Arash Markazi
Friday May 2nd, 2008

VAN NUYS, Calif. -- It's a little after 6 p.m. on Wednesday and the parking lot at the Costco Wholesale is beginning to fill up as families fetch shopping carts and head into the warehouse famous for selling items in bulk.

Sitting a few feet from the entrance, Jose Canseco, famous for curbing the bulk in baseball, is attempting to sell his book, Vindicated, to unsuspecting customers, many of whom are oblivious to who he is and what he's hawking.

Canseco, wearing a black biker jacket and jeans and hiding behind a tilted gray cap and sunglasses, is holding a pen, ready to sign a table full of his books. Most of the customers, however, seem more interested in the items around him -- the discounted computer screens in front of him, the family portrait set to his left and the tub of Red Vines behind him.

"I don't know what happened, I think this was created at the last minute," says Canseco, who recently lost his 7,300 square-foot home in Encino after owing a bank more than $2.5 million on the house. "I don't know if anyone was alerted so it's just the people in Costco here, but I live close by so it's easy for me to come here and sign a few books."

Sitting besides Canseco is his attractive publicist and girlfriend Heidi Northcott, who is flipping through People magazine and trying to keep an eye on her seven-year-old daughter Dannika, who is doing her part to spread the word about Canseco's book signing.

"Do you want to buy a book? It's really, really good," she says in a voice cute enough to make a few customers shell out $14.99 for the book and Canseco's signature as if it were a couple boxes of Thin Mints and Samoas to reward the adorable blonde in the sundress.

"They didn't do a good job of promoting this," says Northcott as a store manager brings a slice of pizza wrapped in tinfoil and couple of soft drinks to Canseco's table. "This wasn't part of the book tour. I'm going to raise hell when I get back."

It's been a little over three years since I last attended a Canseco book signing. Back then the embattled slugger had just released Juiced and was signing his new book at a Barnes & Noble in New York's Rockefeller Center. On that chilly mid-February day, a line of people stretched outside the store and down two blocks for a glimpse of Canseco signing his first foray into the literary world. He was surrounded by four earpiece-wearing bodyguards, rarely looked up at the hordes of people he was signing for and conducted a dozen or so television interviews afterward in sunglasses.

On this warm spring day in the Valley, he is looking blankly at a pile of his unsold books before looking back at Northcott and speaking to Greg Liberto, the assistant warehouse manager, who has no explanation for the poor turnout and lack of interest.

"I'm not sure what his people did to get the word out but obviously not a whole lot. We did all we could. We've had signs outside for a couple weeks now," says Liberto, who hopes the crate of Jose Cuervo Tequila that will soon replace Canseco's table will draw more interest from the costumers. "But it's always nice to get someone like him at the store since we only do 2-3 book signings a year. The last one we did was for Kelly Lange, she's a local news reporter. She had a good turnout."

With only about a dozen or so customers stopping to have Canseco sign his book nearly an hour into his appearance, Liberto asks Canseco sign about 50 copies of the book which he gives to a store clerk who places an "Autographed Copy" sticker on the front. "Maybe people will decide to buy it after he leaves," says the clerk. "It can't hurt to try."

Jennifer Whiteside, a mother of three from Sherman Oaks, who had earlier bought 10 copies of the book with her husband to give away as gifts, comes back to the table and hands Canseco 10 pictures she had taken earlier in the day of them together. While Canseco has been waiting around to sign books Whiteside has had time to develop her pictures, finish her shopping and swing back to have Canseco autograph the photos.

"You don't really want me to sign all of those do you?" asks Canseco, possibly imaging there to be a line behind Whiteside.

"Well, I bought ten books and I wanted to put one in each book," she says.

"OK, you got me," says Canseco as he signs the photos. "You got me."

This isn't the way Canseco pictured spending his days after baseball -- haggling over autographs at a Costco while customers peruse boxes of Snickers and Corn Nuts around him. While Canseco may have indeed been "Vindicated" by what he wrote in Juiced, the New York Times best seller largely credited with being the catalyst for baseball's crackdown on steroids, his second book, also a best-seller despite being hastily written in about ten days to capitalize on the aftermath of the Mitchell Report, is more I-told-you-so than I'll-tell-you-something-new.

Much like a washed up pitcher that has lost his stuff, there is nothing more Canseco, who was turned away from the Mitchell Report press conference in December, can add to the steroids conversation besides old tales and hear-say he's regurgitated for the past three years. He all but admits as much when talking about his plans for a third book, Prototype, a fictional tale of a baseball cloning conspiracy set in the future. "It's going to be a dark sci-fi story," says Canseco. "It's certainly where we're heading in baseball."

Less than an hour after sitting down in an office chair wheeled over from the furniture department for his book signing, Canseco is ready to head out of Costco as he gets up and shakes hands with a few employees and leaves the store, much the same way he arrived. Not so much vindicated but ignored.

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