My early 20s were tough years for me. Not only was I getting into “real” relationships with real heartbreak, but money was tight and the jobs I had absolutely sucked. It is a time we older folk can look back at fondly now but back then, life was miserable. To make matters worse, the only father figure I ever had growing up, Jose Canseco, was nearing the end of his career just one year removed from leading the Majors in home runs at the All-Star break in 1999. I couldn’t understand how someone who still had plenty of power and was finally healthy enough to play full-time, just could not find a job even for the league minimum or on a non-contending team.
It all began when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays sent Jose to the New York Yankees only for legendary manager, Joe Torre, to bench him. Jose was healthy and eager to contribute to his team but baseball for some reason was treating the former MVP like a woman scorned. In the end, Jose hit 6 home runs in just 37 games off the bench with the Yankees. I am no mathematician but if you project those numbers to 162 games, Jose Canseco was well on his way to a respectable 30+ home run campaign. Unfortunately, Jose’s life in baseball would only continue to sink once the Yankees were through with him. At the very least, he got himself a World Series ring.
Jose’s time in Chicago was just as depressing as his short stay in New York. At 36, with plenty of baseball life left in him… White Sox manager, Ozzie Guillen, used Jose sporadically throughout the season. Jose made public pleas to play full-time but they were met with laughter. Ozzie Guillen treated Canseco like a joke, something I will never forgive. In the end, Jose hit 16 home runs in 76 games. Again, projected to a full season, Jose’s output would have found him with yet another 30+ home run clip. The following year, Jose was again out of a job but was given an opportunity with the Angels. Before Spring Training was over, Jose was unemployed. This time, perhaps with cause. He missed 10 games with a nagging injury and hit .231 with 0 home runs in 39 at-bats.
In 2002, Canseco wound up with the Montreal Expos. By this time, the writing was on the wall. Jose came in looking pudgy and out of shape and in just 14 games, hit .200 with 3 home runs and 5 RBI. Once again, Jose was cut before the season began. This was the last time Jose would have a real opportunity to play in the MLB. I have always wondered what would have happened if the Angels or Expos had given Jose a full Spring Training tryout. He still had some pop in his bat but the speed was now in full decline. Sadly, this seemed more like an aging slugger with a bad reputation being put out to pasture more than the “conspiracy” that he talked about in his infamous book, ‘Juiced’.
I’ve always had a hard time with those later year card issues of Jose Canseco. For one, despite there being way more parallels and card releases overall, I have a shockingly low amount of cards from 2001-2004 in my collection. It was just too hard for me to see my idol, as damaged as he was, leave baseball. Not only did it put this larger than life person I worshiped as a kid in a new, ugly spotlight … it was perhaps the first time I questioned my own mortality. I was just 22 or 23 at the time but it was then that I began to look at my mother and grandmother and realized someday, they would not be around. I guess Jose’s embarrassing exit from the game of baseball was the exact moment my own childhood died.
Jose was, dare I say, beautiful. No, not physically, although Madonna may disagree. His swag and confidence, the way his muscular arms would twitch after a huge swing and miss. The tape measure home runs he hit and the millions of fans that idolized him for what he did on the field. He was youthful, cocky, way too arrogant, and super rich and most of all, probably the best baseball player from 1988 to 1991. He had talent, God-given and Steroid-produced but he was something very special, a star that shined way too bright and burnt out halfway through the 1992 season when the A’s traded him away to Texas. It was at that moment that Jose Canseco died. We just didn’t know it.
This worthless, “junk wax” era Fleer card is how I will always remember Jose. Not the arrests that came after his career ended, nor the Steroid confession, the book tours, celebrity TV apperances, or his time in Independent ball where he struggled to hit .200. No, Jose Canseco to me will always be the most hated player in every town who would flex his muscles and smile to the camera whenever anyone dared “boo” him. Don’t get it twisted, 1990 Jose knew his worth and that half if not more of any stadium showed up every night to watch him hit a ball 500 feet, strike out 4 times, misplay a ball in the outfield, or anything else that would find its way to ESPN and possibly even the tabloids.
For my own sake, I am blocking Jose on Twitter.