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Kiss That One Goodbye...
Ron Fimrite
July 07, 1986
...and say hello to A's rookie Jose Canseco, who's leading the majors in RBIs while building his batting-practice legend
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July 07, 1986

Kiss That One Goodbye...

...and say hello to A's rookie Jose Canseco, who's leading the majors in RBIs while building his batting-practice legend

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Watson's criticism aside, Canseco does not leave his game in the batting cage. Against the Angels on April 21, he hit a ball 430 feet against a stiff wind into the upper deck in rightfield at Anaheim Stadium. That would have been a truly awe-inspiring drive for a lefthanded hitter; for a righthander, it bordered on the incredible. "He hits them where I hit them," said Reggie Jackson, "and he's righthanded!" Of his 19 homers so far this year, 9 have been to left, 7 to right and 3 to dead center. He is on a pace that could break both the rookie record for runs batted in (145 by Ted Williams in 1939) and home runs (38 by Frank Robinson in 1956 and Wally Berger in 1930). Yet, as his own teammates acknowledge, he hasn't even had a hot streak this year.

Canseco himself would be the first to agree that he's far from being a finished player. He has made his share of miscues. Earlier in the season, he seemed to be affecting an air of studied nonchalance on defense, trotting casually after fly balls, stabbing at them one-handed. Canseco has nine errors already, but he says he's working harder on his defense—he has at least started catching two-handed.

Canseco got the publicity wheels oiled when he was called up last September and hit several tape-measure home runs. When word of his Bunyanesque feats this spring in Phoenix reached the outside world, anticipation was high. Canseco seemed confused at first by all the fuss. "I'm just a rookie," he protested feebly before the advancing tide of newsmen. But what a rookie—darkly handsome, 6'3", 220-plus pounds, arms like Rambo's. And he was born in Havana.

Nothing in Canseco's background prepared him for the media onslaught. He suspected it was coming, though. "After I hit a couple of tape-measure shots, they told me I could expect my share of the media," he said. But his natural reserve and his understandable, though completely unwarranted, nervousness about his own future ("My knees were shaking my first time up," he said) made him appear to be aloof, even discourteous. He was starting to get an unfavorable press outside Oakland, so the A's management took him aside to protect his reputation and his well-being. It was decided that before the first game in each city on the road, he should hold a 15-minute press conference. The system seems to have worked, although Canseco on the rostrum will never rival Reggie. And he is still annoyed by the tone of some questions. "Because I was born in Cuba," he says, "some people expect me to speak broken English. That's a laugh. I wasn't even a year old when I left."

In fact, he was nine months old, "so young he could barely walk, let alone speak Spanish," says his father, Jose Sr., now the territorial manager for an oil company in Miami. "Of course, he speaks Spanish today, but he is not as fluent as I am. I wanted all my children to be bilingual. It is our heritage, after all. But when I speak Spanish to Jose, he changes to English." The senior Canseco took his wife, Barbara, daughter Teresa, now 31, and twin sons, Jose and Osvaldo (Ozzie), out of Havana in 1965 "because communism is a rotten thing." They settled at first in the Opa-Locka section of Miami and then moved, in 1975, to southwest Miami, where both the boys attended Coral Park High School.

The brothers are, even to their father, virtually identical. "I think Jose is maybe an inch taller," says Jose Sr., "and he has a birthmark behind a knuckle on his right hand. When the boys were little, I identified them that way. Now they both have the same long necks and broad shoulders. Sometimes I still have to look at them twice. And they have the same personality; they're both very nice guys. They take after me."

Both were skinny as kids, says Jose. "I was about six foot one, 155 pounds, when I started high school, about 170 when I graduated. I didn't even play on the varsity until my senior year." But he hit .400 then and attracted the notice of the A's scout for the Miami area, Camilo Pascual, a Cuban-born big league pitcher for 18 years. The Canseco boys had grown up playing ball with Pascual's son, Burt, in their neighborhood. Another Cuban neighbor was former big leaguer Jose Tartabull, whose son Danny is now a rookie flash with Seattle.

Canseco was drafted in the 15th round by Oakland in 1982. His brother was signed by the Yankees as a pitcher but has since been shifted to the outfield and is playing for Sarasota in the Rookie League. Just before she died in April 1984 of a brain hemorrhage, their mother visited a psychic in Miami. "She didn't go to a fortune-teller or anyone like that," says Jose Sr. "No, the woman she saw was more serious than that, a real psychic. And she told my wife that both of our boys would become popular in sports, but that one of them would get there first and would become very famous. It has all happened."

Rick Langford, once the workhorse of the A's pitching staff, now at 34 a sometime starter trying to hang on, watched the strapping Canseco in the Oakland clubhouse recently with just a touch of wistfulness. "Look at him," Langford said, shaking his head. "It must really be something to be 21 and able to do the things that kid can do."

The A's feel right now there are few limits on what that kid can do and that what he's doing in the batting cage before games is just a preview of things to come. If that's true, then, by heaven, "you ain't seen nothin' yet."

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