Five baseball people I wish had Twitter

I recently signed up for Twitter (@grahamdude) to promote this site. Anyone who reads regularly knows I follow Jose Canseco, and sometimes, he apparently reads what I write, too.  Canseco is actually fairly entertaining and unhinged on Twitter as is Ozzie Guillen.  The famously flippant White Sox manager had several Tweets last Friday slamming actor Sean Penn for supporting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, including a post in Spanish that translated roughly to, “That clown the gringuito that lives chevre in the United States well.”  Whatever that means.

Yes, baseball was a simpler game before online media and Guillen’s native country both went socialized.

All things considered, I find Twitter pretty vapid, one of those things that wouldn’t be missed were it to disappear tomorrow from the cultural landscape, like US Magazine or Ke$ha.  That being said, Twitter continues to overtake more and more of my time, and I’ve found myself wondering of late who else in baseball history would have made good use of the site. Here are five past baseball figures I would have clicked “Follow” on for sure:

(1) Casey Stengel: The longtime manager was also probably the all-time most quotable baseball personality, known for giving nonsensical interviews to sportswriters — who dubbed his language Stengelese — and Congress alike.  In 1958, as noted in Ken Burns’ Baseball, a 67-year-old Stengel testified before a Senate subcommittee hearing and helped kill a bill to formalize baseball’s exemption from anti-trust laws by rambling incoherently for 45 minutes.  I have to think Stengelese leads to Twitter at its absolute best.  Or worst.

(2) Satchel Paige: Another eminently quotable personality, whose many aphorisms, such as his list on “How to Stay Young,” would make excellent, concise Tweets.

(3) Lou Gehrig: Imagine the heartfelt remarks the fallen Yankee star would have for Lou Gehrig Day on Twitter.

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got.  Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the

And that’s 140 characters, exactly, which is all Twitter allows for each posting.  If that’s not irony, I don’t know what is, perhaps besides saying you’re the luckiest man on the face of the earth when in reality, as Norm MacDonald once said during a parody sketch of Gehrig’s speech on “Saturday Night Live,” you have a disease so rare they named it after you.

If Gehrig had a Twitter account, it probably would have malfunctioned on him.

(4) Dummy Taylor: A deaf pitcher for the New York Giants in the early part of the 20th Century, Taylor would get a new voice through social media, much like @ebertchicago.  The film critic lost his ability to speak following cancer surgery a few years ago but Tweets and blogs regularly now.

(5) Babe Ruth: Knowing the Babe, this would probably have no less than three ghostwriters.  Still, I have to think it would be pretty entertaining.  And I imagine Ruth, the first heavily-marketed athlete would allow the level of scrutiny needed for a Twitter account to take off, seeing as he had a syndicated newspaper box during his career entitled, WHAT BABE RUTH DID TODAY.

It seems I have angered Jose Canseco

I posted an update to my Twitter page last night about my thoughts here on Jose Canseco wanting to fight Herschel Walker in a Mixed Martial Arts bout (pray for Jose.)  I had written my entry here after reading Canseco Tweet yesterday, “I will crush him,” like Drago in Rocky IV with a Twitter account.  My entry poked fun at Canseco’s desire to fight Walker and made note of his frequent other updates to his page, which I actually think is, to a certain extent, commendable (granted, another part of it seems egocentric.)  I personally don’t have the willingness to leave myself that open and mostly just use Twitter to promote this site.

For my Twitter update about Canseco, I wrote:

My latest on this very site: http://baseballpastandpresent.com/2010/02/08/canseco-at-least-winning-the-twitter-battle-with-herschel-walker/

Well, immediately following my Tweet, Canseco posted on his page:

Wow, I can’t even be candid and honest on my twitter page without some genius writer blogging about it. The life I lead I tell ya……

Granted, I’m not completely sure if Canseco was referring to me, as many sources around the Internet, from ESPN to fellow bloggers have been unloading on him since February 1, when he first expressed desires to fight Walker.  I posted a reply an hour ago to Canseco, asking if he was referring to me and have not heard back.  For now, the close relation in time between our Tweets is what I’m mostly going off of.  I will of course update this if Canseco replies.

All this being said, this has been a pretty awesome week for this site.  Last Friday, I covered an estate sale in Sacramento for a former Pacific Coast League baseball team owner, where a warehouse with old memorabilia was liquidated.  I might have the opportunity to interview Will Clark on Saturday.  And now this.

I must find other retired baseball players who make active use of Twitter.

Canseco at least winning the Twitter battle with Herschel Walker

Like 325,288 other people, as of this writing, I follow Jose Canseco on Twitter.  I signed up for the social media service a few weeks ago, partly as a way to promote this site and also to have another skill to market to prospective employers.  Without a doubt, Canseco has provided me with the most Twitter-related entertainment, short perhaps of the angry atheist I follow who shares the same name as a devout Christian friend of mine and makes posts like, “I am getting tired of sitting on the can!”

Canseco posts frequently, apparently grasping the Twitter axiom that in order to have a large following, one must spew viral diarrhea (viarrhea ?) 6-10 times a day, minimum (I don’t do that, which is one reason I have over 325,000 fewer followers.)  Thus, my feed for people I’m following is filled with Canseco’s reports on his much younger girlfriend, meeting her mom and taking his daughter to Disneyland, among other things.  As many sports fans probably know, lately Canseco has also been Tweeting a lot about Herschel Walker.

Former NFL running back Walker won his MMA debut recently and Canseco, a martial arts enthusiast who got pummeled in a fight of his own not too long ago, has been calling, via Twitter, for a match-up.  It sounds ill-advised, since the 47-year-old Walker looked ripped in a recent Sports Illustrated photo of his victory, though Canseco has made several Tweets since February 1 about a possible fight with Walker, including this latest one just three hours ago:

The bottom line is, I will crush him. And he knows it.

This will all be funny until they’re calling for a second ambulance for Canseco the night of the fight.

Port-mortem on McGwire: Five more questions with Dale Tafoya

Faithful readers of this site will know that in December I reviewed a book about Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, Bash Brothers: A Legacy Subpoenaed. The book’s author, Dale Tafoya subsequently contacted me, and I interviewed him.  A few weeks after that, McGwire finally admitted to using steroids during his career.  Thereafter, his former trainer, Curt Wenzlaff made his own disclosures about the slugger.

Tafoya had interviewed Wenzlaff for his book, and I was curious about his take on everything that’s happened this month.  Thus, I followed up with Tafoya.

Baseball Past and Present: In writing Bash Brothers, did you foresee these last few weeks?  Was this what you were expecting?

Dale Tafoya: I wasn’t sure if McGwire was ever going to talk about the past and admit his steroid use, so I didn’t think his confession was inevitable. But I did know he wanted to return to the game and that his younger brother, Jay, is releasing a book, Mark AND Me, next month. Like Canseco, Jay is also supposedly going to describe how he injected steroids into Mark. So McGwire had many reasons to confess when he did. Personally, I was disappointed.  He may have been sincere, but it was a watered down confession that insulted our intelligence.

Firstly, he wants us to believe he turned to steroids to be healthy enough to play and that he could’ve hit 70 bomb in 1998 without them. Secondly, he wants us to believe that when players talked about steroids around the batting cage, he innocently walked away. So even though he confessed his steroids use, he never admitted they helped him perform better on the field.  He would have come across much better if he would have just exposed himself and stated the obvious: That they not only helped him recover from injury, but also helped him hit the ball further and break records. We, as fans, would’ve had more closure. Instead, his lukewarm confession left many of us disgusted.

BP&P: Will you be writing a postscript to your book?

DT: My publisher is talking about releasing a paperback version of Bash Brothers, and that’s when I’ll write a postscript. Stay tuned.

BP&P: One of your interview sources, Mark McGwire’s former trainer Curt Wenzlaff detailed the slugger’s steroid use for Outside the Lines.  In your book, he stopped short of saying he supplied McGwire with steroids.  What were the circumstances surrounding your interview with Wenzlaff a few years ago?  Do you regret not getting full disclosure at that time?

DT: I had two or three hour-long sessions with Wenzlaff. From the start, he always made it clear he wasn’t going confirm that he provided steroids to Canseco and McGwire unless they came clean.  So when Canseco described his own steroid use in his first book, Juiced, Wenzlaff went on record to confirm it. But when I contacted him in 2007, McGwire still hadn’t admitted it, so all he could tell me was he trained with him at a Southern California gym. But I respected his stance and was grateful he agreed to participate in my book. 

Interestingly, it was Reggie Jackson, when he played for the A’s in 1987, who introduced Wenzlaff to the Bash Brothers.  So I probed him about Jackson, but Wenzlaff  insisted Jackson never knew about his connection with steroids, claiming he only trained him at a gym in Walnut Creek, Calif.

I spent a lot of time trying to locate Wenzlaff, who was no stranger to media exposure. He had already been featured on ESPN and in the New York Times about his associations with Canseco and McGwire, so I realized he wasn’t going to give me any new, earth-shattering revelations into the Bash Brothers. But he did provide some interesting stuff on McGwire.  He described how much McGwire changed and how steroids could affect someone’s behavior and personality.  Based on my time with him, Wenzlaff was by no means an attention whore seeking to capitalize on this ongoing saga. In fact, I found him very private, humble and intelligent. If he were infatuated with the limelight, he would have wrote a tell-all book about the Bash Brothers years ago. He stuck to his guns and didn’t come out until each of them admitted it.

BP&P: Do you think McGwire told the whole truth?

DT: Well, I give him credit for disclosing his use, but I also believe Canseco injected him with the stuff; a claim he denies.  If there’s one thing clear about McGwire’s confession, it’s that he still refuses to dignify Canseco’s claims or make him look credible at all. He’s definitely not going to paint Canseco as a savior in this mess. But my question for McGwire is, “If Jose didn’t inject you with steroids, how did he know you used them?”

BP&P: Does McGwire have a better or worse case for the Hall of Fame now?

DT: I don’t think his admission swayed voters one way or the other. Personally, I don’t think he’ll garner of enough votes to enter the Hall of Fame and I don’t think he cares. The Veterans Committee, however, could end up getting him in.

Baseball history and social media, together at last

I took the plunge today and finally signed up for a Twitter account.  I first heard of Twitter a couple years ago and was cool to the idea for a long time.  I heard it’s basically a site comprised solely of Facebook status reports, and I just can’t see the attraction of that.  I don’t know if a lot of people can; I heard several months ago, at least, that Twitter loses something like 60% of its users after the first month.

Still, social media is a great way to promote a blog, and since Twitter is free, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.  Thus, I spent five minutes setting up my account a little while ago and made a debut tweet:

Just joined Twitter to promote my web site, http://baseballpastandpresent.com/ Check me out!

Appropriately, the tweet right before my own on my homepage was from Jose Canseco.  He wrote:

“How would i go about getting more followers? I see a lot of my peers have tons! Let’s try and get to 500,000.”

Suffice it to say, I’m one of those following Canseco.

Who to trust, Canseco or McGwire?

Amid the hoopla surrounding Mark McGwire admitting he used steroids, an exchange he had with Bob Costas got my attention.  In an interview on MLB Network on Monday, Costas read excerpts from Jose Canseco’s autobiography, Juiced, which claimed he personally injected McGwire.

“‘Right before a game, we would load up our syringes and inject ourselves’,” Costas read, quoting the book.

“There’s absolutely no truth to that whatsoever,” McGwire responded immediately, not breaking eye contact besides to blink once.

“That’s not true?” Costas said.

“Absolutely not,” McGwire said.

“Why do you think Jose would say that?” Costas said.

“He had to sell a book,” McGwire said.

“So that didn’t happen, in the clubhouse?” Costas said

“Absolutely not,” McGwire said.  “I couldn’t be more adamant about that.”

Canseco, for his part, went on sports talk radio today, insisting he told the truth.  He had defended his former teammate one day prior.  As reprinted in the Oakland Tribune, where I read it, Canseco told Sirius XM Radio on Monday, “Mark, steroids or not, was one of the greatest nicest guys you could possibly meet.  People make a mistake and say, ‘Well, he used steroids.  He’s a bad guy.  He’s evil.  He’s not worthy.’  I extremely regret telling the truth.  I extremely regret writing that book.  This thing has taken on a life of it’s own, and it’s far from over, guys.”

But on Tuesday, following the interview with Costas, Canseco called McGwire a liar.

“I’m tired of justifying what I’ve said,” Canseco said. “I’ve polygraphed, I’ve proven that I’m 100 percent accurate. I never exaggerated. I told it the way it actually happened. I’m the only one who has told it the way it actually happened. Major League Baseball is still trying to defend itself. It’s strange. All I have is the truth, and I’ve proven that.”

What’s apparent here is one of these men is lying.  I’m not sure who I believe.  Both players lied or gave misleading statements during their careers.  McGwire vigorously denied using steroids in a Sports Illustrated cover story in 1998, while Canseco released a tutorial while playing for the A’s that said steroid use would be unwise because it would hinder quick twitch muscles.  He also claimed the following, in Juiced:

I remember one day during 2001 spring training, when I was with the Anaheim Angels in a game against the Seattle Mariners, Bret Boone’s new team. I hit a double, and when I got out there to second base I got a good look at Boone. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He was enormous. “Oh my God,” I said to him. “What have you been doing?”

“Shhh,” he said. “Don’t tell anybody.”

As reported by ESPN in 2005, the Mariners and Angels played five games that spring, and Canseco and Boone never encountered one another on the basepaths.

There’s also a part of me that feels Canseco knew, leading up to Juiced, that guys like McGwire, Boone and Jason Giambi were using steroids.  It had to be apparent.  I also think Canseco knew baseball would be unwilling to talk about steroids, providing him a great money-making opportunity.  So a part of me thinks he wrote about the obvious users and took creative liberties about their personal interactions where he had to.

I doubt Canseco called out anyone who wasn’t using, but it seems unlikely he and McGwire injected together at the ballpark.  McGwire and Canseco ran in different circles and had vastly different personalities, McGwire shy and reserved, Canseco charming and outgoing.  The Bash Brothers image about them was largely a marketing creation, just like the M&M image was for Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.  It seems more likely to me McGwire did steroids with his brother, a professional bodybuilder who lived with him.

This doesn’t mean Canseco has to fear a libel suit from McGwire.  Proving libel is not simply a matter of believing a person is lying.  There are two different thresholds for proof, depending on whether a private or public individual is claiming libel.  If a publication makes an error about a private individual, that individual need only prove negligence for a civil judgment.  McGwire is a public individual, though, so he would have to prove malice, that Canseco knew he was lying when he made his claims.  Proving that is typically difficult, if not impossible.  It’s why Barry Bonds may never do a day in jail.

What McGwire could prove, if he wanted to, is that Canseco’s book was devastating to his image.  But I doubt McGwire would go to those lengths, private as he is.

Interview with Dale Tafoya

I got an email last Saturday from Dale Tafoya, the author of Bash Brothers, which I reviewed here on December 23. I got a little nervous when I first saw Tafoya’s name in my email inbox, as my review of his work was, at times, less than flattering.  Tafoya was cool, though, saying that he thought I was objective.  He also said some of the writing and editing of his book got compromised because his publisher, Potomac Books rushed it out after the Mitchell Report.  This struck my interest, and I offered to append his email to my review.  He said that wasn’t necessary but offered instead to do an email interview.

I got some questions off to Tafoya on Sunday evening, and he emailed me back today.  The interview is as follows:

Baseball Past and Present: You’ve mentioned about pouring your heart and soul into this book.  A year and a half past your book’s publication, have you fully detoxed off of all things Bash Brothers?

Dale Tafoya: Yes. When you invest almost four years on a project and finish promoting it, you kind of want to take a breather from it.  When I completed my book, it felt good to return to my daily routine. But when you’re in the thick of writing a book and immersed in your subject, it sucks you in. You’re having an affair with it. People always ask me for advice on starting a book, and I tell them they must have an unwavering passion for their subject; a romance that’s going to push them through the many obstacles of finding a literary agent, a publisher and staying focused enough to finish a book. The challenges are worth it.  What made this journey so worth it for me was that so many of my interviews––former teammates, coaches, broadcasters, and executives––loved talking about Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. They rambled on and on. Even so, the book still had obstacles. I first pitched the book back in 2004, and many book agents said a story on the Bash Brothers was only an article-–not book worthy. One, in fact, said a publisher would only acquire it if Canseco and McGwire participated. But I pressed on and googled my ass off to locate people who knew them. After interviewing about 50 of them, the book began taking shape. I ended up interviewing over 100. On my desk are hundreds of cassette tapes of my interviews that remind me of my hard work. But to answer your question, Graham, I’m not writing a Bash Brothers II; I’ve had enough with everything Canseco and McGwire.

BPAP: You interviewed a lot of people for your book, but not Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, Tony LaRussa or Reggie Jackson.  Did you attempt to contact them?

DT: Of course. I contacted reps for everyone you mentioned and they all declined. Well, actually, Canseco wanted to be paid, but we weren’t going pay him because the book would lose its objectivity. And we didn’t want the book to be a spin-off of his first book, Juiced. Predictably, McGwire didn’t bother to respond. But surprisingly, Dave Mckay, one of La Russa’s guys and the A’s former weightlifting coach, cooperated and was very helpful. He gave me the direct number to the St. Louis Cardinals clubhouse and really showed interest in the book. Even though he was clearly biased toward McGwire, I was shocked he participated.

BPAP: Who was your favorite interview?

DT: This has to be Eck, Dennis Eckersley. This guy is daring, bold, funny, and isn’t afraid to speak the truth. I was surprised how much he opened up to me about Tony La Russa, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Canseco and McGwire. He wasn’t afraid to make some less than flattering comments about either of my subjects. He was real.

BPAP: Are you proud of your work?

DT: Definitely. I mean, as a first-time author, I’m proud of how it generated a buzz and garnered some media coverage across the country.
I didn’t hit a home run sales-wise, but it was a labor of love. I’m also pleased with how it drew participants. Hell, I interviewed Sandy Alderson for over an hour. He was a hard interview to land. On a side note, I did feel sort of rushed with the project. At the time, the Mitchell Report had just come out and my publisher, Potomac Books, wanted to capitalize on the buzz and rush it to stores, which, of course, will compromise some things (not accuracy, though). That’s just the politics of the publishing business. Overall, though, I’m excited for the lingering impact that Bash Brothers will have decades down the line because when fans reflect on the history of baseball, they’ll always point toward Canseco and McGwire as two sluggers who helped trigger Baseball’s Steroid Era. So I have a long-term vision for the book, too. I’m also proud of how none of my interviews emailed or phoned me to cuss me out for misquoting or misrepresented them. It proves my book wasn’t a witch hunt, but an honest glimpse inside the Bash Brothers. Having former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent write the foreword for the book was also a boost for me.

BPAP: What’s one thing you wish could be different about it?

DT: Personally, I wish I would’ve been more prepared for the critics.  As an author, you could have ten reviewers praise your work, but also have ten reviewers bash it. It’s just the nature of the business. When you write a book, you really put yourself out there and expose yourself to criticism. That’s why you need thick skin in this business. Not many, after all, have your best interest in mind.

BPAP: Do you feel you’ve written the definitive book on the Bash Brothers?

DT: I think so. With all of my research and interviews, It’s hard to imagine another author would chase everyone down again. I also doubt they would get the same cooperation. The only other idea is for Canseco and McGwire to join forces on a book, but that won’t happen.

BPAP: Overall, do you feel the publication of the Mitchell Report helped or hurt your book?

DT: If anything, it hurt it. When the Mitchell Report came out, I believe fans started growing tired of the steroid issue. If my book would have been released around 2005, there would have definitely been more interest, but so many top-tier players were being exposed, it lost its shock value.
By 2008, fans accepted that steroids were a part of the game.

BPAP: Got any new projects?

DT: Yes, and it’s not even about sports. I’m collaborating with Hip-Hop legend Too Short for his upcoming memoir. Since my first book was about baseball, many consider me a sportswriter, but I’m free and write about whatever the hell I want to write about.

BPAP: For the record, do you personally think Canseco or McGwire used steroids?

DT: Absolutely. No doubt. Lots of them. But so did everyone else.

Book Review: Bash Brothers

As faithful readers of this space will know, I interviewed Jose Canseco in April 2008 on his promotional tour for his book, Vindicated. While researching Canseco in the days leading up to our meeting, I came across a notice for a forthcoming book on the former Oakland Athletics slugger and his teammate, Mark McGwire. The book was titled Bash Brothers, with the subhead, A Legacy Subpoenaed.

After contacting the publisher, Potomac Books, I interviewed the author, Dale Tafoya. However, my story wound up focusing on the signing, and I felt like Tafoya’s quotes would take away from the narrative, so I decided not to mention him. Tafoya accused me of using him for information, which would have been more ludicrous if he’d known me; in a sense, I’ve been researching Canseco since I was six. Most of what we discussed was stuff I already knew.

I subsequently received a review copy of Bash Brothers and was unsure what to do with it. My editor at the East Bay Express declined a review, since he’d just published my Canseco story. I contacted an acquaintance at the San Francisco Chronicle, they passed as well and the book thus sat unread. Eventually, it fell behind my bookcase, along with my unread review copy of Vindicated.

I always felt guilty about this and at times wanted to read the book but since that would have necessitated moving my bookcase, which would have necessitated getting all my books off of it first, I did not. However, I moved apartments this summer and finally recovered Bash Brothers. After finishing reading The Boys of Summer this fall, it was time to review Tafoya’s work.

I read Bash Brothers and all in all, it wasn’t bad. In fact, I rather liked certain parts, including the chapter that talked about an old Reggie Jackson spending a final season in Oakland to tutor Canseco and McGwire. Tafoya also commendably did four years of research putting together the book. He takes two pages at the end to list 112 people he interviewed, including former A’s players Dave Parker, Bob Welch, Dave Henderson and Dennis Eckersley and one-time baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, who wrote the foreword for the book.

Missing from this group, though, are McGwire and Canseco. In fact, the book gives no mention to whether they were even contacted (Canseco was happy to talk with me; he arrived at his signing an hour early for our interview.) The book never produces a smoking gun, either, for McGwire or Canseco having used steroids, only quoting excerpts from Canseco’s bestseller, Juiced, offering vague quotes from McGwire’s former strength coach, Curt Wenzlaff, and saying McGwire had a younger brother who got into bodybuilding and probably did steroids.

Sports Illustrated writer Selena Roberts got Alex Rodriguez to admit to using steroids by alleging this in a book; two San Francisco Chronicle reporters obtained grand jury testimony that confirmed Barry Bonds juiced as well. Somehow, it doesn’t feel that Tafoya went deep enough in his research, though he has a great bit from former outfielder Ben Grieve, retired and angry at all the juicers who prospered while he stayed clean and struggled.

Tafoya himself came in something of an unknown, with the book flap saying he studied journalism at a community college. The front of the book lists a slew of other titles from the publisher that I’ve never heard of. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I would love to have a baseball book with my name on it, even if few read it.

Tafoya’s writing itself is nothing special. “The game of baseball was out of its element, it seemed,” Tafoya writes of the Congressional hearings Canseco and McGwire appeared at in March 2005. “As compelling as each opening statement appeared, more riveting moments seemed ahead. Feeling like scattered chunks of bread surrounded by a swarm of starving seagulls, Canseco and McGwire threatened to evoke the Fifth Amendment when cornered with a self-incriminating inquiry.” The book is filled with writing of this sort that always seems just a little off, stilted, reaching.

Even the title is awkward. How exactly does one subpoena a legacy? Then again, I may have been a bit biased coming off The Boys of Summer. Very few sports books are that poetic or well-written. I’m not any worse for having read Bash Brothers. I found it interesting enough, though I probably wouldn’t recommend it to a non-sports fan. I say this as someone who insisted my mom read The Boys of Summer.

Now all I need to do is read Vindicated.

Transcript: My interview with Jose Canseco

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:
Canseco Book Signing

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.

Until today.

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?

Publicist: Water.

BNS: Water?

JC: I want coffee. Heavy, heavy cream and sugar.

BNS: Absolutely. Iced or hot?

JC: 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.

GW: Okay.

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.

Okay, Jose

Last week came the news that yet another standout baseball player, this time David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, had flunked a Performance Enhancing Drug test in 2003. Amidst the flurry of media attention that followed, my pal Jose Canseco (hey, I once interviewed the guy) stepped in with some typically audacious comments.

Canseco told Pedro Gomez of ESPN.com, “I’ll tell you this, Major League Baseball is going to have a big, big problem on their hands when they find out they have a Hall of Famer who’s used.”

It’s curious to consider who he may be talking about (probably not Lou Gehrig, I’m guessing.) References to Canseco’s quip have of course blown up around the Internet and blogosphere. One post, aptly titled Jose Canseco Just Ruined My Life (mine too) listed seven Hall-of-Fame members who played with the former Oakland Athletics slugger at different points. The copied list is as follows:

  • Nolan Ryan (Texas, 1992 – 1993)
  • Rickey Henderson (Oakland, 1989 – 1992)
  • Wade Boggs (Tampa Bay, 1999)
  • Reggie Jackson (Oakland, 1987)
  • Don Sutton (Oakland, 1985)
  • Rich Gossage (Oakland, 1992)
  • Dennis Eckersley (Oakland, 1987 – 1992)

If I had to bet, my money would be on Jackson, one of the early players to grasp the importance of weightlifting. A 1987 story from the New Yorker, entitled “The September Song of Mr. October,” paints a picture of the 40-year-old slugger over-the-hill and preparing for the final season of his storied career:

Jackson worked harder than anyone else in the gym. “When I quit I’ll become a body builder,” he said with a load of weights on his back. “Just for the hell of it.  For vanity.”  He worked his quadriceps, his calves, his triceps and biceps.  Between sets, he ran in place with the quick, short steps of a shadowboxer.  He wore a baseball cap, sweatpants, and a blue rubber shirt.  Sweat washed over his face and dripped off the point of his chin.  He had always looked more like a heavyweight fighter than a ballplayer.

I remember reading this a few years ago and even feeling a little suspicious then.

Jackson of course denounces steroid use on his official website. That’s fine. It doesn’t really mean anything in this day and age. Ortiz said similar things. So did Rafael Palmeiro.

With that said, I’m kind of surprised Canseco only claimed one Hall-of-Famer had used. Looking over the list, nearly every guy looks mildly suspect, with the exception of Don Sutton and Rickey Henderson, the latter of whom was recently quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle saying, “They kept that shit a secret from me.”  (Canseco also absolved Henderson of any steroid usage, saying he’d never seen anything to suggest it.)  However, Eckersley, Boggs and even Ryan wouldn’t be all that surprising of dopers, given their mid-to-late career struggles and resurgences.

This all may sound blasphemous but consider the following: A few years ago, news surfaced that an Atlanta Braves pitcher from the 1960s and ’70s Tom House had experimented with steroids during his career.  In the Associated Press story that broke, House said other players had used streroids as well.  I subsequently emailed Jim Bouton, another pitcher from this era, who wrote the classic diary of the 1969 season, Ball Four.  I asked Bouton if he thought House was telling the truth.  If I remember correctly, Bouton said he doubted it, but that if steroids had been prevalent in his era, guys like Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford would definitely have used them to gain an edge.