ScorecardPosted: Tuesday November 20, 2001 5:54 PM
Updated: Tuesday December 11, 2001 6:00 PM
Big Mac has a clear path to the Hall, but what about Jose Canseco?
By Tom Verducci
On Aug. 22, 1986, Mark McGwire made his major league debut in an Oakland Athletics lineup that included another 22-year-old slugger, Jose Canseco. The nickname would come later, but the Bash Brothers had started pounding away.
Fifteen years later McGwire has retired as one of the game's mythic figures. In 2007 Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn and Rickey Henderson (if he doesn't play again) will join him as Cooperstown enshrines one of the greatest groups of first-ballot Hall of Famers. The question is, Will Canseco make this class an astounding fivesome?
In his prime Canseco displayed a Mantle-like combination of power, speed and defense. That prime was abbreviated, mostly because of injuries and Canseco's lack of seriousness. The first player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season, Canseco quickly devolved into a circus act whose gaffes have included blowing out his elbow throwing knuckleballs, allowing a fly ball to bonk him on the head and bounce over the fence for a home run, and seeing how fast his sports car could zoom on jet fuel. Think Max Patkin with muscles.
However, if you forget the offensive behavior and look at the offensive numbers, Canseco's stats bear a fraternal resemblance to McGwire's. Big Mac had only seven more RBIs (1,414 to 1,407), eight more total bases (3,639 to 3,631) and 25 more extra-base hits (841 to 816) than Canseco, who holds slim edges over McGwire in games (1,887 to 1,874), runs (1,186 to 1,167), hits (1,877 to 1,626) and batting average (.266 to .263).
So could Canseco crash Cooperstown? Hold your horsepower. The gap between McGwire and Canseco is much greater than those stats make it seem. McGwire has big advantages in home runs (583 to 462), on-base percentage (.394 to .353) and slugging percentage (.588 to .515). He also had more quality seasons, finishing in the top 10 in MVP voting five times (Canseco: twice), winning four home run titles (Canseco: two) and earning 12 All-Star nods (Canseco: six). Only three times did Canseco drive in at least 100 runs and bat higher than .260. He settled in as a DH when he was only 29 years old.
Canseco is adamant about getting the 38 home runs he needs to reach 500, so retirement talk may be premature. Still, employment won't come easy for a 37-year-old DH who whiffed every 3.4 at bats in 2001, who was arrested last week on charges stemming from a nightclub brawl and who has coursed through eight of the 14 American League franchises over the past eight years. If Canseco's career is indeed over, his legacy may turn out to be more Dave Kingman than Mark McGwire: Kingman is currently the eligible player with the most home runs (442) who's not in the Hall of Fame.
Issue date: November 26, 2001
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