In 2018, it’s going to be hard to find sympathy when it comes to someone who carries the surname, ‘Canseco’. Simply put, Jose ruined any chance of it years ago. At best, he was crowned with ‘Vindication’ once it was proven that most of the wild claims in his two best-selling books, were pretty much factual. However, in the game of baseball, no one likes a snitch, so Jose will just sit outside the pearly gates of the Hall of Fame, watching less talented players enshrined, while his once bulging muscles begin to shrink and his waist begins to widen.
So if everyone hates Jose Canseco for his exploits and/or his multiple run ins with the law, what do we make of the lesser-known twin brother, the one who has lived half a decade under the shadow of his more famous, richer, taller, and stronger sibling? The man who has been the butt of jokes since the late-80s but has somehow persevered, not because he wanted to but simply because he had to. No, he wasn’t perfect but it’s safe to say that Osvaldo “Ozzie” Canseco was the more mature and level-headed Canseco brother. Okay, there was this one incident but aside from that, Ozzie has lived a quiet life that has revolved around his love of baseball for over 30 years.
Some guys have all the luck, unfortunately. For Ozzie, if things had gone his way, he might have retired a legend. For starters, despite being the same age as Jose, Ozzie was signed by the New York Yankees a year before his brother, as a pitcher. In fact, Ozzie never even picked up a bat during High School because he never needed to. He was a stud pitcher, while his unknown brother, a 175 lbs. kid named Jose, was struggling to stay on the team. Unfortunately, just two years after being signed, a 6 foot 4, 230 lbs. Jose Canseco won the Minor League Player of the Year award after swatting 36 home runs, driving in 136 runners, and batting .333 on his way to stardom and a date with Madonna.
The Yankees, seeing Jose’s beefed up frame and tape measure home runs looked at the 6 foot three but much slimmer Ozzie and figured with a little help, he could easily do the same. In 41 at-bats, Ozzie managed just 7 hits in 1985. By 1986, the Yankees dumped the career pitcher turned hitter and he was picked up as a favor by the Oakland Athletics. Unfortunately, despite an organization that wanted him to succeed, Ozzie just couldn’t pick up the trade and after four seasons, he was dumped to St. Louis. After struggling with the Cardinals organization, Ozzie continued his baseball journey, this time in Japan and later with the Brewers organization but with every new team, Ozzie found only more failure.
I first met Ozzie Canseco in 1997 while he was giving baseball lessons at his brother’s mansion in Weston, Florida. Unlike his brother, Ozzie was super kind and friendly and even signed a couple of cards for me. The only time Ozzie’s smile faded from his boyish face was when I asked him about his baseball career. You could see the change in his demeanor almost instantly. Ozzie’s only response was that he was retired. The look on his face expressed sadness and even as a 17-year-old kid, I knew not to push the subject any further. However, by 1998, Ozzie was back in baseball and had begun to catch on. At this point, he had no chance of ever making The Show but he continued to pursue his dream, regardless.
Then something amazing happened. At the age of 35, Ozzie finally became the BEST Canseco on a baseball field, this time for the Independent League’s Newark Bears where he posted a .299 average and crushed 48 home runs, 129 RBI, and even stole 21 bases. By the time all was said and done, Ozzie was the Independent League’s Most Valuable Player while his much more famous brother’s career was hitting rock bottom. It’s almost as if the Baseball Gods didn’t want there to be TWO Cansecos finding success so he made one toil for nearly twenty seasons before letting him have his career year.
The second time I met Jose Canseco was in 2008. I had heard a rumor that he was playing in a co-ed softball league in Cooper City, Florida. The fields were run down and the park was barely lit but after several attempts, one day I found him. He was no longer that fresh-faced kid who gave me overpriced batting lessons but his love for the game was still there. Nervous as all could be, I walked up to him and told him I felt that the Cardinals didn’t give him a fair opportunity and his response to this day still saddens me. “That’s life”. Clearly, the weight of his famous brother’s shadow and nearly twenty years of failure had finally gotten to him.
Over the next few weeks, I continued to attend Ozzie’s games and was his biggest supporter. At every game he would greet me with a smile, which was more than I could ask for and then he’d take extra batting practice, hitting mile-long home runs much like the ones he hit in 2000 with the Bears. One day, while at the concession stand, I discovered that Ozzie was waiting in line behind me. I took my opportunity and asked him about his 2000 campaign and for the first time a huge smile lit up the entire park as Ozzie recalled hitting those home runs and winning the MVP award. I asked him if he still had some jerseys or the award but he proudly told me he gave all his gear from his playing days to his daughter.
Ozzie, much like Jose, is a very complicated man. Unlike Jose, who screwed up many times at the highest level, Ozzie drew the short straw and had to suffer through ridicule, jokes, insults, and years and years of failure in the sport he clearly loved. He may not have hit as many home runs as Jose or made anywhere near the kind of money but it was clear that Ozzie Canseco’s true love was baseball and I am forever thankful for those few weeks when I got to watch him slug it out like it was 2000 all over again.