Why I Blocked Jose Canseco on Twitter

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.

The Tweet of A Lifetime

I guess you’re probably wondering why my childhood idol and the only father figure I had growing up is sending out a Tweet to me asking for $812 dollars. I guess I could start this story two weeks ago when completely out of the blue, Jose Canseco liked one of my posts and followed my account. Really though, this story begins in late 1996 when as a 16 year-old kid, I wound up on juvenile probation.

I guess you could say from the age of 11, I began acting up. By the time I was 13, I was skipping school, and when I hit 14, began experimenting with drugs. All the while, I had a growing collection of baseball cards and an admiration for the former MVP and Mr. “40-40”, Jose Canseco. I would stay up to watch his games, would cut any newspaper clipping of his I could find, and yes … collected every card I could get my hands on.

As a single mother of two, my mother had her work cut out. Once placed on probation, my mother put her foot down and refused to let me hang out with any of my friends. One day, while driving to pay a bill with my mom, I spotted a Blockbuster Golf & Games, which featured an outdoor, open-air batting cage facility. To this day, it is the only one of its kind I’ve ever seen.

That Blockbuster became my second home. I spent every minute I could hitting in those cages. I worked my way up from 40 MPH to 60 MPH and by the end of 1996, I was a beast on the 80 MPH cage, which was rarely used except by the occasional Floridian ball player like Benito Santiago or Edgar Renteria. That final month of ’96, I even got a job at the batting cages, which meant unlimited free sessions for me.

One day in early 1997, I was waiting for the installation of the new 90 MPH cage when I noticed out of the corner of my eye a huge man hanging a paper next to the batting cage office. I went in for my first ever 90 MPH session and hit almost every single ball for a home run and as I walked out I thought to myself, “Man, I need to take this to the next level”. It was at that moment that I read a flyer that would change my life.

“Batting Lessons with Ozzie Canseco”. I gazed at it for a good minute. At the bottom were tabs so you could take the phone number but I didn’t want the world to know that one of the Canseco brothers was giving out lessons so I took the entire flyer home and called immediately. I left a message. A day went by, no response. The following day I called again but again no response. Was this a scam?

The next morning I was on the couch organizing my card collection when my phone rang. I looked at the caller I.D. and it read something I will never forget so long as I live, “J. Canseco”. My heart began to pound as I literally froze in fear and excitement. I must have answered on the 5th or 6th ring. What was said has been lost in memory as it’s now been 22 years but I remember a date, a time, and an address.

You have to understand, growing up in Weston, Florida meant hearing all sorts of tales about Jose Canseco, his fast life, and even his equally famous neighbor, Dan Marino. In 1997, Jose’s star was fading but he was still somewhat young, rich, and famous and his house was the stuff of legends. Today, it is still talked about and even became infamous thanks to a pool party Roger Clemens may or may not have attended.

When I drove up to 3025 Meadow Lane in my beat-up 1995 Ford Ranger I felt like I was driving up to Disney World for the first time. For starters, it was the biggest house I have ever seen. When I got out, Ozzie was waiting for me at one side of the house which he said had been turned into a state of the art baseball facility. It looked more like a full length basketball court with a pitching machine in the middle to me.

There was also a gym with more weight lifting equipment than any Gold’s Gym I’ve ever seen. As I walked by, Ozzie told me all the guys come here to work out and he specifically named Alex Rodriguez, who was a 20-year-old skinny kid around this time. A few years later, Jose and Alex had a really bad falling out with Jose even threatening Alex in the media due to ARod breaking the #1 Bro Code Rule.

As for Jose’s house, he sold it and moved out of Florida and eventually had what you’d classify as a fall from grace. He was blackballed from baseball, lost his money, his wife, and his fame. He wrote a book, became a joke and the most hated man in baseball and then suddenly, was vindicated. Some even go as far as to call him a hero. Unfortunately, Jose dealt with probably the worst 10 years of his life because of it.

The house now lives on in a fan site, believe it or not. Also, I was able to find photos of both the pool area where Roger Clemens likely soaked his bleached-blonde hair of 1998,¬† the weight room where Jose and Alex probably got “juiced” in and of the “state of the art” baseball facility Ozzie Canseco told me about, which was really just a really nice and fancy indoor basketball court.

So what about that Tweet Jose sent out? Well, it took about two weeks for me to Tweet out to Jose after that grand day when my Twitter notifications told me he was a follower. What I did was Tweet out a photo of Ozzie’s business card with a story on how a line drive I hit crushed one of his wooden doors. Behind those doors? Probably a ton of basketball equipment Ozzie threw in there as I pulled up.

Not only did Jose remember me, but he also remembers the bill from having to repair said door. As a collector and a die-hard fan of Jose for nearly 30 years, I can’t describe the smile on my face when I saw the Tweet. I felt like a kid again, watching my hero crush a 500 foot home run into the upper deck of Skydome. It was a much-needed reminder as to why I’ve loved Canseco all these years.

As for my own baseball career, unfortunately, I hit a lot like Canseco but also played outfield just like him. Also, it didn’t help learning to play the field at 17. I never had the reflexes and timing for it so while I could hit 350 foot home runs, I also missed every single ball hit my way. I did manage to play two seasons of little league age 15-17 at age 18 and 19, respectively. Yes, I was a ringer like Jose on The Simpsons.

By 24, I was playing in a semi-pro league in the Yankees’ former spring training home next to former signed ball players and was following in my hero’s footsteps until a fateful day when I was showing off like Jose used to and tore my rotator cuff. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the insurance to get it repaired. As for the open-air batting cages that brought me THIS close to Jose, they shut down and were replaced by an IKEA.

Today, I am a 38-year-old man still chasing the now unrealistic dream of playing baseball again. Some days, I dream about those batting cages and me crushing 400 foot bombs straight to center field like my idol once did. Ironically, in 2009 I ran into Ozzie and later got to meet Jose in Cooper City, Florida just by luck. I stuttered and stammered through a couple of sentences to Ozzie but was too scared to pose with a picture of Jose.

Here’s hoping I get another chance with Jose in 2018.

More Topps Shenanigans?

Well, 2018 Topps is live and it looks like the MLB exclusive baseball card producer has finally gone and ran every damn card through some awful Instagram filter from 2014. Look, I get it. I always wanted Jose Canseco’s good looks but without SnapChat’s filters to assist, I look way more like Vinny Castilla.

Anyway, the real story for me is the several Jose Canseco cards in Topps’ flagship which includes two different cards with parallels and certified autographs. However, one card set off my bullshit alarm and as you can see below, it is not due to the sticker autograph but Jose’s mysterious, never before seen 5 O’Clock shadow.

2018 Topps and the 5 O’ Clock Shadow

This may sound strange but as someone who has nearly looked at photographs of Jose Canseco all my life, I know all his looks. From his awful, one time only look on his ’86 Donruss card which was forever immortalized on his Rated Rookie card to his skinny days of 1987, bulked up frame of 1988, emaciated look of 1989, etc.

You see, I could go on forever. The new card above comes from Jose’s one year, disastrous return to Oakland in 1997. It was a move by the A’s which created quite a bit of hype considering they were reuniting the Bash Brothers but by this point, Mark McGwire was a superstar about to make history and Jose was a washed-up slugger.

 

1986 Donruss and the Mexi-Stache

Pinnace Brands, Fleer Trading Cards, Upper Deck, Donruss, and Topps all put out multiple cards featuring Jose’s return to the A’s and ESPN aired several of their games. I also collected all the images I could find during the early days of the Internet and AOL and never have I once seen Jose with that much facial hair.

Okay, in Jose’s final year with the Red Sox in 1996, the awful Mexican mustache made a comeback and was even featured on cards by Topps and Upper Deck but it was literally a two-week, blink and you missed it moment for Jose collectors and those poor fans in Boston who had to watch a grown man with a 14-year old’s facial hair growth.

1996 Topps Gallery and the Return of the Mexi-Stache

So what gives? What is the origin of this 2018 Topps card photograph? What does the original, non-filtered to absolute Hell photo look like? Is this a case of Topps Photoshopping a 1996 Red Sox image? Nope. Jose only wore that specific elbow guard AFTER his stint with Boston. This is definitely a 1997 image.

For reference, check out this terribly-dated 1998 Pacific card featuring a pretty up-close shot of Jose from his time with Oakland in 1997. As you can see, no shadow. That was the look with all his cards. So is this a case of Topps finding an extremely rare photo of Jose with facial hair or did they go a little overboard with Adobe?

The world may never know. Or care.

Some ugly Pacific Card …

How I Became A Two-Time Loser

We collectors are a fickle bunch. One day you realize your favorite player’s best days are behind him and suddenly younger, better players start catching your eyes. After Jose Canseco was dumped to the Boston Red Sox I began to realize that he just wasn’t reliable enough to play a full season. In fact, by the time he joined the Sox, Jose would wind up playing another 7 years with only one of them being an injury-free, full season.

Around 1995 is when a total badass named Albert Belle started catching my attention, especially after being the first player in the history of the game to smash 50 home runs and hit 50 doubles. He was absolutely awesome and didn’t give a damn about anyone but while he was putting up big numbers, a skinny kid named Manny Ramirez was patiently waiting in the wings.

Manny Ramirez didn’t have Canseco-type power (at least not early on) but he was young, had personality, and looked a lot more like me than Jose Canseco did. As my Canseco collection kept growing through trades and such, I slowly began using my trade bait more and more for Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez cards. By the time Manny became a way better player than Jose ever could, my collection was pushing 100 cards.

Then one day my collecting world changed in a matter of minutes. Jose Canseco, the man I idolized since the age of 10 admitted to using Steroids. Essentially, Jose had cheated his entire career. I forgave Canseco because by then he had been a part of my childhood and life for a decade. The one who lost out was Manny Ramirez and baseball. You see, my heart was so broken that I never again watched another game.

I walked away from the game of baseball just as Manny was hitting his prime seasons. For me, baseball was dead. Collecting was different because I took joy in it for the nostalgia of chasing my childhood and because I loved the gambling aspect of it. Besides, cards were getting more and more sophisticated every year. It was easy to ignore the game but a Topps Refractor? NO PROBLEM!

I will always be a collector even though these days I know maybe a small handful of players. I couldn’t care less about Judge, Trout, or Harper. What DOES interest me is the hobby and business of trading cards as it relates to baseball. Probably seems a little weird but think about it, the only OTHER player I’ve invested in emotionally besides Jose Canseco turned out to be just as bad or worse than Jose.

While Ramirez put up overall way better numbers than Jose throughout his career, he was a more of a bonehead in the field. He often played like he just wanted to be somewhere else, was suspended multiple times for cheating, and even used corked bats thanks to revelations by Pacific trading cards. Also like Jose, he too hung on way too long hoping to re-start his tarnished career.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me …

How Topps Missed the Boat and Created an Underrated Classic

Like it or not, at one point in time there was no one in the game of baseball better or more popular than Jose Canseco. This is a fact that cannot be argued. HOW he became so good, of course was through the help of Steroids. Still, Jose took the baseball world by storm and crushed it out of the park in the world of trading cards, simultaneously.

Well, no matter who you ask, universally, Jose’s 1986 Donruss Rated Rookie was the end all, be all. I personally walked into a hobby shop in 1990 and stared at it behind a thick glass case with a very small sticker displaying a price of $160 dollars. This was a card that I wouldn’t be able to purchase for a decade, once Jose’s stock plummeted to Circuit City-type levels in the late-90s.

One card that I was able to afford was Jose’s 1986 Topps Traded, which was considered an XRC or eXtended rookie card. The highest I recall seeing the XRC in a card shop was for $25 in the early 90s. I was lucky to be gifted the card by my aunt around that period because otherwise it would have been out of my price range for a few more years.

Here’s the thing, unlike the iconic Donruss Rated Rookie everyone knows and at one point or another, loved, the Topps XRC actually captured Jose’s smug and unfriendly persona To A T. The much more popular Donruss card just featured an up-close photograph of Jose and his teenage-level mustache which still hadn’t filled in ten years later with the Boston Red Sox.

For once in their storied history, at least for a good 4-5 years while Jose’s career was booming, Topps had to play the role of underdog to Donruss. Of course, it didn’t last long and by 1992, Jose was beginning to show serious chinks in his armor all while younger, friendlier, and better players began to skyrocket to baseball fame (Griffey Jr., F. Thomas).

Ultimately, Jose’s stock never recovered and most of his fans moved on to other players after he was unloaded to the Texas Rangers. With every pit stop and injury along the way, eventually Jose faded into oblivion and was considered nothing more than a “wasted talent”, according to many baseball insiders and analysts.

Had Jose continued on his meteoric rise, eventually, his Donruss rookie card may have lost some luster after the company was stripped of their MLB license. In an alternate universe where Jose remained the King of Baseball from 1993 to the early 2000s, Topps’ underrated XRC may have passed the Donruss card in relevancy.

Unfortunately, the truth is both original cards are dead in the water unless you somehow have a pristine, graded version of either one. Topps, unlike Donruss, can continue to tinker with greatness and has produced painted-style tributes, as well as buybacks, Chrome & Refractors versions and even the card you see below.

Officially, as a Jose Canseco collector since 1990, the 2017 Topps Clearly Authentic is now my all-time favorite card of Jose. I shouldn’t be surprised that a new card that pushes all the right buttons of nostalgia would win the top spot but seriously, I’ve never seen a more beautiful, baseball card.

Thankfully, the card is numbered in the 100s which has placed its current value in the $50 dollar range (and dropping). If Jose can somehow keep out of the TMZ Breaking News death alarm, something which may prove difficult considering his 30+ years of Steroid abuse, I may eventually be able to pick this card up for a decent price.