Canseco, José: 1964—

views updated May 11 2018

José Canseco: 1964: Baseball player

As the American League's Rookie of the Year in 1986 and the first player to hit forty home runs and steal forty bases in a single season, José Canseco was one of the outstanding baseball players of his day. Named the Most Valuable Player in the American League in 1988 during his first stint with the Oakland Athletics (A's), Canseco indeed seemed well on his way to a long illustrious major league career. Yet a series of injuries and legal problems plagued the slugger during the 1990s. He played for six different teams during the decadenever for more than two-and-a-half seasons on any one teambefore briefly joining the New York Yankees in 2000. Closing out his career with the Chicago White Sox in 2001, Canseco alleged that he had been blackballed from baseball because of his controversial persona on and off the field. However, his retirement as a professional athlete proved just as controversial as his playing days. In November of 2002 he pled guilty to charges of assault against two Miami Beach bar patrons and agreed to enter an anger management program as part of his probation. Canseco also made headlines by declaring that he was writing a tell-all book about steroid use in major league baseball, which he claimed was rampant.

José Canseco y Capas and his twin brother, Osvaldo (Ozzie) were born on July 2, 1964, to José and Barbara Canseco in Havana, Cuba. The Cansecos also had a daughter, Teresa. When José and his brother were just nine months old, the family received permission to leave Cuba for the United States. Their father had worked as an oil company executive until the Cuban Revolution installed Fidel Castro in power in 1959. Canseco tried to make a living by giving private lessons in English, but the struggle proved too much. The family had to leave almost all of their material possessions behind in order to emigrate from Cuba and arrived in Miami with only about fifty dollars. The Cansecos found establishing themselves in the close-knit emigré community of Cubans in south Florida was difficult, however, they quickly adjusted to life in America. Both José and his brother Ozzie attended public schools in Miami, eventually finishing their education at Coral Park High School. Both were star baseball players on the school's team. As a pitcher, Ozzie was drafted by the New York Yankees. José, playing third base and outfield, was also drafted as a teenager in 1982, going to the Oakland Athletics in the fifteenth round.

At a Glance . . .

Born José Canseco y Capas, Jr. on July 2, 1964, in Havana, Cuba; son of José and Barbara Canseco; married Esther Canseco (divorced); married Jessica Canseco (divorced); children: Josie (with Jessica).

Career: Baseball player, 1985-01: Oakland A's, 1985-92; Texas Rangers, 1992-94; Boston Red Sox, 1994-96; Oakland A's, 1997; Toronto Blue Jays, 1998; Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 1999-00; New York Yankees, 2000; Chicago White Sox, 2001.

Awards: American League Rookie of the Year, 1986; American League Most Valuable Player, 1988.

Address: Literary agent Ronald Laitsch, Authentic Creations, 875 Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road, Suite 310-306, Lawrenceville, GA 30043; (770) 339-7126.

Named Rookie of the Year

Canseco's first two seasons in the minor leagues found him playing for teams in Miami, Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Medford, Oregon, where he led the Northwest League in strikeouts. It was not until the death of his mother in 1984 that Canseco seemed to revise his outlook on the game of baseball and took his playing seriously. Advancing to the A's Modesto affiliate in California that year, Canseco led the team in runs batted in (RBIs) and helped the squad win that year's league title. At the beginning of the 1985 season, Canseco was sent to the Huntsville Stars in Alabama, where he had eighty RBIs in fifty-eight games. After playing half the season in Huntsville, Canseco was called up to Washington to join the Tacoma Rainiers, where he compiled a .348 batting average in sixty games. On September 2, 1985, Canseco finally made his major-league debut with the Oakland A's as an outfielder. He played twenty-nine games in his first partial season in the majors and ended the season with an impressive .302 batting average.

Although Canseco had an unenviable record of striking out at the plate, the six-foot, four-inch, 240-pound player continued to rack up impressive batting statistics in his first seasons with the A's. In 157 games of the 1986 season, Canseco hit 33 home runsalmost breaking the team's recordand attained 117 RBIs in 600 trips to the plate. Despite leading the A's with 175 strikeouts, Canseco earned a .240 batting average and was named the American League's Rookie of the Year at the conclusion of the season. In 1987 Canseco improved his batting average to .257, with 31 home runs and another 113 RBIs.

For the 1988 season, Canseco boldly predicted that he would achieve something no other baseball player had accomplished: hit forty home runs and steal forty bases during the regular season. Considering that he had just fifteen stolen bases and 31 home runs the prior season, the goal seemed far-fetched. Yet Canseco closed in on the record with determination and on September 18, 1988, hit his fortieth homer of the year; he eventually closed the season with 42 home runs in all. Five days after his fortieth home run, Canseco stole two bases in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers, bringing his total to 40. Led by Canseco's slugging, the A's won their league title and faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. The A's lost the series, but Canseco emerged from the season with a career-high .307 batting average. He also took home Most Valuable Player honors for the American League.

Faced Numerous Legal and Physical Troubles

Suffering from a fractured left hand, Canseco played a reduced schedule in 1989. He nevertheless signed a five-year contract with the A's, set to begin in 1991, worth an estimated $23.5 million, which made him the highest-paid baseball player in the league at that time. The A's returned to the World Series again in 1989, this time facing their regional rivals, the San Francisco Giants. The A's took the title with Canseco posting a .357 batting average during the series. The team returned for a third consecutive appearance in the World Series in 1990, when the A's lost to the Cincinnati Reds.

Although he recovered from his hand injury, Canseco suffered from back problems in the 1990 season and was continually plagued by health problems for the remainder of his career. More troubling were the headlines Canseco garnered with his life off the field. In 1992 Canseco was arrested after he plowed his car into a car driven by his wife, Esther Canseco, in Miami. As part of a plea agreement to avoid conviction on the charge of aggravated assault, Canseco underwent counseling and fulfilled a community-service requirement. The couple subsequently divorced, and Canseco married a second time, to Jessica Sekely. The marriage proved equally turbulent, with Canseco arrested in Miami in 1997 after striking his wife while they were having an argument in a friend's car. Canseco again reached a plea agreement in January of 1998 and avoided jail time by agreeing to undergo counseling. The Cansecos had a daughter, Josie, who lived with her mother after the couple divorced in 1999.

Near the end of the 1992 season, the A's traded Canseco to the Texas Rangers, where he completed the season with a .233 batting average. In 1993 Canseco made his major-league debut as a pitcher with the Rangers, but an injury to his elbow, which later required surgery, cut the endeavor short. Canseco remained with the Rangers through the end of the 1994 season, when he was traded to the Boston Red Sox. He almost tied his career-high batting average with a .306 mark in the 1995 season, but injuries again limited his play the following season. Returning to Oakland as a free agent for the 1997 season, Canseco joined the Toronto Blue Jays in 1998 with a one-year contract worth over $2 million. Although he had a fairly good season with the team and hit a career-high forty-six home runs, Canseco was disappointed when the Blue Jays declined to re-sign him. "I just didn't think I was in their plans," he told Baseball Digest in August of 1999. "I think it was obvious last year at the All-Star break when I had twenty-four home runs and twenty-four stolen bases and they didn't re-sign me by then. Especially when I had approached them a couple of times."

Confronted More Problems After Retirement

Canseco was still able to command more than $3 million a season from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, where he played in 1999 and 2000, before joining the New York Yankees for the end of the 2000 season. Canseco joined the Yankees just in time for their World Series victory over the New York Mets; it was Canseco's fourth championship appearance and the second time he was a member of the winning team. His stint with the team turned out to be brief, however, and Canseco finished his major-league career at the end of the 2001 season with the Chicago White Sox. He spent part of the 2002 season with a minor league team in Charlotte, but announced in May that he was retiring from professional baseball. Over his seventeen seasons in the majors, Canseco had compiled a .266 batting average while hitting 462 home runs and earning 1,407 RBIs.

Although Canseco's career statistics were more than respectable, his image as a temperamental player who was often in trouble off the field continued to dog him. In November of 2001 Canseco and his brotherwho played only two seasons of major league baseball in the early 1990swere arrested after punching out two Miami Beach bar patrons on Halloween night. Although the bar patrons ended up with a broken nose and busted lip that required twenty stitches, Canseco insisted in comments made to the ESPN web site, "I know that my brother and myself were definitely victims and the girl I was with got sexually assaulted. We got attacked. We are the victims here. We just defended ourselves." In November of 2002 Canseco pled guilty to one count of felony aggravated battery and two counts of misdemeanor battery in exchange for three years probation, anger management classes, and 250 hours of community service. Ozzie Canseco received a similar sentence.

Canseco also made headlines after his retirement by threatening to publish a tell-all book about his experiences in major league baseball. His most disturbing allegations focused on the use of steroids by baseball players to improve their performance. Long rumored to have used steroids himself to bulk up and become a more powerful hitter, Canseco admitted privately that he had both injected and ingested steroids throughout his career; he also estimated that as many as eighty-five percent of players in the majors were using steroids. Despite his accomplishments on the field, Canseco's controversial remarks cast doubt on his future as a Baseball Hall of Fame inductee. "The last ten years people have been laughing at him,"San Francisco Chronicle writer Bruce Jenkins told USA Today in May of 2002, "Hall of Famers are not the object of scorn."



Sullivan, George, Sluggers: Twenty-Seven of Base-ball's Greatest, New York, Atheneum, 1991.


Baseball Digest, August 1999, p. 22.

Sports Illustrated, September 2, 2002, p. 34.

USA Today, May 15, 2002; May 17, 2002.

Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2002.


"Cansecos' trial opens; two rejected plea deal in August," ESPN Online, November 4, 2002, (March 26, 2003).

"Fight Leaves One Man with Broken Nose," November 13, 2001, ESPN Online, (March 26, 2003).

"José Canseco agrees to three years' probation," ESPN Online, November 5, 2002, (March 26, 2003).

"José Canseco Misses Hearing on Charges from Nightclub Scuffle," Sports Server Website, August 13, 2002, (March 26, 2003).

"José Canseco Statistics," Baseball Reference Website, (March 26, 2003).

"Literary agent: Canseco said he used steroids," ESPN Online, June 6, 2002, (March 26, 2003).

"Retired slugger says he plans to write tell-all book," ESPN Online, May 14, 2002, (March 26, 2003).

Timothy Borden

Canseco, Jose

views updated May 29 2018

Jose Canseco


Cuban baseball player

Sportswriters once chronicled Jose Canseco's exploits both on and off the baseball diamond with a mix of reverence and disbelief. The Oakland Athletics (A's) outfielder hit impressive home runs, helped take his team to three American League pennants and a World Series win, and was the first baseball player in history to achieve the "40-40" record: 40 home runs and 40 bases stolen in a season. Canseco attained a certain notoriety off the field as well, running into trouble with the law over fast cars and guns, and was accused of using steroids. Canseco denied this last charge vehemently, but after his career ended, he made headlines once again by claiming that a large percentage of players, perhaps as high as 85 percent, used the illicit substances to improve their performance.


Canseco and his fraternal twin Oswaldo were born in Havana, Cuba, on July 2, 1964, to Jose and Barbara Canseco. In December of 1965, the family, which included an older sister, left Cuba and settled in Opa-Locka, Florida. At Coral Park High School, Canseco was a talented, if somewhat slight of frame ball player who did not make the varsity team until his senior year. A scout for the Oakland A's, a fellow Cuban, discovered him, and he was a 15th-round draft pick in 1982. He first played for the Rookie League or farm teams in several states before making his major-league debut in September of 1985 in an A's game against Baltimore.

By 1986, Canseco's impressive hitting power had earned him the American League (AL) Rookie of the

Year title. Two years later, he declared his intention to set a baseball first, the 40-40, and did it on September 23, 1988, in an A's game against the Milwaukee Brewers. He was named the AL's Most Valuable Player (MVP) that season, and often earned comparisons to Reggie Jackson , who praised his talents. Canseco was famous for his at-bat twitches, but the quirk only seemed a warm-up to the real stunt: soaring home runs. At Game 4 of the American League Championships in Toronto in 1989, Canseco hit the ball into the fifth deck of the vast new Toronto Sky Dome that estimates pegged as a 540-foot hit.

Starred on Star Team

The A's won that Series against Toronto, and took the World Series title that year against Bay Area rivals the San Francisco Giants. Canseco ended the season with a.269 average. He was signed to a record-setting five-year, $23.5 million contract, but injuries hampered his 1990 season. Though the A's made it into the next World Series, they lost to the Cincinnati Reds. In 1991, the A's failed to make the playoffs.

At the height of his career, Canseco was inarguably baseball's biggest celebrity. He was swarmed by fans everywhere he went, and was once even spotted leaving the apartment of sexy pop-singer Madonna. Several runins with authorities added to his cultivated bad-boy image: he racked up speeding tickets in the Porsches and Lamborghinis he collected, kept a pet cougar at his Miami home, and was once arrested for carrying a loaded semiautomatic pistol. Promoters of a baseball-card show sued him for being a no-show, and Canseco even had a "1-900-234-JOSE" hotline, which cost fans $2 during the first minute and $1 minute thereafter. Through it all Canseco had a problematic relationship with sports journalists, who were awed by his innate talents but put off by his ego. "Canseco is a baseball virtuoso, an athletic flower that blooms once a century," wrote Rick Reilly in Sports Illustrated. "We know this because he mentioned it the other day."

Surprise Trade

Canseco, who had bulked up considerably since his high-school days, was also rumored to be a steroid user. He categorically denied the charges. "No. 1, I take it as a personal attack on me and my race," Canseco fumed about the matter in a 1995 interview with Barry M. Bloom in Sport. Between the 1991 and 1992 seasons, Canseco seemed to lose his edge. At the time, his marriage to Esther Haddad, Miss Miami 1986, was disintegrating, and in February of 1992 he was arrested after chasing and hitting Haddad's car on the highway with his Porsche. He avoided jail by agreeing to court-ordered psychiatric treatment, and later said that the therapy had helped him immensely in dealing with some of the issues in his life.

At the time, however, Canseco also had a troubled relationship with A's manager Tony LaRussa that was often hinted at in veiled comments each made to the press. On August 31, 1992, after a dismal summer, Canseco was traded two hours before the season trading deadline. He was actually in the on-deck circle at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, about to go to bat, when he was called in and told the news. To be traded in itself was a shocking way to end his career with the A's, but its suddenness seemed designed to humiliate Canseco. A's general manager Sandy Alderson discussed the matter with Bloom, in the Sport article, a few years later. "Jose had lost his desire to be a player," Alderson asserted. "He had adopted a wish to be an entertainer in a broader sense without regard to being a baseball player. That didn't work anymore."

Years after A's management had made the infamous Canseco trade, emotions still ran high over LaRussa's role in it. Neither had spoken to one another since, though LaRussa did tell Barry M. Bloom in Sport that he still believed Canseco was "the most talented player I have ever managed." He also reflected back on comments Canseco had made at the time, specifically those in which the athlete asserted that the A's would have never traded a player like Cal Ripken, Jr. or Kirby Puckett so ignominiously. "If Jose would have taken care of his business like Puckett and Ripken, which is be there every day and care about teammates and the outcome of the game and personal performance, we would have never traded Jose either," LaRussa told Bloom. "He stopped caring. We couldn't get him back on track."

Career Statistics

Bos: Boston Red Sox; CWS: Chicago White Sox; NYY: New York Yankees; Oak: Oakland Athletics; TB: Tampa Bay Devil Rays; Tex: Texas Rangers; Tor: Toronto Blue Jays.

Traded for three players to the Texas Rangers, Canseco had another bad season in 1992 and an even worse year the next, when he was mocked by fans after a fly ball bounced off his head and over the fence. After two seasons with the Rangers, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox before the start of the 1995 baseball year, and went back to Oakland in 1997 for a season. He performed well for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1998, enjoying his best season in several years, but the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were the only team to bid for him at the close of the year. The Anaheim Angels signed him in late 2000, but released him from his contract before the season began. He was the Yankees' designated hitter for a time, but did not play in the pennant race that brought the famed post-season "Subway Series" against the New York Mets.

Canseco still told sportswriters that he hoped to hit 500 career home runs, which he believed would be the ticket to a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He spent what would be his final season with the Chicago White Sox, where his uneven hitting of the past few seasons continued (at one point in the season, he struck out 15 times in just nine games). What would become his last career home run, No. 462, came on October 3, 2001, in a Sox-Yankees game in New York. His future was uncertain, but he vowed never to retire. "One thing is I'm not a quitter. I never have been and never will be," Canseco told Chicago Tribune sportswriter Paul Sullivan, even as news hit that the Sox's Frank Thomas would return for the team's final outing against Minnesota, making Canseco "expendable," as Sullivan wrote. Yet Canseco remained optimistic. "It's going to take a lot more than that to get me out of the game."

Announced Retirement

On May 13, 2002, Canseco announced his retirement. His agent, Alan Nero, issued a statement that explained Canseco was quitting the Charlotte Knights, a farm team in the Chicago White Sox organization, for personal reasons, including a desire to spend more time with his five-year-old daughter, Josie, from his second marriage in 1996. (The union with Jessica Seikaly, a former waitress at a Hooters restaurant, had also ended in divorce.)

Canseco's 462 home-run total stood, 38 short of his oft-stated career goal. In an ESPN Radio interview, he claimed to have been blackballed by the major-league team owners, and hinted that he would expose baseball's seamier side in a tell-all autobiography. A Miami Herald writer, Greg Herald, asserted that Canseco should exit the game more gracefully. "Get out with a little class," Herald urged. "Retire right. Instead, inadvertently, Canseco is giving a public seminar on how not to make that ego-defying leap from star to ex/former/used-to-be."

Few sports pundits believed that Canseco would, in the end, be admitted to the Hall of Fame, despite his impressive 40-40 first. Gary Peterson, summarizing Canseco's early promise and tragic decline in a Contra Costa Times article published by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, recalled that Canseco "arrived in the major leagues at the speed of sound. He wasn't the architect of the A's revival, but he did a lot of the heavy lifting." Peterson noted that it was at the start of the 1990s that the gifted player, who "seemed to have an intuitive feel for the game," began to lose his focus. "Ten years ago Canseco seemed on the fast track to Cooperstown," Peterson wrote. "Five years ago you could incite a spirited debate by questioning his candidacy for the Hall of Fame. Now? It's not even a discussion."

Made Claims of Steroid Use

Within a week of retiring, Canseco was back in the news after declaring in a Fox Sports Net interview that steroid use, contrary to his past assertions, was rampant in major-league baseball. "Steroids completely changed baseball," Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service writer Skip Bayless quoted him as saying. "That's why guys are hitting 50, 60, 75 home runs." When pressured for more specifics, Canseco declared that his forthcoming book would provide details about his own steroid use and that of other players. Bayless also wrote that Canseco had often asserted that he "could have hit 600 if I could have stayed healthy," and theorized that because of steroid abuse, the player "got too big and strong for his frame. His joints and connective tissue couldn't bear up under his rippled bulk and the unnatural power it could unleash. So one reason Canseco was able to hit 462 homers was also a reason he couldn't stay healthy enough to hit 600."


1964Born in Havana, Cuba, on July 2
1965Emigrated to United States from Cuba with family
1982Drafted by Oakland A's
1985Makes major-league debut
1988Marries Esther Haddad on November 5
1988Becomes first player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a single season
1989Oakland A's win World Series
1990Signs record $23.5 million contract
1992Arrested in February and charged with aggravated battery
1992Traded to Texas Rangers
1995-2001Plays for Boston Red Sox, Oakland A's, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, New York Yankees, and Chicago White Sox
1996Marries Jessica Seikaly on August 26
2002Announces retirement from baseball and plans to write autobiography

A similar charge regarding the widespread steroid use was made by former National League MVP Ken Caminiti just days later in the press. Caminiti claimed that as many as 50 percent of all players used performance-enhancing drugs, thought to cause testicular cancer, heart disease, infertility, and the mood swings known as "'roid rage," while Canseco's claims pegged the number at 85 percent. An onslaught of stories in the media centering on the ethics of steroid use followed. Many sportswriters noted that while a drug-testing policy was sometimes called for in professional baseball, it was thought that the powerful players' union would categorically reject any such changes.

Arrested for Nightclub Brawl

On Halloween of 2001, Canseco and his brother Ozzie were involved in a Miami nightclub brawl and were arrested. They later rejected plea agreements on the felony charges and the cases were slated to go to trial in November of 2002. If convicted, Canseco could receive a maximum sentence of 31 years. The charges seemed to further doom his goal of entering the Baseball Hall of Fame.

When Canseco retired, he was one of just nine major-league players who had hit 400 home runs and stolen 200 bases or more as well. Seven of the other eight had been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame already, and though Canseco was the first to ever make the 40-40 mark, many sportswriters noted that his contributions to baseball were overshadowed by the controversies he instigated. As Herald wrote, "Everybody discounts his chances to be voted into the Hall of Fame because nobody seems able to stay focused on the talent that otherwise would make Cooperstown a logical destination. The injuries, the speeding tickets, the steroid rumors, the divorces (and Madonna!), that fly caroming off his cap, the dark paranoia-all that static obscuring all that skill."

Awards and Accomplishments

1986Named American League Rookie of the Year
1986, 1988-90, 1992, 1999Made All-Star team
1988Named American League Most Valuable Player
1988RBI Leader
1988, 1991American League Home Run Champion


Address: Jose Canseco, c/o Major League Baseball, 75 Ninth Ave., New York, NY 10011. Fax: (212) 485-3456. Phone: (212) 485-3182.



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Sketch by Carol Brennan