As A's dynasty falters, Canseco becomes fall guy

MIKE LITTWIN

October 20, 1990|By MIKE LITTWIN

OAKLAND, CALIF — OAKLAND, Calif. -- It is no easy matter, this dynasty business. You don't see any Mings hanging around anymore, do you?

The A's dynasty, nearly a year old, was about to collapse under its own weight when Tony La Russa, the genius, had an idea.

He would blame Jose.

Perfect. As far as targets go, our man Canseco is baseball's answer to the Aberdeen Proving Ground. He's rich, loud, egocentric, and he drives too fast to boot. Usually, he's saying something endearingly dumb -- such as the other team would be lucky to win one game -- and when he's not doing that or hitting monstrous home runs or just being a goof, he butchers the odd ball in right field.

In good times, Canseco is what you would call colorful.

For the A's, these are not good times. These are times of noisy desperation, and so La Russa, the man at work, figured he could inspire his team by taking off on Canseco. Probably, a computer made him do it.

If you remember, Canseco got a not-so-good (but not all that terrifically bad, either) jump on a fly ball by Billy Hatcher to right field that became a triple late in Game 2, the one that the A's blew, putting the would-be dynasty in real jeopardy. There were a few questions to ask about that particular situation, starting with why Bob Welch was still around to throw the pitch to Hatcher.

La Russa, the managing wizard, inexplicably had failed to pinch hit for Welch in the previous inning. And he had forgotten apparently that for an entire evening Hatcher had jumped on Welch's pitching in much the same way that La Russa later would jump on Canseco.

So, blame Jose, right?

"If you're playing to win," La Russa would say, "you have to catch that ball."

La Russa prides himself on never publicly blaming his players for anything. When Canseco would get picked up for leaving a gun on the seat of a car he had parked illegally, La Russa might say something like, "If you can't get a little target practice on the city streets, where can you get it?"

But, suddenly, La Russa was getting heat like he had never felt before. The A's were not only supposed to win this Series, they were supposed to dominate. This was one for the ages, for the poets. And, two games in, La Russa must have felt as if he had Canseco's gun pointed at his head.

Blame Jose?

You can blame a lot of people for the A's slow start. You can blame La Russa. You can blame McGwire. You can blame Eckersley. You can blame Rijo.

Dave Stewart, who lost Game 1, was eager to take his shot at Canseco. "To me, it's gotten to be wait and see with Jose," he said. "Like he hits a home run. For me, it's 'So what? What are you going to do next?' Because so often he hits a home run and then doesn't do anything the rest of the day."

OK, Canseco is a little spacey. That's the way he is.

He also busts home runs and steals bases and plays -- for a while now -- with a painful back that just might be hindering his play in right field. But the thing to know about Canseco is this: La Russa's outburst won't bother him. Surely, La Russa understood as much.

The manager and star had a long chat on the day off, just to be clear on where they stood. La Russa still would maintain that Canseco blew the play, and Canseco still would say that it was stupid for La Russa to keep talking about it, and then the A's would go out and play ball.

Dissension doesn't lose ballgames, but losing ballgames obviously can cause dissension.

"We acknowledged that I'm not out there 100 percent, but I've given my all for the team," said Canseco, who added that he thinks he knows why he's being singled out. "I think the salary [five years, $23 million] has a lot to do with it. There's a lot of responsibility that goes with it. You point your finger at the guy making a lot of money. But no one guy is responsible."

Canseco does make a lot of money. So do a few other guys on the field. But through two games, Canseco was 1-for-7, the one hit being a homer, his first home run in nearly a month. That lack of power, even La Russa would concede, is because of Canseco's disk problem. He really can't turn on pitches the way he used to. The home run he hit, he punched to the opposite field. Fortunately for Canseco, he's got a punch like Mike Tyson, and the ball flew about 400 feet.

When Canseco is healthy, the A's are almost as good as Canseco insists they are, which is, in his view, better than any other team has ever been. But if you remove him from the equation, the A's look beatable against a pretty good Cincinnati team, which, after all, has Billy Hatcher. In a World Series, you take your stars where you can find them. As the A's began Game 3, they were still looking.

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