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Jose Canseco is asked if he'll ever be the kind of player to give you 200 hits. "No," he says, "but I could give you 200 strikeouts. How's that?"
He's almost serious. Canseco couldn't give a spitwad about 200 hits. And he thinks even less about batting average.
"I think average is overrated," he says. "Which would you rather see, a guy who goes 3 for 3 in a game with no RBIs or a guy who doesn't get a hit all night until he hits a three-run homer to win the game? Would you rather see Wade Boggs get two hits the opposite way or me hit a 500-foot home run?
"People even enjoy watching me strike out, because I swing so hard. That's where the excitement is. It's the whole Roger Clemens confrontation. The 98-miles-per-hour fastball going against me. I might strike out four times, but my oh for 4 is more exciting than Wade Boggs getting two hits the opposite way."
Jose Canseco is stronger than ammonia. He once hit a home run in Seattle off a broken bat. In Minnesota's Humpdome he hit a ball that went 457 feet and nearly reached the unreachable second deck. His home run in Game 4 of the league championship series in Toronto last season was the first and only fifth-deck home run in history. Of course, Toronto's new SkyDome is the only stadium with five decks, but so what? The ball landed in the fifth row of the fifth deck, in the appropriately numbered Section 540—most estimates said the ball went at least 540 feet.
Canseco hit a grand slam in the Sky-Dome this year that clanked off the restaurant overlooking centerfield. The kid who was sitting by the window in the restaurant said he wasn't worried. "I knew the glass was shatterproof," he said. Now the restaurant's joke du jour is "Waiter, there's a fly ball in my soup."
After Canseco hit a 430-foot home run into Oakland's rightfield seats with a stiff breeze blowing in from right, Reggie Jackson said, "He hits them where I hit them, and he's righthanded." Ex-teammate Dave Parker says Canseco "is the most devastating offensive machine in baseball history. I've seen him hit home runs to rightfield that you'd have thought were hit by Willie Stargell or Mickey Mantle." Canseco's grand slam in the opening game of the 1988 World Series banged off the NBC centerfield camera so quickly that the cameraman never had a chance to duck. The next day, Canseco signed the dent.
But the longest home run Canseco ever hit might have been the one in a loser-buys-dinner home run derby game with his brother, Ozzie, four years ago. Canseco hit a ball at Coral Park (Fla.) High School that was only beginning its ascent at the 410 mark in centerfield, carried over the sidewalk past the fence, past the lawn, over the street, past more lawn, past more sidewalk, then reentered the atmosphere and splashed down on the roof of a house. "That was the most amazing thing I've ever seen," says Ozzie. "It went at least 600, maybe 700 feet."
Jose Canseco says he can't talk now. Not here. Not at the hotel, either. And not at his home and not in the car, not on the plane and not on the team bus, either. And not over lunch or dinner or coffee or drinks. He won't talk on the bus and he can't talk while his back is being worked on by the trainer.
He can talk, however, while he's getting dressed before the game. "You're going to rip me," he says. "Why don't you go on and rip me and just get it over with?" (Shirt comes off.) "It won't affect me." (Game socks go on.)