Despite the humor of that public stunt, the travails of this season have, in fact, only heightened some of Canseco's concerns about pleasing people. "I always hear that I'm a 'physical specimen' and a 'superman,' " he says. "I weigh 225 or 230; so does [A's first baseman] Mark McGwire. I don't have Bo Jackson's ability. I did what I did last year, and what did I hear? 'He's just scratching the surface. He can do a lot more.' Can I? I don't know. I want to do more, but I'm afraid that no matter what I do, it won't be enough and people will say, "Jose Canseco could do more if he used his full ability.' When I retire, some people will say, 'He should have done more.' I have to learn not to worry about pleasing everyone. I say, 'Please yourself and the rest will take care of itself.' But when you're in the public eye, it's tough to not care what others think."
There has been no shortage of what others think. "Everyone's psychoanalyzed me," says Canseco. "Vida Blue recommended I buy a Volvo. Denny McLain predicted I was headed for trouble. Denny McLain?"
"Jose has changed since all the stuff happened to him," says Oakland pitcher Dennis Eckersley, who, like many of the A's, considered Canseco very aloof last season. "He's a lot more open now. He takes kidding from teammates now. Hey, maybe he's just growing up. I can relate to that."
"We can point to some immaturity and some irresponsibility when we start talking about Jose's so-called problems," says A's manager Tony La Russa. "But we're not talking about serious problems, not like so many in sports or society. When we talk about Jose Canseco, we're talking about a person who is completely clean. He doesn't drink. He doesn't smoke. He doesn't do drugs. You never have to worry about his being out of shape. And he's intelligent, which is why he will learn from all of this."
And what has Canseco learned so far? "I've got to be careful with people who want to latch on to me because I'm worth something to them," he says. "No more card shows. The public doesn't need to see me getting $15 to sign for a kid. And the Jag's in the garage."
Jose's parents, Jose Sr. and Barbara, like many Cubans who fled Fidel Castro for the United States, were a part of Cuba's educated upper middle class. Jose and his twin brother, Ozzie, were nine months old when their parents immigrated in 1965 and made their home in Miami. Manny Crespo is a former Triple A infielder who moved from Cuba to Miami in 1961 and has known the Cansecos for years. "What most people in this country don't realize is that Cuba, unlike most Latin American countries, had middle, upper middle and lower middle classes," he says. "Jose comes from an extremely well-to-do family, highly respected in Cuba."
"I've always been typecast as the dumb Latino," says Canseco. "I hit two homers in a game in Medford. Ore., in 1983 and a couple of writers asked the manager, 'Does he speak English?' Writers last year were surprised I could talk."
Jose Sr. worked for an American oil company and later taught English in Havana. Jose's grandfather was a judge. When Jose Sr. arrived in Miami, he took a job with Sears and is now a regional manager for Amoco. "My parents were strict, disciplined and oriented toward education," says Jose Jr. "My father worked very hard to build a good life for us. My mother [who died in 1984] loved to cook and work and laugh. My parents never drank or smoked, and to this day, no one is allowed to do either in my father's house. It was always that way in the Cuban community in Miami. People don't understand this. They think of Miami and think of the television violence and all the trouble the Latin people supposedly cause. It's not fair. There are a lot of people in the United States who think the Cubans in this country are the guys that Jimmy Carter let in. They came 15 or 20 years after us. Fidel Castro was smart. He unloaded a lot of criminals and other people he wanted out of the country. But they're not us, and we're not them."
If such misunderstandings have been aggravating to Canseco, his distress has only been exacerbated by his troubled year in the public spotlight. Says his father, "There has been a lot of pain and embarrassment."
The Cuban community of Miami, where the Canseco family still lives, has always been a religious, conservative domain unto itself. Jose Sr. and Barbara had little interest in sports of any kind, and it wasn't until Jose and Ozzie were 12 that they first played organized athletics. "What I did in school was what mattered to my parents," says Jose. "And I did O.K., too. I was basically an honor student until the 10th grade. That's when I got my driver's license."