I put batteries into an old recorder today and discovered I still have my interview with Jose Canseco from April 2008.
I interviewed Canseco in Oakland on his promotional tour for Vindicated, the follow-up to his bestseller, Juiced. I snapped the following picture that night:
Being that the former Bash Brother starred for the Oakland Athletics 20 years ago, my freelance assignment from a local publication, the East Bay Express, was to describe the fan reception. I wound up with a decent, if narrow story and lots of good material from the interview that wasn’t usable and has lain fallow on my recorder.
As I constantly need fresh and interesting content for this site, I am posting the interview. The following was recorded in a Barnes & Noble back office, about an hour before Canseco’s appearance:
Graham Womack: Alright, my name’s Graham Womack, I’m doing a story for the East Bay Express. My story basically is about, um, your recept-
Barnes & Noble staff: I’m sorry to interrupt. Can I get you anything to drink? Coffee?
Jose Canseco: (to his publicist) Coke? Pepsi? You want anything?
JC: I want coffee. Heavy, heavy cream and sugar.
BNS: Absolutely. Iced or hot?
BNS: Hot? Okay, I’ll be right back. (Editor’s note: I include all of this because earlier on the tour, Canseco accused another coffee server of trying to poison him.)
GW: Okay, so anyway, my story is on basically the reception you’ll be getting from the fans here in Oakland. I know 20 years ago with the Bash Brothers and everything, you know, you were probably one of the most popular people in America. I guess what I’m wondering now, is, um, I’m just curious to see how it compares 20 years later now, with having two books out and whatnot. I guess my first question would be, you know, how does it feel being back in Oakland?
JC: Well, it feels great. The last time I played here was in ’97. And then prior to that, obviously, I was traded, and I had a long career here with the minor leagues and then with the Oakland A’s, I think ’til ’91.
GW: Right, right.
JC: So I had a great time here. I think we won one World Series, won two, I think three or four championship divisions–
GW: ’88, ’89 and ’90.
JC: I don’t know what’s going to happen today. I hope the fans accept me in a very positive way and light and, uh, you know I just, I just hope they just realized everything that baseball has gone through, everything I’ve gone through and, you know, the way the game has changed.
GW: Do you maintain any ties to the A’s organization? Do you make promotional appearances for the team? Or do you come out and do any camps or anything?
JC: None whatsoever. No.
GW: Would you like to?
JC: Well, I think as of my first book, well as of before my first book when I was blackballed from the game, no organization or team wanted any ties with me whatsoever, so I could not do any type of promotions for them or speak on their behalf or any, or get involved in any minor league camps and so forth.
GW: Do you maintain friendships with any players from your A’s days?
JC: Um, no. Don’t know anyone, haven’t heard from anyone for many years.
GW: Have you been, actually, in the city of Oakland since ’97? Like, have you visited since then? Were you here for Juiced a few years back?
JC: I was here for Juiced, I think a few years back. But that was the last time.
GW: Lemme see, um, so how does the level of fan attention how does it compare to 20 years ago? I know I was doing some research for this article and I think it was Walt Weiss said in a Sports Illustrated article that like going out with you is like going out with Elvis. Is it still like that these days at all?
JC: No, it’s quieted down quite a bit. Back then, I was, one point in ’88 when I accomplished 40-40, you know the best baseball player in the world and the team was winning and winning World Series and championships, so forth. So, I think we were said to be the most exciting team in baseball to watch. So, yeah, I mean, we were like rock stars, [so many] people followed us around. And we sold out every stadium and sure, when we get in our buses, and go to fly out and go to different hotels, there were people all over the place waiting for us.
GW: What’s it like these days? Do you still get a lot of autograph requests in the mail and stuff?
JC: Um, no, not really. Maybe one here and there. Few here and there. And then very quiet, and I think the book Juiced and Vindicated has been kind of like the highlight of what ties I have with Major League Baseball.
GW: Do you think people still remember the Bash Brothers?
JC: I think so. I think if you’re from the Bay Area here, they definitely remember that cause this is where it started, between Mark McGwire and myself. So.. yeah, you know, people, I’ve done some autograph sessions here and there and they bring up the Bash Brothers or the big poster–
GW: Right, right.
JC: –that they had and so forth.
GW: Do you think fans in the East Bay and the Bay Area altogether, do you think they hold positive memories from the late Eighties? Do you think they have any bitterness or anything? I mean, what do you think fans’ emotions are like?
JC: I’m hoping and I’m thinking it’s more positive image of the big Oakland A’s back then, the biggest team in baseball, you know, the home run, the power, the pitching, you know long ball, McGwire, myself, and Dave Stewart with the pitching and Eckersely coming in and shutting them down, Carney Lansford, Walt Weiss and so forth. I hope it’s a positive thing.
GW: Do you miss the game at all?
JC: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I miss the game, love the game, wish I were still playing. Probably physically enough, to play the game, in shape. But things didn’t turn out that way.
GW: I should say that I believe, a dude I knew, I went to Cal Poly, a guy from there played with you on the Long Beach Armada, Dennis LeDuc.
JC: Yep, ‘mhm.
GW: No kidding, yeah, I think you guys were on the same pitching staff, actually.
JC: Yeah, yeah. He was there and it was a very short stint for me. It was a great time and ended quickly.
GW: I know back when you played for the A’s in the Eighties, you lived around San Ramon. Do you have fond memories just from your time of living in this area? Did you enjoy just actually living here and stuff?
JC: Yeah, I lived in San Ramon, so everyday I would take, I think, that Crow Canyon Road back, and I would have my Porsche and I’d kind of accelerate a little through those canyons. So it was a fun time going back and forth. So, they were great memories, coming into Oakland, playing here, you know those winning days, great ball club we had, just a very exciting team that we had.
GW: Lemme see… um, do you have any regrets from your first stint in Oakland from, I guess that’d be ’85 to ’91? Any regrets from that time?
JC: No. I think it was, everything was very positive. I mean, they built the team around McGwire and myself, and like I said, we went to a couple World Series, won a couple championships and World Series and so forth. And, you know in ’91, it kind of ended abruptly where I was traded to the Texas Rangers.
GW: Do you think fans in area now, do you believe they accept you for who you are?
JC: That’s probably a good question for them. I think they would have to get to know me personally to find out who I really am. I would say maybe I’m the kind of guy who’s multi-dimensional, not just a baseball player. I always consider myself entertainer in the game. I think the fans, as much money as they pay for, you know they got parking, they have tickets, they have concessions, they have everything. Before you know it, they’re spending 200-300 dollars. I think the fans deserve to be entertained. So I always consider myself an entertainer.
GW: Lemme see… um, just going back to the question I was on earlier. If say, say um– I know you said you were blackballed from baseball– say Billy Beane were to call you tomorrow and say, “Jose, hey we want you to come out and help us run a special camp next month.” Would you say yes?
JC: Well, first of all, I’d think it’d be April Fool’s. I’d think it was a joke. Cause I’ve actually had that happen to me.
GW: Oh, no kidding.
JC: I’ve had kids messing around, on the phone, cause I don’t even know where they get my cell phone from and say, “You know what Jose, this is from Kansas City Royals and we’d like for you to come and try out for our–” and I’m like, “Oh come on guys, this is a joke,” and they start laughing in the background. So, um, that’s probably an impossibility, if not an improbability because of what’s developed and happened between Major League Baseball and myself with this Steroid Era.
GW: Definitely. Also, I know you have a daughter. Do you keep a pretty low profile these days because of her?
JC: Oh, I definitely try… I’ve always tried to keep a low profile no matter what. But I guess, the kind of player I was or the way I did things and you know, you’re wearing a uniform, you’re 6’4,” 250 pounds, like a football player, and you’ve got world-class speed and hit 500-foot home runs, that’s kind of hard to keep under wraps.
GW: Definitely. Lemme see… I don’t have too many more questions… Just a couple more questions. What are your hopes for tonight? I mean, how would a perfect signing go for you? I know already you’ve been accosted by Major League Baseball investigators on this junket. So, what are your hopes for tonight?
JC: Well actually, um, accosted I don’t think is the correct word. It was very positive when they showed up in, I think it was New York and basically, they’ve finally come to the conclusion and admit that everything I’m saying is the absolute truth and finally want to join forces and try to clean the game up. So I thought it was a very positive thing that happened that night.
JC: Well, for today or tonight, just people come out, want to get to know me, they want to read the book. Maybe a lot of positive energy. And you know, I know I have a lot of fans out there. I think the image, my image has changed in the fact that people now believe what I’m saying is the truth and that everyone now is on my side. They’re definitely changing their attitudes and are very positive.
GW: I remember watching “The Surreal Life” a few years ago when you were on and I remember, they did an episode–
JC: Great, I’m sure all the girls watched it.
BNS: (motioning to another woman in the room) She used to tell me about it (the women laugh.)
GW: Well, what I was going to bring up–
JC: Was it the thong I was wearing?
GW: Uh… No, no, what I was going to bring up was I remember there was an episode that was about one of the signings you did for Juiced, and I remember they showed a segment at one point where there was a fan who was actually pretty rude to you and he was saying, he was saying, “Ah, can you sign it, From the guy who killed baseball?” Is that a common thing on your signings?
JC: No. Actually, it’s happened once or twice. But that was something that was set up for that show–
GW: Oh, okay.
JC: –specifically just to see if they can piss me off. But when my first book came out, you know I had a couple guys like that. But since then, I think everybody’s changed their tune a little bit.
GW: Okay, alright I think I’ve got all my–
JC: Boy, you were easy.
GW: Oh, what’s up? (I laugh nervously)
BNS: Hey, I just want to add to that, the phone’s been ringing off the hook all day today.
JC: They’re all assassins, and ninja warriors. “Is Jose there?”
BNS: I mean, it’s off the hook.
GW: Is it mostly fans? Or is it press?
BNS: Yeah, fans. Yeah, you’re the only press person here right now. (Editor’s Note: And save for a local television appearance, I was the only coverage Canseco got about his trip to Oakland. The signing itself was completely non-eventful.)
GW: Yeah, no, I actually I happened on to this just randomly. I was in the book store one day and I saw a sign up…. Probably, I would bet 90 percent of the people who’ve been interviewing you are more like “60 Minutes” types, but I guess I’m more of the local flavor.
JC: I get all types, believe me. I get the strangest, weirdest, out of this world, not-related-to questions. I mean people just want to know everything and anything.
GW: People ever ask you for steroid advice?
JC: Yeah, sure.
GW: No kidding.
JC: Mike Wallace did.
GW: Isn’t he like 90 now?
JC: He’s about 200. (laughter in the room) Everyone kind of has curiosity about it, questions about it and there’s not too much information about that in the market today.
GW: Alright. Well thank you so much for your time.
Postscript: It was a big thrill interviewing Canseco — he was it when I was six-years-old — and I got a nice story out of the experience, plus a photo credit. It’s worth mentioning that before I turned my recorder on, I’m pretty sure Canseco said I could take a bullet for him. He was joking. I think. I know I came into the interview nervous and starstruck, and in the days and months that followed, I learned from various other outlets how much I’d missed: Canseco was writing a book on cloning; his house got foreclosed; he got his ass kicked in a Mixed Martial Arts bout and got busted coming over the Mexican border with a performance-enhancing drug. Perhaps most notably, Canseco told A&E he regretted writing Juiced and that he thought he was addicted to steroids. Like a couple other celebrities I’ve interviewed that are seen as controversial, Canseco came off in person as polite, self-effacing and more insecure than arrogant. If I had to guess, I’d say history will remember him as a tragic figure as much as anything.