Simply Baseball Notebook: Cover Stories

Jose Canseco: The Man, The Myth

June 2002 

a long & winding road:
Canseco's Career


Oakland Athletics 1985-92: 'Glory Days' - Jose won the AL Rookie of the Year in 1986 swatting 33 home runs with 117 RBIs. His best year was 1988 when he became the first 40/40 man ever belting 42 homers & stealing 40 bases. He won the AL MVP that year & led Oakland to the World Series. The A's made 3 straight World Series (88-90), but only won once - 1989. He was traded to Texas in the summer of '92 in a block buster deal that sent Ruben Sierra to Oakland.



Texas Rangers 1992-94: Jose's 2+ seasons in Arlington were uneventful. An injury caused by a failed by pitching expirement limited him to 60 games & 10 homers in 1993. He bounced back with 31 dingers & 90 RBIs in 1994, but hit only .255. He was traded to Boston in the offseason.



Boston Red Sox 1995-96: Jose's years in Boston were filled with injuries & controversy. He hit .306 in 1995, but played in only a 102 games. In 1996 injuries limited him to just 96 games. He left in the offseason, signing with Oakland.



Oakland Athletics 1997: The reunion of the 'Bash Bros.' did not last long - Mark McGwire was dealt to St. Louis in July, and Jose hit only 23 home runs in 108 games. He left Oakland & headed to Canada in the off season.



Toronto Blue Jays 1998: 'Reborn' - Jose's year north of the border was a memorable one. He hit a career high 46 home runs, drove in 107, stole 29 bases (his most since '88), and played in 151 games (most since '91). His play earned him a lucrative free agent contract in Tampa Bay.



Tampa Bay Devil Rays 1999-2000: 1999 had a promising start for Jose - he was leading the majors with 31 homers at the All Star break, but an injury cost him most of the second half of season. He ended up with 34 home runs in 113 games. The 2000 season did not start so well, an oft-injured & unproductive Canseco was claimed off waivers by the Yankees in August.



New York Yankees 2000: It was rumored that the Yankees picked up Canseco just so other contending teams couldn't have him. Whatever the case, they didn't have a place for him in the lineup. He was not put on the World Series roster, but did get a ring for his troubles.



Anahiem Angels Spring 2001: After not drawing much interest, Canseco signed a minor league contract with Anahiem. He failed to hit a home run in the exhibition season & was released during the final cutdown.



Chicago White Sox 2001: After spending time in an Independent League dispelling rumors that he was not healthy, Canseco signed with the Sox in June. He played to mixed reviews in the Windy City hitting 16 HR in limited duty.



Montreal Expos Spring 2002: Canseco signed a minor league contract with Montreal in February in hopes of becoming the Expos everday LF, but was released after it was determined he would be only a part time player.



Charlotte Knights (AAA) 2002:  Canseco signed with the White Sox minor league affliate on April 18th in hopes of making it back to the majors.  He struggled, hitting only .179 in 18 games, before retiring on May 13th.  He finished his career with 462 home runs, 38 short of his goal. 



On October 5, 2001, before what would be the last major league game in which he appeared, I attempted to interview Jose Canseco.  I walked up, introduced myself, shook his hand, and asked if he had time to answer a few questions.  He seemed a bit surprised at my direct approach, muttered something under his breath, picked up his glove (I was actually surprised he even owned one),  and said "I'll get ya later."  He proceeded into the clubhouse never to be seen again (at least by this writer).
I took it almost as a compliment - I had been blown off by Jose Canseco.  I was not the first, but may have been last, at least while he was a major leaguer.  I grew up as a fan of Canseco.  He dominated the game during the late 80s, inspiring as much awe as any athlete during that time.  His homeruns were mammoth, he drove drove exotic sports cars, his body was sculpted like a Greek god, he dated Madonna: he was cool - rock star cool.
The debate over whether Canseco is Hall of Fame worthy has already begun, but it in the end it really doesn't matter. His place in history is secure, a plaque bearing his likeness hung in a rural, upstate New York town couldn't possibly tell the whole story.  Canseco played with a flair, a sense of the moment that most players, like fellow Bash Brother Mark McGwire, never approach.  It was Canseco, not McGwire, who was the signature member of the A's team that won three straight American League pennants during the late 80s.  He embodied that team: brash, overpowering, unapologetically cocky, but most of all dominating.  On a star-studded team, he was the star of stars.
Canseco was the protypical player blending tremendous strength and speed.  He became the first man to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases en route to a unanimous MVP selection in 1988.  If it hadn't been for Kirk Gibson's dramatic home run, the defining moment of the 1988 World Series might have been the camera-denting blast Canseco hit over the centerfield wall for a grand slam in Game 1.  Canseco was always pushing the envelope, whether it was dating scores of beautiful women, crashing cars, hitting a home run into the fourth deck of the Skydome, or becoming sports' first $5 million a year man.  He embodied the all-about-me, all about excess aura of the 1980s.
The 1990s were not nearly as kind to Jose Canseco.  He was traded to Texas during the A's pennant drive of 1992, became blooper reel fodder when a ball bounced off his head and went over the fence for a homerun, blew out his elbow during a pitching experiment, and suffered from a deteriorating back.  He did have a few bright spots, however, like 1998 when he hit a career high 46 homeruns and stole 29 bases for Toronto.  That, of course, was the same year McGwire hit 70, so nobody noticed.  Playing in his adopted home town of Tampa (he was born in Havana, Cuba), Canseco started strong in '99, leading the majors with 31 home runs into July before his back failed him.  He was never the same.
The quest for 500 home runs kept Canseco motivated, despite his release in two straight spring trainings.  While many observers relished making light of his predicament, he pressed on.  It took a lot of character, a lot of fortitude, and a lot of heart.  He went to an Idependent League and ultimately AAA in an attempt to prove he still belonged in the majors. 
His critics will point out that he did not leave gracefully, often seeming delusional, talking as recently as March about a 50 home run 50 stolen base season.  The man had pride.  Remember, he was once the games' biggest star, and now was battling for a roster spot on the Montreal Expos.  It would be hard for anyone to accept that.  Few athletes leave gracefully, and even fewer still ever enjoy the view from the high perch that Jose Canseco once occupied.
-David Zingler

Canseco's page @ Baseball-Almanac.com

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