My son asked me the other night, “Doesn’t it bother Canseco that he’s alienated everybody he ever played with?”
My answer: No, but it never did. Even in his early years with the A’s, though they had many stars on the 1988-90 teams that won three straight American League pennants, Jose was oblivious to everybody else. “It was always all about Jose,” said Dave Stewart, the big money game pitcher on those teams.
Canseco was much like the A’s superstar who had preceded him, Reggie Jackson, who interacted with the media (beat writer Ron Bergman famously said he would win the “Most Valuable Quote” award) but not often with his teammates, unless you count the occasional fight.
No matter what the subject, Jackson could turn the conversation around to him in a couple of minutes. Sometimes, it didn’t take him that long. In Canseco’s rookie season, 1986, the A’s signed Jackson primarily as a mentor to Jose. When I asked Reggie how that was going, he said, “Jose is like me. . . “. The rest of the conversation was about Reggie.
Though it seems hard to believe now, Canseco had problems with the media that first season. Will Clark came up with the Giants that year and he had no trouble at all, but Clark was always supremely confident and had a background which included playing on the 1984 U.S. Olympics.
Canseco, by contrast, was a 15th round pick out of high school and had no record of success until he added 50 pounds to his frame – with the help of steroids, as we now know. He had no knowledge of how to deal with the media, but by the next season, whether it was because of Reggie’s advice or his own self-knowledge, he was in control. From that time on, he would hold court in the locker room, talking to writers on whatever subject they suggested.
He was also getting into the flamboyant life style which has been his trademark since. When the A’s traveled to New York, for instance, his name was linked with Madonna.
He was married to the former Esther Haddad, a beauty queen, and it was a tumultous relationship. Once, after an argument, Jose got out of the car. Esther slid behind the wheel and aimed the car at him.
Canseco had gotten the car, a red Jaguar, after the 1988 season in which he became the first player to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases, and his license plates read “Mr. 40-40.” It was a hard car to miss, especially when he was driving it at speeds up to 125 mph.
He was arrested for speeding in Florida before spring training, and, after he had the car shipped to Arizona, was cited there, too. During the baseball season, he was stopped again by a highway patrolman and said to him, “Don’t you know who I am?”
He was also arrested for having a concealed weapon in his car, when onlookers spotted it as he was at UC San Francisco to get his injured wrist checked, though the charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor.
A’s general manager Sandy Alderson issued a public apology to the community on behalf of the club for Canseco’s behavior. “There are two constants in all these cases,” Alderson said, wryly, “the car and Jose.”
Nothing ever seemed to bother Canseco; there was no such thing as bad publicity to him. During the 1988 postseason, a Fenway Park crowd chanted, “Steroids, steroids,” when he came to bat. He just smiled and flexed his muscles.
His craving for attention caused his game to deteriorate. The only part of his game that interested him was hitting home runs, because that brought the most attention. When he struck out swinging in the ninth inning when a single would have brought the winning run home, he told his enraged manager, Tony La Russa, “People come to see me hit home runs, not singles.”
He had been a good fielder with a strong arm, but he quit working on defense and became so bad that Stewart asked La Russa not to start Canseco in the fourth game of the 1990 Series. Later, with the Texas Rangers, he actually got hit in the head with a baseball. The player veteran broadcaster Lon Simmons said was the best he had seen in the early years had become a joke throughout baseball.
Now, Canseco has written a tell-all book about steroids, and he’s being assailed by everybody named, as well as by his former manager, La Russa, who is angry about Canseco’s claim that he and Mark McGwire shot up together when they were both with the A’s.
Why did he do this book? Jealousy is a part of it. Canseco was a much bigger star than McGwire at the start of their careers, but McGwire has since surpassed him. McGwire will be in the baseball Hall of Fame one day; Canseco will not be.
Canseco’s finances are a matter of conjecture, too. He’s made a lot of money in his baseball career, but he’s always lived large, with his cars and huge houses. He may need a transfusion of cash.
But mostly, he needs the attention. He’s getting it again, probably more than at any time since his early career, and he’s loving it.
Welcome to Jose’s world.
NOTE TO READERS; Because of a glitch in the system, I was unable to access most of my e-mail until today. Please excuse me if you haven’t gotten a reply. This has been a big learning experience, but I’m enjoying it – and I hope you are, too!
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