Jose Canseco: At the Very Least, He’s Refreshingly Honest

Sep 3, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics former player Jose Canseco throws out the first pitch of the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 3, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics former player Jose Canseco throws out the first pitch of the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports /

For all the things Jose Canseco is or isn’t – and all the things he claims to be together with all the things we think he is or isn’t – he is at the very least brutally honest with all of us, and most especially with himself.

He is also one of the most compelling baseball figures to ever take the stage, a born liar and self-admitted cheat who captured the attention, if not the admiration of fans everywhere. His story is one that needs to be told if only because it represents the triumphs and tragedies of one man who played the game, both on and off the field – and lived to tell about it.

I suppose if you wanted to pick one moment from the life and times of Jose Canseco, it would have to be what occurred on the night of May 26, 1993, when he was in right field for a day game between the Rangers and Indians, when Carlos Martinez hit a fly ball toward Canseco that pushed him back almost to the wall. Reaching up as though he had the ball in sight for a routine out, he lost the ball momentarily in the sun, upon which the ball hit him squarely on top of his head, bouncing over the wall for a home run. And as luck would have it, that moment was preserved in time through the auspices of YouTube:

But you have to drill deeper than that to find the real story of Jose Canseco. Writing in the Huffington Post in May of 2016, Lisa Capretto begins her story with this: “Some young athletes power through the start of their professional careers with their heads down and their eyes focused on the work itself. Others — for different reasons — stand in a much brighter spotlight, constantly followed by cameras outside the sport and are treated like rock stars. Baseball slugger Jose Canseco was one of those celebrity athletes.”

And we could add that Jose Canseco wanted nothing less than to be a rock star.

Jose Canseco: Born to Be a Rock Star

Because even from the very beginning, he did not fit the mold of those who came before him. Reflecting back later, even he can understand what she was talking about when he said, “Everything changes when you become the combination of … being the highest paid player and a celebrity. Those combinations for a young athlete are devastating.” Indeed, they were.

But the thing that separates Jose Canseco from everyone else who played in his era is that he is not afraid to admit to his mistakes, especially when it comes to the use of illegal substances. In fact, I would say he the only one who has legitimately and voluntarily done so. Canseco tells the story to Lisa Capretto the way it happened, when he came home to find his mother suffering from a brain hemorrhage she would never recover from. He says he “promised her right there on the spot that [he] was going to become the best player in the world for her, no matter what it took.” In his own words, he tells the story:

His last appearance in a major league uniform would come at the age of 36 with the White Sox in 2001 when he would hit 16 home runs and drive in 49 in only 250 at bats. In reality, he was branded and shunned as a self-admitted drug user, and some would even say a bragger and a jerk. To say he took it all in stride would be an overreach, but again he demonstrated an ability to cope with what had become his reality and a career left in the trash heap. If you look up his numbers, you’ll see that he finished with 462 home runs and an asterisk in most people’s minds as to how many of them were tainted. Again, unlike his colleagues, you don’t see him campaigning for a spot in the Hall of Fame.

The Saga of Jose Canseco Continues After Baseball

More from Call to the Pen

Since his “retirement,” a number of incidents have occurred that raised more than a few eyebrows both in and out of baseball. For example, in 2014 Canseco claimed that his surgically re-attached finger fell off during a poker game following surgery the previous month after shooting himself in the hand. Then, his daughter Josie decided to pose for Playboy as Miss June 2015. More recently, he told TMZ he will be living as a woman for a week as a means of showing support to Caitlyn Jenner for her recent transition. The list is endless.

Canseco also took a brief run of returning to baseball with the Fort Worth Cats in 2013 at the age of 48, a team managed by his brother Ozzie.

He has also taken the time to write a no holds barred book that he aptly titled Juiced that made its circle of waves throughout baseball when it was first published in 2005. In it, Canseco named those who he believed to have used steroids. Some were still active in the game in one capacity or another. In 2015, however, Canseco would tell Sports Illustrated that he wished he had never written the book. As candid as ever, he would say, “Being completely severed from Major League Baseball, probably for life—meaning affiliate ball, I can’t coach, I can’t teach, I can’t be hitting coach or manager or anything–in that way, it cost me a lot. But I told the truth, and the game is better for it now.”

Next: Managers on the Hot Seat

Love him or hate him, like him or not, you certainly can’t ignore him. In more ways than one, maybe he’s like the little kid who always confesses to Mom and Dad that he “did it,” even before either one gets a chance to punish him. And at the very least, you have to appreciate his honesty, especially with regards to all that went wrong with baseball during his era, and the ones who to this day continue to insist that were not part of it.