On style points alone, Canseco is keeper

September 02, 1992|By Scott Ostler | Scott Ostler,San Francisco Chronicle

OAKLAND, Calif. -- I got a phone call from the office at 7:45 Monday night.

"Jose," my sports editor explained.

I drove the 20 miles to the ballpark in 13 minutes. I didn't have time to read the speedometer, because I was tying my shoes, but I think Jose Canseco would have been proud.

I arrived at the bizarre, shotgun news conference just in time to see Canseco kiss Oakland goodbye.

"I definitely do think maybe the fans were getting tired of Jose Canseco," Jose Canseco said quietly. His eyes were red. "Maybe I had worn out my welcome."

If so, the A's should have kept Jose and traded the fans. Get some new ones who can appreciate a baseball original.

I don't think that was the case, though. I don't think the fans were tired of Jose. I do think the fans were misunderstood by Jose.

They booed him, thought he was a prima donna, a baby, a threat on the highways, an arrogant rich kid, an erratic fielder, a guy who wouldn't always play hurt, a flake, a freak and frankfurter.

But I think they paid to watch him play. I think they came out to see him stroll up to the plate -- "The Jose Canseco Saunter," Reggie Jackson calls it -- his bat waggling and his head twitching and the kids in the left-field bleachers smacking their little fists into their baseball gloves.

I think I am not the only person who is sorry to see the big lug sack up his lumber and sail into the sunset.

You can say what you want about Canseco, but he has more style than anyone in the game.

The A's during the Jose Era have been the most watchable team in baseball, and Canseco was the hood ornament.

"Jose exemplified the club more than anybody," Jackson said. "He's my favorite player."

You figure the trade is a good one if you're the kind of person who likes to curl up in front of a warm fireplace with the Baseball Encyclopedia and a bowl of warm decimal points.

If you like to watch baseball and get the blood pumping a bit, get mad, get jacked, pay attention, spill your beer, Jose is your man.

A really excellent trade for the A's, technically, but it sent a chill wind through the clubhouse.

"It's typical of this ballclub," Jackson said. "It's almost machine-like the way they put together a good club. Emotions and things almost get put aside."

Nobody wheels and deals to fill a team need like Sandy Alderson (the brains) and Wally Haas (the bucks). But this time the deal did have that bloodless click and whir of cold machinery.

"I think the players will really miss him," Jackson said. "He was a great excuse for not doing well. He was a great lightning rod in the clubhouse, the way everything [negative] came to him. And that can be a good thing for a team, he can take the heat off the other guys."

Sure, if the lightning rod can handle that heavy role.

"Jose handled it," Jackson said. "He didn't give a darn."

That was one of the problems. Canseco had what would seem to be a great baseball temperament. Never seemed to get too excited over a big win or big hit, never seemed depressed or down after a bad night or a big loss.

Some of his teammates took this, and some of his whimsical habits, to mean he didn't care.

If Texas wants a cheerleader, they probably traded for the wrong guy. Should have brought Mickey Hatcher out of retirement.

Jose cares, he just didn't show it in conventional ways. That was one great thing about him -- his disregard for conventional behavior.

If some of the stuff Canseco did was ill advised, though, he was the least dangerous bad role model in the game. Never has his name been associated with drugs or booze or fights or debauchery.

He had some domestic problems, but this does not put him in an ultra-exclusive club. He drove too fast, packed a shooting iron at one time, wore a diamond earring and didn't have an obsession for keeping rules.

He was Bart Simpson with biceps.

But no ax murderer. And why should we expect right fielders to be role models when presidential candidates aren't?

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