Volume 2, Number 3 -- March, 1997
"Jose Finds the Way"
By Dave Lind
If you had asked Jose Canseco on August 31,1992 whether or not he thought this day would ever come he most likely would have laughed and moved onto the next question. Back then his off-the-field troubles had detracted from his brilliant on-the-field accomplishments to such a degree that he was frequently booed by the hometown fans. Such a situation had, combined with his battles with the injury bug, left Canseco disillusioned and bitter and all too happy to move on to a fresh start with the Texas Rangers.
Unfortunately, Canseco's injury problems continued during his stint with the Rangers, the most serious of which he incurred while pitching in a meaningless game. An injury that resulted in ligament reconstruction that cost him nearly a full season. In fact, his tour with Texas was probably most distinguished by the fly ball that careened off his head and over the fence for a home run, a play which was shown repeated on highlight films around the country.
But strangely, it may well have been that very play that marked the turning point in Canseco's public image dilemma. Prior to that night he was viewed as a spoiled, over-hyped, egotistical superstar. But with that play, or more accurately, with his reaction immediately after that play, Canseco-the-bad-boy's image softened and he became more human, more fallible, more likable. All because of what he did after the ball sailed over the fence.
He laughed. He smiled.
No big deal, you say? Ask yourself this, what would Albert Belle have done in that same situation? Or Barry Bonds? Or Ricky Henderson?
With that one smile, broadcast and rebroadcast on every highlight show for a week and more, Jose Canseco showed the world that he didn't take himself so seriously, that he could laugh at his own foibles, that he was closer to being "one of us" than any of "us" had ever given him credit for. And as time passed and there were no reports of Canseco being arrested for gun charges or playing bumper cars on the freeway, we began to pay more attention to his play and we found out something startling. Canseco could still swing the bat.
This fact was not lost on the Oakland A's, who traded for him in the off season in hopes that his reunion with Mark McGwire would reinvigorate a team many are picking to finish last in the AL West. His arrival could not have come at a better time for the A's or for Bay Area baseball in general. Stung by the departure of fan favorites Terry Steinbach and Mike Bordick from Oakland and Matt Williams and Robby Thompson from San Francisco, bay area fans are among the most angry and bitter in the country. But ticket sales in Oakland, at least, took off immediately following the signing of their prodigal son.
So perhaps there still are happy endings. Perhaps, in some rare and wonderful cases, you can go home again and receive a chance to right old wrongs and rekindle old flames. Jose Canseco has been given just such a chance, and there are few in baseball who deserve it more.