A few years ago, Gary Smith wrote one of my favorite magazine pieces. It was called “Crime and Punishment.” The main character in the story is a one-time high school basketball star named Richie Parker, who was convicted of sexual abuse after high school. The complex story is about the many efforts to both save and punish Parker for what he did.
There is a line in the story that I have thought about many times. Toward the end, Parker talked about how much he had learned from the pain and the hope and the fear of what would happen … but Gary did not use most of what Richie Parker said. Here is Gary’s explanation: “And he said a lot more, but it would be improper to let him do it here, for it might mislead the reader into thinking this was a story about Richie Parker.”
I have often wondered if Gary did the right thing using that line. Part of me thinks that it should have gone unsaid — that comes from the “if you have to explain a joke, it didn’t work” school of thinking. But another part of me remembers the jolt of recognition that clicked in me when I read the line the first time. I don’t think the story would have had quite the same power for me if he had left it out.
All of which is just my excuse to say this: Despite how it may look, the following story is not about really Jose Canseco.
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@JoseCanseco I am looking for active or x major leaguers to be in a comedy movie acting as themselves,if interested email me at …
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The first pitch is high, and a 46-year-old man in a gray sweatshirt, black sweatpants and what appears to be a driver’s cap swings the bat with some force. He is standing inside a box of green netting, which is inside a batting cage, which is inside a rectangle of video on a YouTube Page. Above the rectangle is the headline: “Jose Canseco bat speed.” Below the rectangle are 12 comments, which can be more or less summed up by two near the top:
“Just give it up, buddy.”
“your swing looks like shit.”
Inside the rectangle, the crack of ball meeting bat does not sound quite full. It sounds more like a single firecracker going off in a driveway a couple of beats after the rest. But the camera shakes, suggesting that something powerful has happened. Jose Canseco does not admire his work. He taps the bat on the plastic mat where he stands. He waves the bat around in what seems to be a practiced flourish. And he taps the bat on the mat again.
He has done this many times before. You do not need to know his name to know this. For one thing: He does not move his feet as he swings. This is telling. The pretenders often have jumpy feet. The man’s feet are still, his legs are still, it is his hips that he moves to shift weight — first back into the ready position and then, suddenly and violently, forward. Hitters and their coaches talk about weight shift. Jose Canseco shifts his weight without any apparent effort. This is the result of swinging a baseball bat a million times. The swing is a part of him.
You might even say the swing is him.
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@JoseCanseco I have been working hard I am reay to play just need a team
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The second pitch seems a perfect hitter’s pitch, belt high, center-plate, and the man swings with a little bit less force. Canseco is swinging a 36-inch, 35-ounce bat — longer and heavier, he will tell you, than most players in the Major Leagues. The man is trying to prove a simple point: That he is still very strong. His muscles bulge in the video.
Jose Canseco once hit 44 home runs in a big league baseball season. That was not the most home runs he hit in a season — in later life, as an earthbound designated hitter in Canada, he hit 46 home runs, but nobody cared because that was 1998, the ragtime stage of the Selig Era, when Canseco’s one-time teammate Mark McGwire hit 70 and a similarly muscle-bound righty named Sammy Sosa hit 66. Canseco’s 46 home runs that year merely tied him for sixth in baseball and left the man consigned in the jail he seems to hate most … the prison of the unnoticed.
But his 44 home runs in 1991 left everyone appropriately awed. The 44 homers tied him with a beefy man named Cecil Fielder for the most home runs hit in all of the Major Leaguers. But Canseco’s 44 was more impressive because he played his home games in one of the game’s biggest and toughest-hitting ballparks — the Oakland Coliseum. And so, to reach that home run total, he hit 28 on the road. It was one of the better road shows in baseball history. No matter where you lived, the man would come to your town and put on a show.
He was a phenomenon then; he might have been the biggest star in baseball. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was photographed shirtless by Annie Leibovitz. The autograph seekers rushed him nonstop. The women banged on his hotel room door late at night. The piles of money, as he joked happily, was brought to him by wheelbarrow. He sometimes said he felt trapped by it and wondered aloud why his life could not be more normal. But more often, much more often, he wondered aloud why he wasn’t even more famous and rich and successful. He hit impossibly long home runs. What more could anyone want from him?
The second pitch in the YouTube is down the middle, but the 46-year-old man’s swing is a touch late. The ball hits the top of his bat and goes straight up in the air. Canseco holds out his left hand as if it stings. Or it might be disgust.
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@JoseCanseco I remember always being happy when I was on the field playing.I guess my addiction is baseball what a high when you hit a homerun
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The third pitch is knee high, and the man’s swing is pure. He powers through the ball. The crack of the bat has more bass, it echoes. The man sniffs his approval. He never did handle failure well. He always believed that his own unquenchable desire to win and to be famous and to be more famous, his pathological fear of being a failure or a nobody, his never-ending quest to hear more cheers and more boos and more everything, all of that came from his father, Jose Sr.
Jose Canseco Jr. was actually the second twin born on July 2, 1964 — his brother Ozzie was born two minutes early. Osvaldo was named after a brother who died young. Jose was given the burden of his father’s name.
Jose Sr. had built himself up twice. He built himself into a successful businessman in Cuba. And, when Castro rose to power, he managed to get his family out of Cuba, to Miami. There, Jose Sr. worked three jobs and made a success of himself a second time. He was, Jose Jr. would often say, a man without humor. He taught his sons baseball the same way he taught them everything. There was a right way and a wrong way. Jose Jr. had a knack of doing things the wrong way.
“You’re going to grow up and work at Burger King or McDonald’s,” Jose Jr. would remember his father yelling at him. “You’ll never add up to anything.”
Things seemed to come more easily to Ozzie. He was more natural. Ozzie was popular in high school. Jose would remember being an outcast. Ozzie was drafted in the second round of the amateur draft by the New York Yankees. Jose was drafted in the 15th round by Oakland and it took an unusual threat by the great Cuban pitcher Camilo Pascual to get the deal done. When the A’s balked at Canseco’s rather meager $10,000 asking price, Pascual said he would pay the bonus himself if that’s what it took to get the deal gone.
Jose Canseco obviously went on to great things in baseball despite all that. And no matter how well Jose Jr. did, he found that he could not please his father. A three homer day would prompt questions about the fourth at-bat. The tale of the son striving to win his father’s approval, once and for all, is so common (especially in sports) it has become cliche. But that does not make feel any less true.
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@JoseCanseco Life is about beleivinging in something
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The fourth pitch is a bit inside, and Jose Canseco comes out of his swing — comes off the ball, as they say — and pounds it into the ground and into the left net. That is probably a groundout to shortstop in a real game. Of course, it might get through too. That’s is the beauty of baseball. The ball always might get through.
Canseco never did handle success any better than he handled failure. In his best baseball days, he drove his car recklessly. He carried guns around with him. He made the news for confusing domestic disputes that seemed to be tinged with violence, though he always denied it. Maybe it was this: He had trouble being generous — or anyway a certain KIND of generous. Oh, stories would pop up quite often about some good deed Jose Canseco did, some money he spent on a charity, some time he spent with a sick child. There was always someone around, it seemed, to say that the man had a good heart.
But generosity of spirit — that one was harder. It never seemed enough. He raged at other players. He mocked history. He trumpeted himself. When Ali said, “I am the greatest,” there was a joy in his voice, and while he may not have meant it you could hear in his words “WE are the greatest.”
When the man said “I am the greatest,” you knew exactly who he was talking about.
When Ali came back too many times — his terrible final bout against Trevor Berbick was fought on a dusty and dilapidated old baseball stadium with a cowbell used to chime the beginnings and ends of rounds — there were always people rooting for him, always people willing to hope against hope. And when it ended, there were tears.
When Jose Canseco put up a video of his batting practice swing and links to it on Twitter, he gets hammered with dozens and dozens of responses from who tell him to go someplace and die.
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@JoseCanseco I hit in the batting cages and dream of playing in the majors again,well I guess we all have dreams
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The fifth pitch is very low, and the man reaches down with the bat and, with one hand, flips at the ball and hits it in the air. This is a trick of great skill for any hitter, especially a man who is 46 years old. The balls are coming at 94 mph. To hit a ball that low and moving that fast requires skill that can only be acquired with thousands of hours of batting practice. The main thing is how effortless it looks.
He always had the ability to make things look effortless. Perhaps that was why people suspected him of steroids before anyone else. The writer Tom Boswell wrote, simply, “He is the most conspicuous example of a player who had himself great with steroids,” and this was 20 years ago, long before baseball and steroids grew connected. People would sometimes shout “Steroids!” at the man mashing long home runs.
Truth is … most of the time, people just enjoyed the show. One year, he hit 40 home runs and stole 40 bases, and no one had ever done that before. Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays and others talked about how they COULD have done it, but they never tried, they didn’t know it was a big deal. Canseco huffed that maybe they could have done it. Maybe not. But he DID do it. And that was the difference.
Of course, he denied using steroids then. There was no percentage in admitting it then. As he would tweet:
@JoseCanseco the system and the american way allowed us to become great ay any cost and endorsed the use of steroids at one time
Later, he admitted using steroids in a book that helped changed the baseball landscape. That was probably not the main reason he wrote the book, though.
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@JoseCanseco I guess I wrote the book juiced out of blind anger cause baseball was taken away from me.I am truly sorry for that
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The sixth pitch turns out to be the YouTube crescendo. The man unleashes the full power of his swing and, in the words of baseball people, he hits the ball on the screws. The sound and video makes it clear that this is the high moment, but as usually goes the confirmation of sound and video is not enough in today’s world. “That was a good one,” a headless voice says over the video and Canseco holds his bat high for just an instant longer than for his other swings. That feeling of hitting a baseball on the screws, well, that is undoubtedly still a wonderful feeling.
Jose Canseco says he has regrets. The man is reportedly broke. The man is a pariah — he has been excommunicated by the high priests of baseball. He seems to believe this is because he told the truth about some things, because he admitted using steroids and named a few other players who used them as well. Perhaps he is right. And perhaps no one is ever entirely right.
The man wrote two books, though the second one was not widely viewed as a book as much as it seemed like a scream for attention. The first book, though, was a book in most of the ways that such things are measured. He told the story of his life as he saw it. And he wrote, of course, about steroids, using them, sharing them, discussing them. The release of the book called “Juiced” drew him attention, not all of it good, but he had no doubt learned over years that attention, like all drugs, comes with some nasty side effects. He appeared on various talk shows. and he was a guest star on a couple of reality TV shows, one of them called “Stripper’s Ball” and another called “The Surreal Life.” His name was in the news, and this led to opportunities. He tried his hand in the fight game. He was knocked out by former NFL player Vai Sikahema in the first round. He and the child star from the Partridge Family, Danny Bonaduce, fought to a draw. He did come back to defeat a 45-year-old man named Todd Poulton who had only recently lost his job as a special ed teacher.
He managed to get signed by an a team in San Diego that played in the Golden Baseball League, and Independent Baseball League. Canseco said he wanted to reinvent himself as a knuckleball pitcher as well as a hitter. He was traded one day later. He quit before year was out. In time, the Golden League would successfully sue Canseco for more than $250,000. That was four years ago.
The YouTube video is an attempt to get people to see how much speed he has left in his swing.
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@JoseCanseco My dad is very ill he is in the hospital fighting cancer let’s all of us send him a big hug so he will get better thank you
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The seventh, eighth and ninth pitches don’t offer any more insight into the baseball skills of a 46-year-old man in a gray sweatshirt, black sweatpants and what looks like a driver’s cap. He hits the last three pitches with various degrees of success. He appears to be breathing heavy. The last pitch seems to hit the end of the bat, and the bat rattles a bit his hands.
When Jose Canseco was 18 and 19 years old, he looked like he was going nowhere. As an 18 year old in Class AA ball, he struck out 114 times in 93 games. He was entirely overmatched at High A. There are 18- and 19-year-olds who overcome such dreadful starts, of course, but not too many of them — and certainly not many who were 15th round draft picks. Most of them find themselves working 9-to-5 jobs and smiling whenever someone talks about how close to the big time they had come.
Then, when Canseco was 19, his mother died. And when Barbara died, Jose Canseco realized that he had better get his life straight. He had made a promise to his mother, a promise that he would make something of himself, the promise children often make to their mothers. Shortly before she died, she went to visit a psychic who said that one of her sons wold become very famous. When she died, Jose went about his job of making the psychic, er, psychic. He turned things up. He took steroids, sure, but even the most staunch of anti-steroid zealots would not suggest that this, and this alone, can turn someone into a ballplayer. He worked out like a madman. He rebuilt his swing, one toss at a time.
And as a 20-year-old, everything changed. He hit 41 home runs over three levels — the last level being the Major Leagues. One of his five big league homers sailed over the left fielder roof at old Comiskey Park. Before his rookie year, he was already on the cover of the Oakland media guide as “The Natural.” His hitting coach, Bob Watson, called him “a mixture of Willie Stargell, Dick Allen and Roberto Clemente.”
And he found — after a few bumps — that he LIKED being famous. He was good at it. His batting practices were shows long before Mark McGwire became the Toast of the Batting Cage. He became a just the ninth player to hit 200 home runs before he turned 27, and every one of the first eight would become Hall of Famers. Anyway, his home runs were longer than the garden variety, and he was the most exciting player in the game — you only needed to ask him for confirmation.
He played for all or parts of 17 seasons. He mashed 462 home runs, which is more than 96 of the 115 hitters in the Hall of Fame. He stole exactly 200 bases which is more than 76 of the 115 hitters in the Hall of Fame. And then he drifted into baseball oblivion, as so many good players do, finishing his career on six different teams in his last six years. And like all players, he has had to find a life after the cheering fades. He has struggled with that part, but many have. That story is as old a sports, as old as life.
In the 1 minute, 3 second YouTube video, the man hits nine pitches. And now the YouTube shows Canseco getting back into his stance and suddenly saying: “That’s enough.” Then, as confirmation, he adds “Stop there.” And he grimaces. He starts to shakes his hand. The YouTube video ends there. The video has received about 4,000 views. When the video ends, there are suggestions for other videos you might like to see. One of these is titled “White Sox bat boy hit in the nuts by Jose Canseco.”
Of course he thought it would last forever. Who doesn’t?
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@JoseCanseco Life is funny I only have you guys to talk to on twitter and I appreciate the emotions and honesty.this is like therapy for me thanks