Jose Cansecoloves a good monster movie, with only one complaint. "Every time, the goodguy wins, the good guy wins," he says. "Why can't the monster everwin?"
This is an article from the Aug. 20, 1990 issue
Jose Canseco sitson the Oakland A's bus, looking out at 500 people who can't decide whether theywant to bronze him, buy him a beer or bust him right in his handsome mouth.
Canseco has comeout of the players' entrance at Cleveland Stadium and hopped on the bus withoutsigning an autograph, and now the crowd is thinking Attica. Canseco doesn'tsign because the fans mark up his shirts with their pens, paw at his clothesand smother him so tightly that "all they end up getting is something thatlooks like an X," he says. Besides, in Arlington, Texas, once, a little boywas pinned against a railing by a rush of Canseco autograph seekers. A group ofreporters had to come in and free the youngster.
On the bus,Canseco yells to a reporter, "You go out there. You'd come back with noclothes and one arm."
The 500 getdesperate. Some try the sweetness approach. "Can-SAY-co! Can-SAY-co!"They can see him vaguely through the tinted glass of the bus. They know it'sJose, and they're pining for just a dollop from his pen on their posters andhats and baseball cards. Some try threats. A man in an orange hat is screaminginto the open door of the bus, "Too much money! Too much goddam money!"Some try insults. "Hey, Jose, give us the five-million-dollar wave!""You bum, come out here!" "Let's see your steroid muscles!"Canseco grins.
As the bus pullsaway, the desperate ones do something curious: They try to take pictures of himthrough the dark glass—with flashes, no less.
"Why do theydo that?" a player on the bus asks. "They know it won't comeout."
With JoseCanseco, you take what he gives you.
Jose Canseco'sworld is big. His home runs are big. His houses—in Miami and Oakland—are big.His Cigarette boat is big, 42 feet from stem to stern, with room for 20 people.He was the major leagues' biggest vote-getter for this year's All-Star Game inChicago, yet he drew by far the biggest boos in Wrigley Field. His wife,Esther, is little, but her hair is big. His pile of money is very big; he makes$4.7 million a year, or $536 an hour, even as he sleeps. His laugh is big. Whenhe screws up, he screws up extra big. His talent is enormously big, almost asbig as his potential. He's big physically—6'4", 240 pounds—though his waistis small, size 33. His bat is about the biggest anybody swings—35 inches and 35ounces. His public image is big: arrogant and immature, armed and dangerous,egocentric and selfish. But the misconceptions are even bigger. You think youknow this guy? Big mistake.
Jose Canseco isthe subject, and San Francisco Examiner columnist Bill Mandel, a man who hasnever met him, offers this: "I'm from New York and in New York there is aword for guys like Canseco, and that word is schmuck."
O.K., so ifCanseco is such a schmuck, why does he spend so much time at the Miami YouthClub, playing basketball with the kids, staying for their spaghetti dinners,donating hundreds of pairs of sneakers at a time?
If Canseco issuch a schmuck, why is he so deeply involved in the Make a Wish foundation,which fulfills the fantasies of dying children?
If Canseco issuch a schmuck, how come he paid for a kid with leukemia to be flown fromSacramento to Scottsdale, Ariz., for the the A's spring training?
If Canseco issuch a schmuck, how come he drove to Pleasanton, Calif., to raise money for aparalyzed kid called J.O. by signing autographs for 4½ hours?
And if Canseco issuch a schmuck, why did he give his brother a house and a brand new Porsche 911and his father a new Cadillac?
Jose Canseco is abaseball virtuoso, an athletic flower that blooms once a century. We know thisbecause he mentioned it the other day.
"I go beyondyour everyday slugger," he said. "Some sluggers just hit home runs. Imurder the ball. I can do the five things you need in a great player: I hit, Ihit for power, I run, I field, and I have a great arm." And the best, hesays, is yet to come: "Every year you will see a better Jose Canseco. Everyyear I'll dwarf the stats from the previous year."
Will Rogers said,"No man is great if he thinks he is," but Will Rogers never looked at aCanseco box score. As of Sunday, Canseco was hitting .296, with 34 home runsand 82 RBIs. And this after missing most of June with back ailments. "Don'tpanic on me," he said in Oakland one day during his injury ride. "Icould still hit 50 this year."
Judd Rose ofABC's Prime Time Live asked him why he is so popular. "I'm Jose Canseco. Ido things out of the ordinary. I'm the first 40-40 player. I'm 235 pounds andrun a 3.8 from home to first base. I'm going to steal bases and I'm going tohit you a lot of home runs. I'm going to play you great defense. I'm going tothrow people out. This is what the fans want to hear about."
The thing is, hemight be right.
Jose Canseco isasked if he'll ever be the kind of player to give you 200 hits. "No,"he says, "but I could give you 200 strikeouts. How's that?"
He's almostserious. Canseco couldn't give a spitwad about 200 hits. And he thinks evenless about batting average.
"I thinkaverage is overrated," he says. "Which would you rather see, a guy whogoes 3 for 3 in a game with no RBIs or a guy who doesn't get a hit all nightuntil he hits a three-run homer to win the game? Would you rather see WadeBoggs get two hits the opposite way or me hit a 500-foot home run?
"People evenenjoy watching me strike out, because I swing so hard. That's where theexcitement is. It's the whole Roger Clemens confrontation. The98-miles-per-hour fastball going against me. I might strike out four times, butmy oh for 4 is more exciting than Wade Boggs getting two hits the oppositeway."
Jose Canseco isstronger than ammonia. He once hit a home run in Seattle off a broken bat. InMinnesota's Humpdome he hit a ball that went 457 feet and nearly reached theunreachable second deck. His home run in Game 4 of the league championshipseries in Toronto last season was the first and only fifth-deck home run inhistory. Of course, Toronto's new SkyDome is the only stadium with five decks,but so what? The ball landed in the fifth row of the fifth deck, in theappropriately numbered Section 540—most estimates said the ball went at least540 feet.
Canseco hit agrand slam in the Sky-Dome this year that clanked off the restaurantoverlooking centerfield. The kid who was sitting by the window in therestaurant said he wasn't worried. "I knew the glass was shatterproof,"he said. Now the restaurant's joke du jour is "Waiter, there's a fly ballin my soup."
After Canseco hita 430-foot home run into Oakland's rightfield seats with a stiff breeze blowingin from right, Reggie Jackson said, "He hits them where I hit them, andhe's righthanded." Ex-teammate Dave Parker says Canseco "is the mostdevastating offensive machine in baseball history. I've seen him hit home runsto rightfield that you'd have thought were hit by Willie Stargell or MickeyMantle." Canseco's grand slam in the opening game of the 1988 World Seriesbanged off the NBC centerfield camera so quickly that the cameraman never had achance to duck. The next day, Canseco signed the dent.
But the longesthome run Canseco ever hit might have been the one in a loser-buys-dinner homerun derby game with his brother, Ozzie, four years ago. Canseco hit a ball atCoral Park (Fla.) High School that was only beginning its ascent at the 410mark in centerfield, carried over the sidewalk past the fence, past the lawn,over the street, past more lawn, past more sidewalk, then reentered theatmosphere and splashed down on the roof of a house. "That was the mostamazing thing I've ever seen," says Ozzie. "It went at least 600, maybe700 feet."
Jose Canseco sayshe can't talk now. Not here. Not at the hotel, either. And not at his home andnot in the car, not on the plane and not on the team bus, either. And not overlunch or dinner or coffee or drinks. He won't talk on the bus and he can't talkwhile his back is being worked on by the trainer.
He can talk,however, while he's getting dressed before the game. "You're going to ripme," he says. "Why don't you go on and rip me and just get it overwith?" (Shirt comes off.) "It won't affect me." (Game socks goon.)
But how cananybody get to know the real Jose Canseco if Jose Canseco won't talk?
"You can'tknow me in four days." (Game pants.) "You can't know me in fourweeks." (Wristbands.)
A number offactors—Canseco's brushes with the law, the charge by baseball writer ThomasBoswell that Canseco used steroids, and a couple of media hatchet jobs—havecombined to stifle what could be the most witty and fresh interview inbaseball. Canseco goes into every interview now like there's an 0-2 count andeverybody's throwing spitters.
"Peoplealready have an opinion of me," he says. "Whatever you say now isn'tgoing to change that. Some people think I'm a nice guy. Some think I'm aterrible person. People who know me know who I am. I don't even want people toknow me.... Why should I care what you think or write about me?"
And you almostbelieve him until you see him the next day.
"So," hesays, "are you going to write a positive article or what?"
Jose Canseco FunFacts: Trade 'em, swap 'em, collect 'em....
He loves dancetracks with a lot of bass. The bigger the bass, the more he likes it. When hepulls up to the Oakland ballpark in his white Porsche with the tape playerbooming, crystal tinkles in San Jose.
He loves Italianfood and Cuban food, both of which Esther makes well enough to bring grown mento tears. His favorite is stuffed manicotti.
He doesn't drinkor smoke, and he swears he has never touched drugs.
He does, however,have one substance abuse problem: cars. He's addicted. He has owned a12-cylinder, metallic-red Jaguar, that gorgeous white Porsche and a whiteLamborghini, among others.
Canseco won'treveal what beauties lurk in his garage these days. "He doesn't want thecops to know," says Esther.
Jose Canseco Sr.was only 19 when he married Barbara Capaz, a beautiful girl by anyone'sreckoning, happy, charming and a wonderful seamstress and cook. She bore him adaughter, Teresa, and they lived well off Jose's job as an oil executive withEsso in Cuba. But when Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, Canseco lost notonly his job but also his house and his car. He made a living giving Englishlessons at $15 a month out of his home in Havana.
On July 2, 1964,Barbara bore twins. The first the Cansecos named Osvaldo Capaz, after Jose'slate brother, who was killed working on La Cubre, a ship carrying ammunition toCastro. The ship was sabotaged. The second, born two minutes later, they namedJose Jr., no middle name. The birth was complicated, and during deliveryBarbara received a blood transfusion.
On Dec. 5, 1965,the Cansecos were finally allowed to leave Cuba for the U.S., with less than$50 and no job prospects. They moved to Opa-Locka, Fla., and lived with theironly American connection, Jose Sr.'s sister, Lelia.
Jose Sr. kept thefamily fed by working two jobs at a time—at a gas station by day, as a securityguard by night. Today, after much sacrifice, he has a home in Miami and is awell-paid executive with Amoco. He did not return our calls.
Jose Canseco'souts are sometimes as unforgettable as his home runs. He once hit a line drivethat nearly decapitated shortstop Billy Spiers of the Brewers. "If Billydoesn't get his glove in front of his face, that ball kills him," saysParker. In Detroit, Canseco once drove a ball so hard that Tiger third basemanRick Schu caught it in his glove and was knocked over by the force of theblow.
When Cansecocomes to bat, A's third base coach Rene Lachemann moves down the line, aboutsix feet beyond the coaching box. "It's for health reasons," Lachemannsays.
In Anaheim,Canseco hit a shot that caused A's play-by-play radio announcer Bill King tosay: "There's a line drive over short, it's in the gap, it's gone!"
Oakland teammatesswear they'll not be surprised the day Canseco lines off the wall into a doubleplay.
Jose Canseco ishaving another typical night on the road. It's Cleveland, Esther is with him,they've been asleep in their hotel room since 3 a.m. (They like to watchlate-night TV and sleep until one or two o'clock in the afternoon.) But nowsomebody is trying to kick in their door. KA-THUNK, KA-THUNK. The door isaching to come off its hinges. Outside, a voice wails, "Come out here,Canseco! Get out here, you scumbag!"
Canseco is usedto it. Almost without breaking out of REM, he turns to his wife and says,"Call security."
Later, he offersa simple explanation for the incident: "Probably a reporter."
Jose Cansecocan't stand Will Clark. "Somebody on television the other day called Clarkthe best player in baseball," Canseco says in Cleveland about the SanFrancisco Giants first baseman. "I almost threw up. I know at least 10players who are better than him."
Later he willsay: "Tell me how a first baseman can be the best player in baseball. Hedoesn't have to run, and he doesn't have to throw. How many first basemen stealbases? Name one. I dare you. You can't."
Canseco sayspretty much the same thing about Don Mattingly: "Can't run, no arm." OfAngel first baseman Wally Joyner he once said, "Talentwise, he can't carrymy jock." But he saves his best stuff for Clark. "Will Clark, you bigdummy," he says in Milwaukee. "I'm making a million more than you are.You overrated, slow, three-toed sloth with no arms. You hear me, boy?"
The next day,Canseco is heard explaining to his teammates what a sloth is.
Jose Cansecoknows from sloths. He is the Marlin Perkins of major league baseball. Hedevours National Geographic, any science fiction novel, and anything PBS caresto throw him about animals, especially Jacques Cousteau specials.
His favorite seacreature? "Sharks," he says. "Because they're prehistoric."
Jose Cansecocried the first time he got a B. He and Ozzie were both straight-A studentsthrough junior high school. When Jose got the B in high school, it didn'tregister. "I didn't understand B's," he says.
When you are thesons of Jose Canseco Sr., you do things perfectly or you don't do them atall.
"My dad?"Canseco has said. "He has absolutely no sense of humor. He's a totalperfectionist." Did he get his athleticism from his father? "Are youkidding? My dad is a total klutz. He has absolutely no coordination." Whathe got from his father is an expectation to be the absolute best. And he gotrewards for being it. To this day, Jose Sr. gives his sons $5 for each home runthey hit.
Esther:"Jose's dad is too much of a perfectionist, if you ask me. Like, let's sayJose has a game where he hits two home runs and strikes out the third time. Hisdad will call up and say, 'What happened the third time, Jose?' Whatever Josedoes, it's never enough."
Canseco told GQ,"I love my father, but if anybody puts pressure on me, it's him. He thinkshe knows the game, but he doesn't. He tells me how I should hit a certainpitcher. Has my father ever played baseball? No."
Ozzie looks at itdifferently. "My dad sees a lot of himself in us," he says. "Hewants us to be really successful. He's proud. He came over here with nothing,and he went from making a salary of almost nothing to making $60,000 now. Heexpects a lot out of us, too."
Jose Canseco hasa 90-mph fastball. Also a hellacious knuckleball.
"Hey, Tony,can I pitch tomorrow?" he says to La Russa.
"No,"says La Russa.
Tomorrow is theAll-Star Game.
Jose Canseco is ano-show at the All-Star press conference the day before the game. La Russa isthere, but no Jose.
"If you blameJose for not being here, blame me," La Russa tells the multitudes. "Isaid, 'See you at the news conference. You have to be there.' Jose always doesthe opposite of what I tell him to do."
Big laughs—butthe fact is, nobody told Canseco about the press conference. We know thisbecause we were with Canseco from the time he left Cleveland to the time hechecked into his room in Chicago at 2:30 in the morning. La Russa never saidanything to him about the press conference, nor did A's public relationsmanager Jay Alves, who didn't know Jose was supposed to be there.
"Doesn'tmatter," says Canseco. "I'll get blamed anyway."
Jose Canseco isabout to sign a five-year, $23.5 million contract with the Athletics. It's aTuesday night, and a press conference has been scheduled for Wednesdaymorning.
"Hey,Hosey," says Frank Ciensczyk, the A's equipment manager. "Hurry up. Mr.[Sandy] Alderson [the Oakland general manager] wants to see you."
Canseco givesthat industrial-strength grin.
"Probablyneeds help bringing in the wheelbarrow."
Jose Canseco ismessing up this bad-boy thing. He hasn't been on the wrong side of astation-house door in months. Too bad. He was starting to make people rememberJoe Pepitone. Canseco is the guy who (inhale) was ticketed for driving 120 mphin Miami; rang up four citations in one day in Phoenix; was arrested andconvicted of carrying a loaded semiautomatic pistol on university property atUC San Francisco; was with a man who had been detained at various times forcarrying steroids, large amounts of cash and a gun through airports; and wasvilified for no-showing at a card show and then at a banquet during the winterafter the '88 season (exhale). But lately, not so much as a parking ticket.Very dull.
Jose Canseco,what's the fastest you've ever gone?
Canseco looksdeeply hurt.
"Fifty-five,man," he says.
Jose Canseco getsadvice from people you wouldn't believe.
"He reallyappears on the edge of getting in some serious trouble," Denny McLain toldthe San Francisco Chronicle in May 1989.
Vida Blue said,"He needs to sell that car and buy a Volvo. It looks like a crack dealer'scar."
Jose Cansecodidn't start playing baseball until he was 12. He never collected baseballcards, and he didn't grow up saying novenas to Teddy Ballgame and Stan the Man.As such, he has no qualms about making baseball squirm. An effective way to dothat is to rip Babe Ruth.
"Babe Ruthused to use a 60-ounce bat," Canseco says. "That tells you all you needto know about the pitching then. You couldn't take a 60-ounce bat up to theplate today."
And then..."Iwas watching some old films of Ruth, and you know what he did? He stepped uptwice during a pitch and hit a ball out. How fast could the pitches have beencoming?"
Last season, whenCanseco became the first player to break the 40-40 barrier, someone askedMickey Mantle if he could have done it. Mantle replied that yes, had he knownpeople were going to make such a big deal of it, he would have done it a fewtimes. Canseco was galled.
"The fact is,he didn't do it," Canseco says. "Case closed."
Jose Cansecoattracts beautiful women the way a dryer attracts lint. Every year, Cansecowould come to spring training with a different knockout in tow, and "everyyear he'd introduce her as his fiancèe," says A's pitcher Dave Stewart. Soit was a surpriseless moment when Canseco showed up at the A's camp inScottsdale in '88 with Miss Miami 1986 and introduced her as his fiancèe.
"Right,"said Stewart, sarcastically. "When's the wedding date?"
"No,seriously," said Canseco. Pretty soon, a bet was on the table. Stewart betCanseco $10,000 that he wouldn't marry her. They even drew up a contract. OnNov. 5, 1988, in Miami, Stewart lost the bet.
Jose Cansecofirst noticed Esther Haddad at a Miami athletic club; he followed her out tothe parking lot, followed her home and asked her to lunch. All Esther couldthink was, Who is this guy?
Soon they were inlove. She adored his Miami Vice clothes, his Paul Newman cars and his TomCruise smile. That's why she decided, after six weeks, to call it off.
"I can't tellmy dad I'm in love with a drug dealer," said Esther solemnly. She stilldidn't know that Jose played baseball for a living.
Canseco took herhome, showed her his trophy room and convinced her how much three-run homersare worth. When she finally introduced him to her father, they hit it offbig.
Mr. Haddad hadbeen Jose's baseball coach in junior high school.
Jose Canseco isdoing the Jose Twitch. Everybody now! Crank your neck east, then crank yourneck west, open your eyes extra wide, close them and open them again, gyrateyour jaw, twitch your shoulders convulsively, arch your back, lift your knee upto your chest then put it back down again. Now, repeat between pitches.
The Jose Twitchsets the teenage girls off. Sometimes they even scream when he does it.
Much of thetwitching is done to keep his back and neck loose, but a lot of it is purehabit. One time, as Canseco was watching one of his homers fly, heabsent-mindedly bent his right knee up to his chest. It may be the first timeever somebody has warmed up for a home run trot.
Jose Cansecowants to be the male Madonna. "Yeah," he says, "in the sense oftreading new areas. Somebody who's willing to take risks, somebody who isn'tafraid to speak out, somebody who isn't bullshitting around, somebody with somestyle."
Canseco mayalready be the male Madonna. He's got the body. Photographer Annie Leibovitzliked it so much she stripped him to the waist for an American Express ad thathas raised the country's estrogen level 12%. USA Today voted him SexiestAthlete of 1988. Detroit manager Sparky Anderson once said Canseco had the"physique of a Greek goddess." There is little doubt that Canseco leadsall zip codes in femail. And besides, who's a better Material Boy?
Jose Canseco hascome to the conclusion that he needs a bodyguard. "Nothing serious," hesays. "Just somebody with a black belt who knows how to handle anUzi."
Where are yougoing to find somebody like that, Jose?
"Are youkidding me?" he says. "I'm from Miami!"
Jose Canseco's1-900-234-JOSE hotline number actually works. Reporters covering the teamsometimes get good, straight answers from it. And Canseco can't accuse them ofmisquoting him. Then again, there is some stuff on the hotline they might notuse. For instance:
•What time roomservice ends in his Cleveland hotel.
•How killer batsonce circled over his head in the outfield.
•How Esther cooksbreakfast.
•How Esther lookswhen flexing.
•Why the A'swives do lousy cheerleader impressions.
Jose Canseco hasa two-block walk back to his hotel from the stadium in Cleveland, and that'senough time for the autograph pests to spot him and begin pursuit. Engulfed,Canseco tries to sign as he walks, but they block his path. He keeps signing,pressing ahead, squeezing through, taking pens in the back of the head. Ateenager holds a bat in front of him and pleads, "Please, Mr. Canseco! I'vegot every player on the A's except you, and you're my favorite!" Withoutstopping, Canseco signs the bat. The boy falls to his knees, then to his back,and lets out a yelp from the basement of his soul: "AAAAAAAARRRRGGGGH!"As he kisses the bat, the pack tramples over him.
Jose Canseco wassoon to make his entry into the world on that day in 1964 when Barbara Cansecoreceived a blood transfusion; the new blood infected her with hepatitis, andthe medicine she took for the hepatitis apparently exacerbated a latent case ofdiabetes. In the years to follow, she was often sick from both diseases. In1984 a blood clot that had lodged in her back suddenly made its way to herhead. She was admitted into Miami's Cancer Research Center on a Friday, but herheadaches worsened on Saturday and Sunday.
"I complainedover and over to the doctors and nurses about her terrible headaches," saysTeresa, "but they couldn't do anything for them."
That Monday,Barbara Canseco died of a brain hemorrhage. Teresa called the boys—Jose inModesto, Calif., and Ozzie in Greensboro, N.C.—and told them a lie. "Comehome, Mom is very sick."
When theyarrived, the boys, only 19, were devastated by the tragedy. Neither returned totheir teams for a month. "It was like a jolt to me," Jose says. Angry,he began working doubly hard on the weights. He gained weight and strength andresolve. "I think Jose just decided he wasn't going to take anything forgranted anymore," says Ozzie. "I think he made his mind up right thenand there to say, Nothing's going to stop me now."
But you cannotarm-wrestle a baseball. The new attitude only weakened his game. Every swingwas bound for fences only Canseco could see.
Eventually, hismother's death taught him a different lesson. "I put everything intoperspective," he says. "I thought, Why am I taking baseball soseriously? And I decided to just give it my best shot. No more fooling around.And if I didn't make it, I'd get on with my life. I don't take anything tooseriously now." Says his best friend on the A's, shortstop Walt Weiss:"Jose is the same guy, totally carefree, after every game. You can't tellif he's got four K's or four home runs."
Still, Cansecomisses his mother. "I think of her every day," he says. "I wish shewas here all the time. Just to come watch the games."
Every week duringthe off-season, without fail, Esther and Jose go to the cemetery in Miami andplace his mother's favorite flowers on her grave: red roses.
Jose Cansecowears a mantle of irresponsibility. Before the fifth game of the '88 WorldSeries with the Dodgers, in the middle of an awful slump, he told reporters hedidn't want to be expected to carry the team. When the A's lost that Series,Canseco went home to Miami to find himself nose to nose with sour-facedfriends. "Hey, Jose, I lost a lot of money on you," they said. Or,"Hey, Jose, I lost my house on you."
This woundedCanseco deeply. If there is one thing he cannot stand, it's expectations."What am I, some kind of machine?" he says. "I'm not a machine whowill hit four home runs and steal two bases a game. I'm a person."
Must the wholeworld be just like his father?
Jose Canseco, onthe whole, goes on with his life more happily than you would ever believe. Hehas friends, money, love, strength and a very long home run swing. He is young,handsome, funny and cares almost nothing about what you or I think about him.He does not want to be your robot, hero, villain, role model, autograph,criminal, bank account, scientific experiment or savior.
"I'm justhuman," he says. "If you cut me, I'll bleed."
Who says themonster never wins?