, hopefully players can learn to deal with these problems constructively so that they, their team, and all of us fans can enjoy the game we all love.

    I feel like a lot of players (regardless of the era of course) lose sight of this. This is why I hope that future generations can look back on a player like Pujols and countless others and see that they didn’t lose their focus on their foundations and that they made the game a better one for everyone. Maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t, I just hope I can look back on the baseball I watched and followed in my teens and 20s and say that there were truely admirable players.

    Definite overload on sentimentality, but cmon, it’s the Holli-, ooops Halla-, I mean it’s the Holidays.

  14. hossrex Says:

    Fox.

    For allowing me, and millions of other people the opportunity to watch every one of our teams games, instead of a weekend game, and a Tuesday game.

  15. Raul Says:

    Brandon,

    Point taken. And nice one on Halladays..lol

  16. Jimmy Scott Says:

    FOX, while not a person, was actually a really good thought. They also did the right thing by selling the Dodgers.

    Speaking of not enjoying the game while playing, Piazza was a guy who allegedly didn’t play the game because he really liked it – at least while with the Mets near the end. He played because he was just really good at it.

    Still, to get really good at it, he had to practice like a madman. And you don’t do that unless you get some enjoyment out of it. Oprah would call it a “journey,” but she hasn’t commented on Dugout Central in days.

  17. jimmy vac Says:

    I don’t think there is one that stands out..In a positive light you have Pujols who is off the charts as a hitter,great defensiev player and can steal a base.. The most publicized role model has been Jeter, I personally think he is overrated because he plays in in NY but he is a great player and conducts himself well on and off the field. Suzuli is another player doing amazing things but plays in a small market.
    Who was the most influential of any previous decade.. I think the only one that stands out is Ruth in the 1920s…..

  18. Michael Crowe Says:

    Tiger Woods, to answer your headline. In baseball, Arod,in particular, his salary.

  19. hossrex Says:

    Jimmy Scott made me laugh.

    I’m impressed.

    (I also agree Fox did the right thing selling the Dodgers… as a hardcore Dodgers fan, Murdoch didn’t have a clue about managing a team… but he’s a genius when it comes to programming)

  20. BillWellman Says:

    I thought that Barry Bonds was pretty influential.

    After all, everybody laughed at “Juiced.” Nobody laughed when Barry Bonds passed Hank Aaron.

  21. Larry R Says:

    Scott Boras.

  22. Mr. Washington Says:

    I nominate future Hall Of Famer Ichiro Susuki; the first Japanese position player with any significance. He set the stage which subsequently opened the doors for other Japanese position players to be taken seriously and signed. With Japan finally on the radar, it arguably could have helped trigger the idea of the World Baseball Classic.

  23. Mike Says:

    Canseco may have been influential as far as the steriods issues, but hes still the biggest piece of scum in baseball history!

  24. hossrex Says:

    Mike: “Canseco may have been influential as far as the steriods issues, but hes still the biggest piece of scum in baseball history!”

    It’s strange, because I would have agreed with you in the past… however did you see him on “The Surreal Life”? He was a genuinely good, kindhearted person.

    They were filming him at a book signing for “Juiced”, and one of the people in line asks for the inscription to be “Signed, Jose Canseco, the man who Ruined baseball.”

    You’d think he’d have absolutely flipped out, but he smiled very respectfully without a hint of malice, and calmly told the person “I’m sorry sir, but I can’t sign it like that.

    I fully believe there are stories out there that paint him in a negative light, but I’d be curious to hear exactly why you think he’s the “biggest piece of scum in baseball history!”

    Simply because he did something hundreds of other players did, or because he wrote a book exposing the hundreds of other players who did? It really can’t be both, can it? You can’t have a problem with a person breaking the rules… and also have a problem with that person for revealing that other people are breaking that same rule.

    Because he tried to recoup some of the money he lost when he was unofficially, and unjustly black listed for baseball?

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