MLB History: The best major leaguers to come out of Cuba

Cuban children practice baseball in a field of Havana, on September 17, 2018. - Football took over baseball in the preference of children and young people in Cuba, where the latter has been king for almost 150 years. (Photo by Yamil LAGE / AFP) (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Cuban children practice baseball in a field of Havana, on September 17, 2018. - Football took over baseball in the preference of children and young people in Cuba, where the latter has been king for almost 150 years. (Photo by Yamil LAGE / AFP) (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit
Prev
14 of 21
Next
(Photo by Kirby Lee/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kirby Lee/Getty Images) /

8. Jose Canseco, Havana, Athletics, Rangers, Red Sox, Athletics, Blue Jays, Devil Rays, Yankees, White Sox, 1985-2001, +42.5

Cuba may have produced better ballplayers, but it’s impossible to conceive that the island ever produced a more compelling figure than Canseco, the celebrity slugger.

A teen phenom whose twin brother, Ozzie, enjoyed a brief major league career, Canseco’s success was spurred by two pieces of fortune. The first was his father’s ability to secure an emigration visa for his family, which relocated from Havana to south Florida. The second was the happenstance of Jose’s joining a local team whose players included the son of Camilo Pascual. Recognizing talent when he saw it, Pascual tipped the Athletics, for whom he was scouting, and Oakland drafted Jose in 1982.

It didn’t take Canseco long to hit the big time. Following two and a fraction minor league seasons, he hit .302 as a rookie, rattled 33 home runs in 1986, then in 1987 teamed with rookie Mark McGwire to become the “Bash Brothers.” They combined to hit 80 home runs and drive in 231 runs as the A’s finished 81-81, the franchise’s first trip over .500 since 1980.

One season later, the A’s won their first of three straight American League pennants. Canseco produced a league-leading 42 home runs and 124 RBIs in 1988, adding another 54 homers and 158 RBIs in 1989-90. When the A’s beat the Giants to win the 1989 World Series, Canseco batted .357.

Canseco’s celebrity status grew along with his performance, but by the early 1990s rumors of steroid use – later confirmed by Canseco – undermined his value. Despite leading the AL West in 1992, the A’s traded their star outfielder to divisional rival Texas, where Canseco became something of a caricature of himself. He hit 31 home runs in 1994, but by then had gained infamy for allowing a fly ball to bounce off his head over the right field fence in Cleveland for a home run.

With the end of the player strike in 1995, Canseco’s career wandered. He signed as a free agent with the Red Sox, was traded to Oakland inside of two seasons, signed again as a free agent with Tampa Bay, and in 2000 was waived to the Yankees. Between 1996 and 2001, he played with a half dozen teams, each hoping they could revive the late 1980s Oakland Canseco. In the midst of the gathering storm that became the steroid crisis, it never happened and Canseco’s 2001 release by the White Sox was his final one.