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."