Jose Can You See

Sorry, car fans, today’s post is not about automobiles.

Accomplished and controversial former major league baseball player Jose Canseco was born on this day in 1964. (As was his twin brother, Ozzie, who also played baseball although he was nowhere near as successful.)

Canseco was highly touted before he ever played in the major leagues. At the age of 20-21 he was chosen Minor League Player Of The Year by multiple baseball publications in 1985. The stat nerd in me must show his performance that season: .333 Batting Average (AVG)/.424 On-Base Percentage (OBP)/.649 Slugging Percentage (SLG), 36 HR, 127 RBI in 118 games between Double-A and Triple-A.

I actually witnessed his first major league plate appearance in September, 1985. I don’t know if this is still the case, but in my baseball days major league teams could add players to their active roster on September 1 as the roster limit was raised from 25 to 40. By the way, Canseco struck out on three pitches from Ken Dixon.

After predicting he would do it, in 1988 Canseco became the first major league player to hit 40+ homeruns and steal 40+ bases in the same season. Of course, stolen base totals are somewhat under the influence of the player. Canseco was unanimously named the American League Most Valuable Player and led the Oakland A’s to their first of three consecutive World Series appearances.

The rest of this paragraph is from Wikipedia, but since it’s (primarily) a recitation of facts I will not use quotes. On August 31, 1992, in the middle of a game and while Canseco was in the on-deck circle, the A’s traded him to the Texas Rangers for Rubén Sierra, Jeff Russell, Bobby Witt, and cash. At the moment of the trade, Canseco was batting .243 with 22 home runs and 72 RBIs in 97 games, and the A’s were leading the American League West Division by 6.5 games. The Oakland front office was looking to fortify their pitching down the stretch. A’s general manager Sandy Alderson announced the trade while the Athletics were still playing the Orioles that night. The trade caught Canseco, the fans, the media, and people throughout Major League Baseball all by surprise, as Canseco was considered at the time the best player in baseball, but was also the most scrutinized.

In a four-day stretch in May of 1993, Canseco’s reputation was damaged by two events. The first, on May 26, was when Canseco lost track of a ball hit by the Indians’ Carlos Martinez. The ball bounced off Canseco’s head and over the wall for a homerun. On May 29, after pestering his manager to let him do so, Canseco was allowed to pitch in a game, a blowout loss to the Boston Red Sox. The result was an injury to his throwing elbow that required Tommy John surgery and cost him most of the rest of that season.

Today, of course, Canseco’s name is inextricably linked to the use of steroids. In his book, Juiced, published in 2005, Canseco admitted to using anabolic steroids for most of his career. He also claimed that most baseball players, at the time, were using steroids. Perhaps hypocritically, in 2010 Canseco made the following remarks to children in an event covered by ESPN:


“These kids don’t need steroids to become players… we overemphasize the steroids and not the athletic ability and skills of these people. We’re taking away the hard work the athlete puts in and saying he became great just because of steroids. Let me give you a perfect example. I have an identical twin brother, Ozzie. He is the closest thing to me genetically. And in my prime I was a super athlete. My twin brother used the same chemicals, same workouts, the same nutrition. Why didn’t he make it in the big leagues? That is the perfect example that we are giving steroids way too much credit. If steroids are that great it would have made him a superstar.”


OK, an athlete–or anyone wishing to add significant muscle mass–still needs to participate in weight training. Just taking steroids will not have the same effect as steroids plus weights. Obviously, though, Canseco was trying counter his image as being solely a creation of chemicals.

An aside: only using statistics to evaluate players can, sometimes, result in being misled about a player. I won’t mention this player by name, but I recommended a player to my clients after he had a “breakout” year at the Triple-A level while still being young enough for that to be meaningful. As it turned out he started using anabolic steroids before that season and was later given a long suspension by the powers that be. From my perspective, I had no way of knowing about the steroids, but a scout who had seen him play over multiple seasons might have. Such breakout years, while not common, were also not unheard of. Also, a player can add muscle mass without the use of steroids, but it’s more difficult.

Back to Canseco, he has been involved in numerous legal issues and other controversies. If you really want to read about them, the Wikipedia article about him is a good place to start.

OK, the word counter in the lower left is at 850+. Time to stop here. Below is a picture of Canseco while playing for the Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas?) A’s. Hope you enjoyed this post.


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6 thoughts on “Jose Can You See

  1. In February of 1989, a few weeks before spring training, I saw Jose and Ozzie playing in a slow pitch softball league in Miami. I saw one of Jose’s at bats hoping to see a moon shot. He hit a single up the middle which came off the bat at about 100 mph. Some poor construction worker found himself pitching to the reigning AL MVP.


  2. Enjoy all your columns, especially this one. I remember regularly seeing Canseco at ballpark before he opted for steroids _ he looked like a regular-sized human being. After, he looked like a cartoon character, ballooning arms. An amazing transformation. He’s quite a story. Thx for mentioning.


    1. Many thanks, “Herb.” I might have tell a story about the time, during BP, that Canseco caused the Orioles’ GM to drop a telephone in the middle of an interview.


  3. Canseco played a single season for the Blue Jays, during the ‘weird years’ (as I sort of refer to them). It was one of those years, not so long after the World Series wins, when the team had some big name players but couldn’t accomplish much.
    That year, the roster included Canseco, Roger Clemens, and young up-and-comers Carlos Delgado, Roy Halladay and Shawn Green, as well as local favourites Dave Steib and Tony Fernandez. Clemens won a Cy Young, Canseco hit 46 HRs and stole almost 30, I think it was his last really decent year. But of course the team could finish no better than 3rd behind the Yankees and Red Sox (a long time complaint by Jays fans that the division is always too stacked).
    Anyway, Jose falls into almost a ‘forgotten Jay’ category. He does hold the distinction of being the first to hit a HR into the 5th deck at Skydome (as an A during the 1989 post season – he hit 2 more including one as a Jay). He played well, but he’s not nearly as fondly remembered as other one-year Jays like Dave Winfield or Rickey Henderson (who won WSs here) or sluggers here for years like Bell Barfield Delgado Encarnacion (and now Vlad Jr).


    1. Thanks for the thoughts, Mark.

      Carlos Delgado was the catalyst for my becoming very involved with evaluating minor league players. After his excellent season in the Florida State League in 1992 at the age of 20, and as a catcher no less, I began to think about whether or not he was the best prospect in all of the minors and, if not, where he should rank. That led to the beginning of my annual compilation of minor league prospects, one of which became my first published book. In one form or another I compiled those lists until my baseball consulting business went belly up in 2010, with the exception of 2000 as I was not involved in baseball that year.

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