Introducing… Jose Canseco

Baseball’s biggest rockstar of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Canseco was the game’s most recognizable playboy during the Steroid Era.  He can also be seen as the face of an entire era.  Jose conceded to his steroid abuse while most players of his time clam up whenever the drug is mentioned.  Loved by a few and hated by many, Canseco was the preeminent star of the Major Leagues in the late 1980s.  He won the Rookie of the Year Award in ’86 and the MVP Award in 1988.  Looking back on his career, had he been more healthy, he’d be the mirror image of Reggie Jackson.  Their slash lines are almost identical.  Jose had a career line of .266/.353/.515 while Reggie’s wasn’t much different at .262/.356/.490.

Canseco got his first taste of the Majors in 1985 and hit a hair above .300 in 25 contests.  The rebuilding Athletics made him an everyday player in 1986 and he responded with a Rookie of the Year campaign.  Jose cracked 33 homers and drove in 117 runs despite a rather weak batting average and on-base percentage.  Named to the AL All-Star team as a freshman, Jose barely edged out Wally Joyner in ROTY voting.  He had about the same season in 1987: plenty of power and speed but less than stellar batting average and on-base percentage.  He had proven that he was an exceptional athlete but not a polished baseball player–much like Kansas City’s Bo Jackson.  But Canseco became a monster in 1988.

Named the American League’s MVP in 1988, Jose led the league with 42 homers and 124 RBI.  His slash line of .257/.310/.470 in 1987 improved substantially in ’88 when he posted an amazing line of .307/.391/.569.  His .569 slugging average was tops in the American League and he was a member of the exclusive 40 HR/40 SB Club.  Jose had officially become baseball’s biggest star in 1988.  He slugged an otherwordly .938 in the ALCS but the Dodgers had his number in the World Series and all Jose could muster was a feeble .053 batting average in the World Series.  His 1989 season was cut in half courtesy a broken wrist but he redeemed himself in that year’s postseason by leading the A’s to an easy World Series victory over the Giants with a .357 batting average.

Canseco teamed with Mark McGwire to give Oakland a legendary power combo that was dubbed “The Bash Brothers.”  The sluggers led Oakland to three straight World Series appearances from 1988 to 1990.  Canseco bounced back after his injury-shortened ’89 campaign to post yet another 30+ homerun 100+ RBI season in 1990.  But much like the Dodgers owned Jose in the ’88 World Series the Reds stymied him in 1990 when he mustered just an .083 batting average against the Cincinnati mound staff. 

He struggled in the 1990 World Series but he didn’t carry those woes into the next season.  In 1991, Jose led the American League with 44 round-trippers.  He drove in 122 runs and scored an extra 115 to make him one of the top run-getters in all of baseball.  But by this time his batting average and on-base percentage began to sink back down to his early days and Oakland made a blockbuster trade by shipping Jose off to Texas for Ruben Sierra, Jeff Russell and Bobby Witt.  His tenure in Texas was marred by injury and when the Rangers dealt him to the Red Sox after the 1994 season all they got for him was speedster Otis Nixon and failed prospect Luis Ortiz. 

The change of scenery to Boston helped Jose’s slash line but didn’t have any influence on the injury bug.  His first year with the Red Sox he was limited to just 102 games but nevertheless managed 24 homers and 81 RBI.  He played in even fewer games in 1996 but still upped his homerun total (28) and RBI amount (82).  Although Canseco was still a productive player in the 1990s, he had trouble staying on the field. He returned to Oakland in 1997 and had a dismal season back in California before he exploded back into the star ranks with Toronto in 1998.  With the Blue Jays, Jose set a career high with 46 homeruns and posted his sixth 100 RBI season.  He showed that his awe-inspiring speed/power combo package was still there as he also pilfered 29 bags.  However, the red flag was that his slash line was back down to his rookie form.  He only hit a meager .237 with a poor .318 on-base percentage. 

Toronto, clearly noting his poor slash line, allowed Jose to cash in on his rebound season via the free agent market.  The lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays, looking for ways to bring fans into the stadium, shelled out cash for Jose.  He joined the Florida club and had his last All-Star season in 1999 when he slugged 34 homers and drove in 95 runs.  After a so-so start to the 2000 season, Tampa Bay waived Canseco and he caught on with the Yankees for the playoff push.  New York won the World Series and Jose had his last Fall Classic at-bat.  He played one final year with the White Sox in 2001.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,887/R 1,186/H 1,877/2B 340/3B 14/HR 462/RBI 1,407/SB 200/BB 906/SO 1,942/BA .266/OBP .353/SA .515

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3 comments
  1. Giles said:

    Whoa, old Jose, one of the saddest tales of wasted talent the game has ever seen. He should have been a god of the game.

    • brettkiser said:

      Canseco was the best player in baseball–for a brief time. What I find interesting, and quite laughable to boot, are the “similarity scores” devised by Bill James. Jason Giambi is regarded as the most similar player in baseball history to Canseco. Sure, they both hit for power, had high slugging averages and were train wrecks defensively, but they seem to have less in common. Giambi’s on-base percentage was a whopping 50 points higher. Giambi ran like a bear with its leg in a steel trap while Canseco stole 200 career bases–just 180 more than Giambi. Giambi only struck out about 200 more times than he walked while Canseco fanned about 1,000 more times than he walked. Giambi played first base, in the loosest sense, while Jose was a right fielder–also in a very loose sense. So, sure, thay have a little bit in common, but Canseco is far more comparable to guys like Reggie Jackson and Dale Murphy than Jason Giambi.

  2. Giles said:

    Well, you have always said how you rarely liked Bill James’ conclusions…

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