Canseco's mouth has greater impact in postseason than bat, glove

October 21, 1990|By Tom Verducci | Tom Verducci,Newsday

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Jose Canseco has this way of becoming the vortex of controversy. He has become a superstar of such magnitude that he can do so without hitting or, as his manager would suggest, without fielding, either.

Entering Game 3 of the World Series Friday night, Canseco had one hit in seven at-bats. He was 3-for-18 (.167) in the postseason. And yet the entire World Series began to revolve around him and what he had to say.

"Would you guys rather talk to somebody who is boring and dull and would make your jobs extra hard," Canseco asked reporters, jTC would you rather have somebody who says something interesting, like me?

"The media has been a big part in the evolution of baseball. I like to have a good relationship with the media. It makes your job easier and it makes my job easier."

But the question now is whether Canseco has become too big for his own good. Can the hero of the MTV generation serve the camera and his craft equally well? That became an issue after Tony La Russa's comment about a fielding lapse by Canseco in Game 2 mushroomed into a full-scale controversy involving Canseco's health, his concentration and, as usual, his mouth.

"His concentration level is just shot," Oakland pitcher Dave Stewart said. "To me, it's gotten to be wait and see with Jose. 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 he doesn't do anything the rest of the day."

Stewart added that Canseco continues to allow ball-and-strike calls to "distract his game process." He said he has spoken to Canseco once before about minimizing distractions and will leave it at that.

"I don't take anything I said back," he said. "The bottom line is Jose will be Jose. He'll be all right."

La Russa said: "He's got to be careful with distractions. There are potentially a lot of distractions if you're not careful. You have obligations during the World Series to accommodate the media. But you can't allow that to distract you from the focus of getting ready to play ball."

Canseco basks in attention, positive or otherwise. He spoke with reporters at length in front of the Oakland dugout before Game 2 in Cincinnati. The session broke up only when La Russa walked by and cast a cool glance his way.

"Uh-oh," Canseco said. "I'm going to get in trouble with my boss. Gotta go."

He did not know how prophetic those words would be. Canseco did hit a home run in Game 2, but that was all he gave Oakland in five at-bats that included two strikeouts and a double play. Worse, he played right field as if he needed a compass and a road map. In the eighth inning, he broke late on a fly ball by Cincinnati's Billy Hatcher. It deflected off his glove and Hatcher wound up on third base.

He did not know how prophetic those words would be. Canseco did hit a home run in Game 2, but that was all he gave Oakland in five at-bats that included two strikeouts and a double play. Worse, he played right field as if he needed a compass and a road map. In the eighth inning, he broke late on a fly ball by Cincinnati's Billy Hatcher. It bounced off his glove and Hatcher wound up on third base, and scored the tying run three batters later.

"He got a [terrible] jump," La Russa said of Canseco's error. "If you want to win the game, you have to make that play."

Canseco responded with disbelief when informed of LaRussa's comments, which he termed "stupid" and "out of character."

"Have you ever heard Tony make a statement against one of his players?" Canseco said. "But then again, you always blame the guy who's making the most money, because he's the one who's supposed to do the most."

The right fielder and the manager met privately Thursday about the matter.

"We turned the page and now it's time to go on," La Russa said. "I did tell him I meant what I said."

They go on only to the next development, because this is the postseason and Canseco cannot help but willingly attract the swarm of cameras, microphones and note pads. Last postseason, Canseco drew attention to himself with his 900 telephone number. Two postseasons ago, it was the steroid issue. Canseco dealt openly and often with a charge by Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell that he used steroids.

"Me being a gentleman, I didn't punch him in the face," Canseco said. "I've been called a bum, a lummox and a donkey, and I don't mind. I just laugh. It's just name-calling. But when it's something personal, that's when it bothers me."

Canseco has become so enthralled with the media that he sometimes seeks them out to float an outrageous idea or comment, never mind that it's false.

"At times, yeah," said Canseco, who did just that in May when he entertained the New York media by telling them he wanted to play for the Yankees. "There's never any malicious intent. That's just the way I am.

"If everybody wrote the same story, it would be blah. Boring. I understand how it works. Everybody's in competition to have an interesting story to sell newspapers. One guy thinks he has to elaborate a little more than the guy next to him. And the guy next to him thinks he has to elaborate even more. And the next guy thinks, 'I have to elaborate more than those two guys to get my story read.' "

With the lecture, Professor Canseco only demonstrated that he has as much trouble grasping journalism as he does fly balls in right field.

Someone suggested to Reggie Jackson that Canseco's magnetism for controversy paralleled his. Jackson disagreed, pointing out that he turned strictly business in the postseason. Indeed, Canseco has been unable to be both a star and a good baseball player in October. In 84 career postseason at-bats, Canseco is a .226 hitter with more strikeouts (24) than hits (19).

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