He could hear the first echoes of the shrieking as he made his way up the ramp beyond centerfield in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. By the time he reached the end of the ramp and stepped into the players' parking lot, there was a cyclone of shouts and screams and squeals. Teenyboppers, small children, women and men, many of them dressed in T-shirts that read LET'S BASH or JOSE 33, were pressed against the wire fence of the walkway leading to the parking lot; more fans called down from atop the back wall of the Coliseum. Athletics outfielder Jose Canseco looked around, waved a couple of times and climbed into his white Porsche.
As he edged the car out of the players' lot, Canseco saw two police motorcycles swing into the main stadium parking area and head toward him with lights flashing and sirens blaring. "Uh-oh," he said to his passenger, "they must know I'm in my car." He started laughing. "Don't worry," he said as he wheeled out to the street and the motorcycles sped past in the other direction, "I know a good bail bondsman."
The traffic on Highway 880 South was moving slowly, which gave the passengers in other cars a chance to notice who was driving the Porsche. Again and again, someone—often a teenage girl—would recognize Canseco, and soon everyone else in the car would be pointing at him. Two beered-up guys pulled their Mazda RX-7 next to the Porsche and gave a thumbs-up sign; when Canseco's lane moved ahead of theirs, one of the Mazda guys leaned out of the car and hollered, "Jose, you——."
Canseco shook his head. "Booze," he said without looking back. "It makes people do bad things. And drugs. Society's too soft on drugs. Baseball is too soft on drugs. Baseball lets these drug offenders come back as if nothing has happened. And sometimes I think the cops are more worried about my cars than they are about people who commit serious crimes involving drugs. It's crazy. You know? Crazy."
The Jose Watch continued after Canseco pulled onto Crow Canyon Road and wound his way toward San Ramon, the town where he lives, 30 minutes from the Coliseum. "I love playing baseball," he said as he waved politely to a foursome of elderly women in a Toyota, "but sometimes I feel like the gorilla in the zoo. People watch the gorilla, stare at it, point at it, trying to figure out why it's doing what it's doing. It seems as if eyes are always on me the same way. I turn around, someone's watching me. Away from the field, I feel as if I'm always being interviewed: 'Jose, how's the wrist?' 'Jose, what happened out there yesterday?' Sometimes, I just don't want to talk about myself. I'm not that interesting. I don't know how to deal with it. I enjoy signing autographs, but if I sign for an hour, there's an hour of people left who are mad at me. If I don't sign, I'm a bad guy. If I do sign, I'm a bad guy. It's confusing.
"I still don't get it. I never thought people would want to know what I do except play baseball. I go out to eat and people say, 'Jose, talk to me." I know those people mean well, but why is a baseball player a celebrity? The way I was brought up, I didn't have heroes. We didn't idolize baseball players or movie actors or rock stars. Society is a little strange."
(Indeed, two seasons ago, while watching an NBA playoff game on TV in the clubhouse, some of Canseco's teammates were stunned to learn that he didn't know who Magic Johnson was. "It would never have dawned on any of us that there could be anyone in pro sports in this country who hadn't heard of Magic Johnson," says Oakland coach Rene Lachemann.)
Canseco drove on toward his condominium where he lives with Esther, his wife of almost a year. He pointed out the speed trap where he was stopped last spring by a police officer. The posted limit goes from 50 to 35. "Watch this," he said. He continued driving at 50 for a few hundred yards and watched as three cars passed him in the left lane before he slowed down to 35. "See?" He frowned. Canseco remains bitter about that ticket, feeling he was targeted. Last month he was pulled over by the same officer, same location. "She [the officer] stopped me for having my windows tinted too dark," said Canseco. "The ticket was hardly written before the media had the news. Now, that is law and order."
Law and order is a subject close to Canseco's heart, and it was with disgust that he said, "Society's going downhill when you read about all the drugs and murders." When asked what he would do if he were the president, he replied, "I'd never be qualified to be president." Then what would he suggest for a candidate of his choice? "Stricter laws and more guns," he said firmly.
So how does he reconcile his speeding tickets and other legal skirmishes with his law and order stance? "It's a matter of priorities," he said. "My going 10 miles over the speed limit or having tinted windows isn't like drug dealing or murders or stock market fraud. I may have been wrong; I accept the punishment. But we're not tough enough about what is eating away at our society."