Big Man In The Big House

June 29, 2003

When Jose Canseco welcomed me into his South Florida home one
day in mid-June, the only 'roids he had to fear were
hemorrhoids. He was rooted to his sofa, under house arrest, in a
kind of extravagant prison: Sing Sing with bling-bling.

Not long ago the first question Canseco might have asked, when
sentenced to house arrest, was, "Which house?" He had five of
them, including a 22,000-square-foot estate in Weston, Fla.,
patrolled by $25,000 turtles. "It had four acres, a
5,500-square-foot gym, a waterfall, lagoon, pool, caves, Jacuzzi,
koi ponds all over the place," said Canseco. "And I was alone
there. The most miserable time I've ever had--the most depressed
I've ever been--was in that house."

So Canseco sold the place, and the one in Miami Lakes, and the
one in Brentwood, Calif. He pared his fleet of Benzes to three,
Navigators to two and Rollses to one. The ex-Athletic turned
ascetic. And it's a good thing, for last Friday police came to
take what remained of Canseco's freedom, removing him from his
current house after a drug test--mandated by the court as part of
his sentence--turned up positive for steroids.

"I was a nerd, a little dweeb, when I was a kid," Canseco said
four days before the arrest. "In high school I was skinny and
little. I am the perfect example of Before and After."

Today, at 38, Canseco is a Carrara marble sculpture. "I run into
people all the time who knew me in high school, and a lot of them
don't recognize me as the same guy," he said. "They're always
like, 'You have changed so much. You've turned into a different
human being.'"

He is a bigger, wealthier, vastly more renowned human being. Just
not a happier one. "How many millionaires commit suicide?" he
asked me. And when I replied that surely he has never been that
despondent, the former MVP of the American League smiled weakly
and said, "Not lately."

How much of his depression may owe to steroid use Canseco would
not say, though the tentative title of his tell-all memoir, which
he still plans to self-publish in October, may provide a hint:
The Ball Was Never Juiced. What was juiced, then? "I think we're
all aware of that," he said when I asked him if steroid use was
rampant in baseball. "I can't believe society's that ignorant.

"I brought something to the game that restructured and changed
the game," he said. "How that can be explained so that anyone can
understand it will be in my book."

Canseco was in the third month of a two-year house arrest for
violating the probation he was given following a felony
aggravated-battery conviction resulting from a brawl at a Miami
club on Halloween night in 2001. On the date he was required to
be in Florida, he was in Los Angeles, visiting his six-year-old
daughter, Josie (who lives with Canseco's second wife, Jessica),
and offering his services to movie studios. "One thing Hollywood
has never had," Canseco said, "is a Latin action hero."

And so he was placed under house arrest. For this latest
violation he was facing up to 15 years in real prison, though his
current house, to hear him tell it, is already more San Quentin
than San Simeon. For instance, he cannot bear to look at his
baseball memorabilia. "Those are hurtful memories," he said.
"It's like you were married for 15 years, and suddenly you break
up. You're not gonna keep pictures of your ex-wife all over the
house."

On his website, josecanseco.com, he is auctioning off all his
baseball souvenirs, most of which were scattered across his
dining-room table last week: his MVP plaque, two World Series
rings, a photograph with Queen Elizabeth. Said his agent, Doug
Ames, "He told me, 'If it's from baseball, get it outta here.'"

And yet, in the next room, on a TV screen just smaller than a
queen-sized mattress, a 25-year-old Canseco was circling the
bases at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Watching the highlight
video were Joe Santer, 22, and his 21-year-old girlfriend, Genie
Ficks. Santer, responding to a solicitation on Canseco's website,
had paid $2,500 to Spend a Day with Jose. "My friends," Santer
said, "think I'm crazy."

Santer works the third shift at a window factory in Selins Grove,
Pa. A "33" medallion (Canseco's old number) dangled from his
neck. How long had he labored to spend a single afternoon with
his hero? "Every night," he said, "for the past month and a
half."

Before Friday's arrest Canseco had sold 30 future visits to his
home, some of them on the installment plan. "We have an Oakland
cop who made two payments," said Ames.

When I left, Santer and Ficks were in the pool with Canseco,
chatting about baseball. Not all of his memories are bad. "I
remember once up in Boston, during the playoffs, the fans were
chanting "STAIR-oids! STAIR-oids!" said Canseco. "So I flexed my
arm at them like that." He flexed like the guy on the Arm &
Hammer box.

"And they went crazy," he continued. "It was funny because I won
the crowd over by acknowledging them. A lot of times the fans
just want to be acknowledged. So if you say, 'Hi,' or just have
fun with them, they say, 'Hey, he's just like us. He's a nice
guy.'"

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

Four days before his arrest for steroid use, Canseco said, "I am
the perfect example of Before and After."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)