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Playing Wall Ball
Gerry Callahan
May 08, 1995
On opening day the Boston Red Sox treated their early-arriving fans to something even more generous and thoughtful than a free seat cushion or a half-price hot dog. It was nine o'clock in the morning, four hours before game time, and there was the Sox's gift to their backers on the sidewalk outside the main gate, signing autographs, shaking hands, making everyone in Boston forget those vows to never watch baseball again. Just what you always wanted: Jose Canseco.
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May 08, 1995

Playing Wall Ball

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On opening day the Boston Red Sox treated their early-arriving fans to something even more generous and thoughtful than a free seat cushion or a half-price hot dog. It was nine o'clock in the morning, four hours before game time, and there was the Sox's gift to their backers on the sidewalk outside the main gate, signing autographs, shaking hands, making everyone in Boston forget those vows to never watch baseball again. Just what you always wanted: Jose Canseco.

The Sox last week were like the philandering husband crawling in after the sun comes up but bringing along the Hope diamond to defuse the situation. If there were any bitter baseball fans in Boston, they sure weren't among the crowds that followed Canseco everywhere he went.

There has been a peculiar bond between Canseco and Sox fans since they serenaded him with a flippant chant of "STEH-roids! STEH-roids!" during the 1988 playoffs, back when Canseco was starring for the Oakland A's. He responded by smiling and flexing his right biceps. How could they hate him?

"To tell you the truth, I've always wanted to play here," says Canseco. "The fans are just so intense. They watch everything you do, the way you run, the way you strike out, the way you walk back to the dugout. It's like your every emotion is out there for the world to see."

Just the way Canseco likes it.

Boston acquired Canseco in December, but he didn't make his first appearance in Boston until last week. You can be sure of this: Waterworld will not open with as big a splash.

The Sox sent aging centerfielder Otis Nixon and third base prospect Luis Ortiz to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Canseco, who after blowing out his elbow in an ill-advised pitching stint at Fenway Park two years ago, is now strictly a DH. The Boston fans enjoyed Nixon's speed on the base paths for a few months, but they know the Wall wasn't built to keep out the Communists from Cambridge. Someone has to put some dents in it and launch some home runs over it. They needed to get some good old-fashioned power back in the lineup.

No Red Sox player has hit 30 home runs since Nick Esasky in 1989. Canseco has hit more than 30 six times, including last season when he had 31 in 111 games for the Rangers. When the Sox got Canseco, agent Dennis Gilbert said to Boston general manager Dan Duquette, "Congratulations on getting the guy who's going to break Roger Maris's record."

Canseco has always enjoyed hitting at Fenway Park, but he isn't the first venerable righthanded slugger to arrive with a promise to throw a scare into the Green Monster. Before Canseco it was Andre Dawson, and before Dawson, it was Jack Clark. Both Dawson and Clark went limping out of town after two seasons, beaten down by the Wall.

"Here's the difference I see," says left-fielder Mike Greenwell. "This guy is still young, still in his prime. When we got Andre, he was 38. Jack Clark was the same way [ Clark was 35]. You're talking about a guy who is 30, with a lot of years left in his bat. Probably a lot of home runs, too."

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