The tone changed as soon as Jose Canseco came to the plate in the first inning yesterday and Ben McDonald conked him on the head. Before then, it was all touchy-feely at the ballyard where Kevin Costner had shown up for batting practice.
Some observations on Costner:
* A switch-hitter, he slammed a homer batting left-handed with a swing that would have made Crash Craddock proud.
* He had his picture taken with nearly all the Orioles, who were not unlike a bunch of awestruck kids. "For my wife," said one, groaning.
* Costner wore glasses and -- sorry, sports fans -- looked less like a movie star than he did, say, Jeff McKnight's brother.
What a season, huh? The president, the queen and Robin Hood all show up. Who needs to win any games, especially when you get 48,000 for just opening the gates?
Anyway, as I was saying, the mood changed once Jose ducked in. That's the way it usually happens. Love him or hate him, Canseco (taller than Costner, maybe better looking) is a show-stealer like no one in the game. McDonald plunks him, Jose challenges him -- even though he hit him with a curveball -- the benches empty and the game is afoot. Costner is completely upstaged.
"I was just walking up the baseline when I told him, 'If you do that again, I'll have to come out after you,' " Canseco said. "Then he dropped the 'F' word on me.
"I know [the pitch] wasn't intentional. I was just trying to get us motivated."
No punches were thrown, as big Jose got nowhere near big Ben.
"He was just trying to intimidate the kid," A's pitcher Dave Stewart would say later.
Actually, that would come in the sixth inning when Canseco hit a three-run homer against McDonald to erase a 3-0 Orioles lead and make possible a 4-3 Oakland win and sweep of the series.
The fans boo loudly and lustily and Canseco eats it up.
"They weren't all booing," Canseco said. "Some of them were applauding. Some of them waved to me, and I waved back.
"The idea is to have fun with it."
You wouldn't want to have more than one Jose Canseco on your team, but you'd die for one. I don't just mean the home runs, although they're nice, too. I mean the Jose-ness of Jose. The craziness of Jose. The let's-have-a-party-till-the-money's-all-spent of Jose.
He won't settle for being ordinary. When he gets booed, they're going to be the loudest boos. They were jet-engine loud yesterday, coming one day after his confrontation with a Memorial Stadium fan.
When he gets hooked up in the tabloids with a celebrity, it's going to be with Madonna, for God's sake. A headline in the National Enquirer following Canseco's last trip to Baltimore: "Sexy Nightclub Sizzler Claims: 'Madonna Stole My Lover' -- Hunky Baseball Star Jose Canseco." That also made "A Current Affair" and "Entertainment Tonight."
"They're hilarious," he said of the tabloids. "I understand why people buy them, because they're so funny. I buy them. 'Martians land.' 'Goat with human head.' It's fiction, isn't it?"
It is, but for inquiring minds, you might enjoy this. A singer from Miami says that Canseco flew her up to Baltimore last May and that she was in his room when the phone rang. "I knew it was Madonna," she was quoted as saying, "when I heard him say, 'You deserve a spanking.' " Which may or may not have been what he said to McDonald. Truth or dare?
He's different. He was the player with the 900 number, remember. He owns 12 exotic, African tortoises. One, named April, cost $5,000. He gets caught driving over 100 miles an hour and explains to the arresting officer that he was testing his
aviation fuel. And he really is at least friends with Madonna. This is what we know. There may be more.
"I have to tone my act down in public," he explained. "You have to hide some of the time."
But the louder the noise gets around Canseco, say those who know him, the better he likes it. The controversies certainly don't affect his performance -- he left town tied for the major-league lead in homers. The A's, struggling this season, have won six of their past seven games, and Canseco has hit homers in four of the past five.
"Everyone has an opinion about me," he was saying. "They say I'm a personality, but, it's gotten so crazy, I don't know who the Jose Canseco personality is supposed to be anymore. I'm bewildered by it sometimes."
So, who are you, really?
"I'm a simple guy who likes kids, who enjoys his life, who gets into a lot of trouble."
He didn't actually say trouble. He dropped the "S" word. But he was smiling, just as he was when he explained that anyone of a certain fame and with a certain salary is going to have to expect a certain amount of abuse.
But, it was pointed out to him, no baseball player draws the same attention that Canseco does. He couldn't disagree.
"They're not Jose Canseco, I guess," he said.