Jose Canseco can be credited with 463 career homeruns – 462 hit on offense and 1 charged to him while in the field. This year is the 30th anniversary of the time Cleveland’s Carlos Martinez lofted a fly ball towards Canseco’s spot in the outfield. The ball hit Jose in the head and caromed directly over the fence for a homerun. The hit ended up proving decisive as Cleveland won the game by a single run.
The hilarious incident reminds me of Homer Simpson taking a fastball to the head to win a game in perhaps the best-known Simpsons episode of all time. A Simpsons reference is apt, as Jose would go on to turn into something of a real-life Homer. He has managed to bungle his way into a series of comedic episodes, say whatever pops into his head, and somehow stick around at some level of public consciousness despite peaking 30+ years ago.
Both Homer and Jose have a litany of awful actions to their credit, yet the pair come across as charming slapstick caricatures rather than villains. After everything that has come to light about Jose (PEDs and associated lying/treatment of others/dangerous driving/questionable public comments, etc.) I still view him as a cartoon that has escaped a storyboard and is now exploring the real world.
33 Cartoonish Canseco Moments
In honor of the sport’s most well-known bearer of uniform #33, here are 33 Canseco-related news stories in which I can easily imagine swapping him with a cartoon character:
1. The crazy “dome-run” in which Carlos Martinez rounded all the bases after hitting Jose in the head with a fly ball. This has got to be in the running for the greatest baseball blooper of all time. Judge for yourself with MLB’s video of the incident:
2. Just days removed from the headbutted homerun, Jose made his MLB pitching debut in a mop-up duty in a 15-1 game against the Red Sox. He pitched 1 inning, allowed 3 earned runs, and blew out his elbow. He would end up missing the rest of the season, but at least the moment was captured by Score in the company’s 1994 set.
3. Jose was literally a cartoon character, appearing in the Simpsons “Homer at the Bat” episode. He didn’t like the gag originally written for him, which called for him to miss a ballgame due to being seduced by Springfield’s resident cougar Edna Krabapple. His role was rewritten to be more “heroic”, so he ends up rescuing appliances from a burning house instead of playing outfield for the Springfield Isotopes.
4. Jose was involved in one of the odder World Series moments: He was the starting right fielder of Oakland when the 1989 Bay Area Earthquake hit. He was still in his uniform for the hours-long drive home around the bay and created a bit of a stir when trying to buy gas during the year’s most famous natural disaster (YouTube).
5. Outsized claims and bravado have been a recurring theme with Jose. In early 1988 he publicly claimed he could become the sport’s first 40/40 player. At that point his lifetime MLB stolen base total was only 31, making rolling eyes the leading reaction to the statement. What makes Jose Jose is the fact that he actually did it, hitting 42 homeruns and stealing 40 bases on his way to the AL MVP award that season.
6. The next season he tried out a Babe Ruth/Ham Porter impression in an intrasquad match by pointing to centerfield and calling a homerun. Dennis Eckersley was on the mound and promptly drilled him in the back.
7. Jose set up a 1-900 phone number (1-900-234-JOSE) that charged callers to listen to his side of various news stories – Washington Post
8. Canseco joined the rest of the MLB Players’ Association in going on strike in 1994. Players resumed games in early 1995, but umpires remained locked out. Jose joined the umps’ picket lines when not actively taking part in games – Chicago Tribune
9. Shoeless Jose: In 1994 Canseco had worn the same shoes every time he took the field since the beginning of Spring Training. Teammate Chris James hid the “lucky” spikes before a late July game, prompting Jose to break in a new pair. He did so by hitting two homeruns. Overjoyed with the success of the new footwear, the Rangers brought the original shoes back to the dugout and promptly set them on fire. Unaware of the growing fire in the dugout was Texas pitcher Kenny Rogers, who would go on to turn the game into baseball’s 14th perfect game. – YouTube
10. Home Simpson invented the “Flaming Homer,” a cocktail built upon a foundation of liquor and children’s cough syrup served alight with flames burning off some of the alcohol. Canseco became synonymous with “Canseco Milkshakes” – a term that popped up in the late 1980s as slang for steroids (Grantland). Sports reporter Tom Boswell was interviewed about this just prior to the 1988 ALCS and claimed at least one respected Hall of Famer threw together such a concoction in front of him – ESPN Commentary. I still remember Canseco denying this during the ’88 World Series and then proceeding to throw Boswell under the bus as someone just looking to tear others down for a story. Boswell was right and Canseco’s denial taints anything I hear from him to this day.
11. The dude got kicked out of Mexican professional baseball for suspicions of PED use (SBNation).
12. Mexico wasn’t his only post-MLB stop. He played in various independent leagues from 2006-2018, wearing the uniforms of at least 9 different teams. He pretty much went from town to town asking who wants to see him hit dingers.
13. The life of a journeyman outfielder/DH wasn’t limited to the post-MLB years. Jose played for 7 different clubs through 2001 and even suited up with the Montreal Expos and Los Angeles Dodgers as Teams #8 and 9 during 2002/2004 Spring Trainings. It is said his contract with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays stipulated Jose would be portrayed as a Tampa player if he ever made the Hall of Fame.
14. Jose and twin brother Ozzie got into a fight with some patrons of a Miami nightclub who tried to get handsy with their dates. The best part? The Cansecos brawled while dressed as vampires.
15. Jose was sentenced to two years of house arrest as part of the fallout from the vampire nightclub fight. At one point he charged fans $2,500 to come hang out with him at his house. At least 30 took him up on the offer per an article in Sports Illustrated
16. Jose might not want to fight after all. He once tried to pawn off his twin brother as himself at a celebrity boxing event – The Sporting News
17. Jose actually got into the ring against Hong Man Choi but probably wished it had been Ozzie instead – Las Vegas Sun
18. Jose shot off his finger while cleaning a gun – Sports Illustrated
19. The above-mentioned finger reportedly fell off during a card game two weeks later (CBS Sports), only to be soon revealed as a hoax.
20. Known for driving fast cars, Jose spun out at triple digits in a Ferrari while street racing another car. Frank Thomas was in the passenger seat, begging the question of just how much that vehicle weighed before The Big Hurt decided to walk the rest of the way home. YouTube – Fox Sports
21. Kit cars were an automotive fad at one point, with aspiring supercar mechanics converting old Pontiac Fieros into copies of Italian supercars with varying levels of success. Jose apparently commissioned the building of a fake Lamborghini Diablo, but somehow used an Acura NSX as the donor vehicle – Yahoo Sports
23. Goats aren’t the only animals at Canseco’s house. He has three tortoises, appropriately named Juiced, Roid, and Rage.
24. Another tortoise, Raphael, escaped from Jose’s place in 1991 before being apprehended by deputies of the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office – Baltimore Sun
25. Turtles named Raphael were a big thing at the time. Remember 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie? Casey Jones, a vigilante that Michaelangelo calls “Gretzky on steroids,” uses a Canseco model bat as his weapon of choice. In their first encounter Raphael grabs the bat and exclaims “Please tell me you didn’t pay money for this!”
26. What does a post-prime years celebrity/BS artist do with his spare time? Provide fodder for reality television. Jose has been part of The Surreal Life and The Apprentice. He tried to pitch producers on launching his own show but nothing materialized from that venture. An internet-based show briefly appeared in which the idea of people hanging out with him was the primary focus.
27. Jose opened a car wash in Las Vegas, complete with a crazy LED sign and a giant cutout photo of himself bragging about his mullet haircut.
28. There was an odd exploratory bid to become mayor of Toronto in 2013 (Toronto Star), followed by a series of tweets directed towards fellow game show personality Donald Trump in which Jose angled alternately to become the White House Chief of Staff and Ambassador to the United Nations.
29. Jose may have lost a $104k paycheck in Comiskey Park during the 1990 season – Baseball Law Reporter via the Internet Way Back Machine
30. MLB Network’s Steve Hofstetter related a story about the media circus that always seemed to accompany Jose. Yankees pitcher Denny Neagle had some fun with this when he took Hofstetter’s microphone, pushed his way to the front of a media scrum, and began asking questions in the nude about Jose’s purported hookup with pop singer Madonna.
31. Jose released a pair of ghost-written memoirs about his involvement with PEDs and their prevelance in baseball. The first of these books coincided with rising political interest in the subject and culminated with him being one of many athletes testifying before congress in 2005. This would be the infamous 2005 hearing in which Mark McGwire would claim he wasn’t there to “talk about the past” and Rafael Palmeiro would wag his finger at the committee just before failing a PED test. Jose played up his honesty (leaving out the trail of denials from early in his career). Check out video of the hearings at C-SPAN.
32. Jose really doesn’t like Alex Rodriguez, often taking the time to take shots at him on Twitter, reaching out to his fiancé with claims of infidelity, and proposing a public fight. Jose’s second book created a public feud with a claim that A-Rod was using steroids. Rodriguez denied the allegations before being suspended for PED use several years later.
33. Jose and former teammate Mark McGwire were the subject of an entire Lonely Island parody album that was released on Netflix.
Putting Some Canseco Cards in the Collection
In 2021 I began carrying baseball cards around in my wallet and watched them deteriorate over the course of a year before replacing them with fresh cardboard. The first cards selected for this project were a trio of Canseco rookies.
Back in the heyday of late-1980s/early-’90s card collecting, these were among the best modern cards one could hope to obtain. Eventually, Canseco’s star faded and the hobby welcomed the annual introduction of hundreds of new sets. The fresh issues had more shine, higher gloss, and came in more exciting variety. They also overwhelmed collectors’ ability to memorize all of a players’ cards and made it easy to walk away from the hobby when trouble appeared for the sport.
The familiar refrain that modern cards “ruined the hobby” can still be heard, though I think the deluge of new cards brought with it some needed improvements. Back when the above rookies were still the talk of the school cafeteria, one could only hope of landing a player autograph. Card shows required travel and an accommodating schedule on behalf of a player. In-person signatures were difficult if you didn’t have access to stadiums. The mail was theoretically a source of player ink, but rarely worked.
Today collectors can get multiple autographs direct from card manufacturers. There is no more wondering if the sketchy card dealer standing across a rented display table has a legit autograph for sale. Entire sets can be collected with each card that was produced signed by the player. There are even parallel insert versions of the autographs to chase. Best of all, for most players they are almost always cheaper than any other source of a signature.
When I restarted my collection I wanted a Canseco autograph. Avoiding anything with even the possibility of a forgery, I reviewed cards that Topps had commissioned autographs on the full print run. I selected the 2014 edition of Five Star, an absurdly thick set that appears to be printed on foam board. The set had initially been released with staggered print runs of various players, some signing as few as 50 cards and others affixing their names to variable amounts as high as 499. Canseco signed 399 for the set, along with 25 special “Rainbow” parallels to be used as inserts in random packs. The Rainbow edition has holographic foil embedded in the card surface and is serial-numbered to differentiate it from other cards.
I added the Rainbow Canseco autograph shown above in mid-2021. Although there are only 25 in existence (~10X rarer than the ’93 Finest Refractor), there were three different copies for sale online when I undertook my search. $22 later and a few bucks for shipping brought it to my door. It still blows my mind that today I can easily obtain something that combines everything that would have constituted a perfect card a few decades ago: An insanely low print run, serial numbers, foil embossing, high gloss, and a certified on-card autograph of a player that was briefly the face of the game.
1993 Finest Refractor
Canseco was famously traded from Oakland to the Texas Rangers while standing in the on-deck circle late in the 1992 season. The following year would see his first regular-issue Rangers cards, one of which was the inaugural Topps Finest set. Topps used the same photo from the front of its ’93 Finest Canseco card as the primary artwork on the foil boxes of the product.
A couple years ago I heard that a Canseco super collector had come across nearly two dozen of this card and reached out to him to see if he was interested in selling one (Narrator: He was not). Instead, I picked one up from one of my usual sources for these cards. A second copy briefly joined my collection when I came across one selling for an inexplicable $20. The duplicate was quickly sent back on its way to another refractor collector as it was not an improvement over the one already in hand.