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The Summer of His DISCONTENT
Peter Gammons
October 02, 1989
In this painful season, A's slugger Jose Canseco has found that fame hits back
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October 02, 1989

The Summer Of His Discontent

In this painful season, A's slugger Jose Canseco has found that fame hits back

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Canseco steered the Porsche into the driveway of his town-house, which sits in a canyon and overlooks a small lake. "I like privacy and I like driving, so the location here is perfect," he said. The search for privacy is a constant in his life now. Walt Weiss, the Oakland shortstop and Canseco's closest friend on the A's, says, "Going to a restaurant with Jose—going anywhere with Jose, for that matter—is like going somewhere with Elvis or Springsteen."

Reggie Jackson was probably the last baseball player with this sort of rock-star stature, but Canseco is much more the heartthrob than Reggie was. "People even show up at my door here," said Jose as he got out of the car. "But I haven't changed, no matter what people think or write. They think when you start making a million dollars that you change. But it's the people around you and their expectations that actually change. Sometimes I feel as if I'm from another planet, sent down here to observe. Dealing with it has been painful at times. But I'm learning."

At this time last year, Jose Canseco had just become the first player ever to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in a season. He was en route to being a unanimous selection as American League Most Valuable Player and was soon to be the hero of the AL playoffs. "Now I feel 10 years older," he says. "Sometimes more than that. Sometimes I feel as if I'm 45."

From the start, the Season-After has been a physical struggle for Canseco. During spring training, he felt something pop in his left hand, and on May 10, after the hand failed to heal with rest, he had surgery on the hamate bone. It wasn't until after the All-Star break that he rejoined the A's. At first, it was like Ted Williams returning from Korea. He homered in his fourth at bat, and in his first nine games he belted five home runs. "The hand was strong because it was rested," Canseco says. "But it gets weak when I play a lot. It's not going to be right until next season. I realize that. I just have to make adjustments."

Still, Canseco has hit some mammoth home runs since his return, and as of the end of last week, he had six home runs and 18 RBIs in the September stretch run. In 60 games this season, he has knocked in 52 runs and hit 16 homers. If those numbers were projected over a full season, Canseco would have 42 home runs and 135 RBIs, nearly identical to his MVP stats of last year.

"He has been a dominant figure the last month," says Oakland hitting coach Merv Rettenmund. "But when he gets certain pitches—especially fastballs up and in—he can't handle them the way he did. A hand or wrist injury is the worst injury of all to a hitter. It used to be that he'd crush the inside ball. He can't quite do that. Yet."

Says Canseco, "There are ups and downs that there weren't last year. It's all part of this aging process."

At 25, Canseco has learned that being baseball's Bruce Springsteen and making $1.6 million a year doesn't insure happiness. Taped over his locker in the Oakland clubhouse is a picture of his infamous candy-apple-red customized Jaguar, the car that attracted traffic tickets and more. Written over the picture in bold letters is $80,000 OR BEST OFFER. "It's a good thing I like to laugh more than anyone on this planet," Canseco says. It would take a five-page supplement to the A's media guide for a complete rundown of all of Canseco's off-the-field difficulties. In brief: He was sued for $350,000 by the promoters of a card show for breach of contract, arrested in Miami for driving 120 miles an hour, cited for four different violations after running a stop sign in Arizona, arrested in San Francisco for illegal possession of a 9-mm semiautomatic pistol found in his car and accused of building himself up with steroids.

"Jose has had to learn to deal with the responsibilities of fame," says the Athletics' general manager, Sandy Alderson. "While he was complaining about privacy, he was driving that Jaguar, which was a red flag. But I think Jose has learned."

At the very least he has learned to laugh at his woes. Last week, Canseco opened a 900 number and aired a TV commercial on which he says, "Hi, I'm Jose Canseco. I want to speak to you, so call 1-900-234-JOSE. I'll give you the latest scoop on baseball and what's happening in my personal life. If you want to know if I used steroids, how fast I drive or why I was carrying that gun, call 1-900-234-JOSE." His new hot line, which charges the caller $2 for the first minute and $1 for each minute thereafter, is a source of both revenue and amusement to him. "I wish I'd thought of it sooner," he says, laughing. "I could have made a few more bucks."

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