When I first heard the news that Jose Canseco was coming to Worcester, Massachusetts, to play for the Tornadoes, I was skeptical of my ability to land an interview. In fact, I tweeted in mid-April that there was probably less than a 10% chance that I would sit down for a one-on-one interview with the former slugger.
A couple weeks into the season, however, I decided to contact Worcester’s media guy, Nick Gagalis, and see if he could set something up. To my surprise, he did exactly that, and I spoke to Canseco following last Wednesday’s game against Quebec City. He looked at his phone the entire time and all but laughed at a couple of my questions, but was really very pleasant and gave what I felt to be good, honest answers for just about everything. Considering how surreal it was (the best way I could think of to describe it was that I felt like I was having a conversation with my childhood), it went quite well.
I will say this: I made a conscious effort to avoid any steroid talk because let’s face it, the guy has already answered anything I might’ve asked. Instead, we talked about how he ended up in Worcester, his favorite minor league city, and why he’s still playing baseball.
How did you end up here in Worcester?
You know, there was Mexico. Went to spring training there, actually made the team out of spring training, was hitting real well, and there was an issue about the anti-doping, testing, whatever they had. I’ve been on testosterone therapy for six years, going on now, and basically I had a big issue with that. They suspended me, then we cleared it up, and I decided not to go back there.
So Todd Breighner, from the team here, called me and said, “Listen, do you still want to play?” And I said, “Yeah.” I asked him where he was from, he said here in the Boston area. I said, “I like Boston, I played there with the Red Sox, and sure, I’ll come down there and give it a shot, see what I can do.”
If I’m counting right, this is the fifteenth minor league city you’ve played in, going back to the early ‘80s. What was the best place you played, your favorite place you played?
Minor leagues?! Jesus Christ, you think I remember back that far?! I’m not that smart. Wow…you know, I would have to say Double-A, Huntsville, Alabama, with the Huntsville Stars, because that was the first year of the affiliate of the Oakland A’s Double-A where there was a brand new stadium. The fans were great. The first year they had baseball again we won the championship. Even though I only played half the year, got promoted to Triple-A and the same year the major leagues, but that year the team won the championship.
In your first book, you wrote about some of the ways you were mistreated coming up as a young player, by your teammates. How did that experience influence the way you treated younger teammates? These guys now, guys you played with in the past?
Doesn’t influence me at all. I think back then a lot of the older players were into really harassing the younger players and putting them through a whole scenario, things like trying to get them drunk or making them dress a certain way, making them carry their bags. Even at the major league level you kind of see, when I was there, a slight part of that, but not really as much as you do in the minor leagues.
[laughs] Can I add them on to my major league homeruns? That’d be great. How about softball, can we add them too? I’ve got more homers in softball than anybody.
…that number, 100 minor league homeruns, is that something you take any pride in reaching?
You know, I didn’t even realize that. I never thought about it. I guess it’s a lot for a minor leaguer who played maybe four, how many years, four years in the minor leagues – unaffiliated baseball doesn’t count – so it’s kind of interesting, I guess.
Honestly, I don’t know how I didn’t realize this, but I didn’t realize or remember that your brother Ozzie was a pretty good pitcher when he was coming up before they converted him to hitting. The past couple years, did you guys talk at all? When you were trying your hand out on the mound, did you guys talk at all about how you go about pitching?
No, not really, because by that time he had converted to hitting. First he was a pitcher, I was a hitter, then he converted to hitting. I just try to dabble and pitch a little, obviously I got the Tommy John surgery, but I had some fun doing it.
And actually, speaking of Ozzie, he spent some time playing with you the past couple seasons. Should we expect to see him here in Worcester at some point?
No. No, I think he’s definitely – I think physically, he’s a lot older than I am. I kinda kept in shape, I’m the hitter, and I have more interest in playing the game than he does. I think people think I’m crazy, I’m gonna be 48-years-old still playing this game when it’s guys half my age doing it. It’s a tough game when you’ve gotta play every day at my age.
What keeps you going every day? What keeps you coming here every day?
Love of the game. It’s real simple. I keep saying, I don’t know why, I love to play it. For me, I think it’s kind of grasping onto youth. I think I associate baseball, the whole environment, with youth, and I think that once you let go of the game you kind of admit that you’re getting old.
You tried managing last year, had a rough go of it. Was that experience more difficult than you thought it would be before you tried it?
It was, because I never managed and played at the same time. So you have to wear two different hats. At one point as a player, you have to have chemistry, get along with the guys, have a relationship, and pull for the team. As a manager, now you’re the bad guy. Now you’re the guy who’s gotta release guys. You’re the guy who’s gotta pull pitchers out of the actual game, and make decisions, and put in pinch-runners and switch hitters, so it becomes very tough. I’ll never do it again.
Not even after you’re done playing?
I mean, not the combination of both. I’ll manage, later on in my life, maybe next year or the year after that, but I’ll never play and manage at the same time.
The last thing I wanted to ask you: what’s the most fun experience you’ve had in baseball?
Obviously winning. You know, when you’re on great teams and you win over 100-something games and you’re fighting to go to the playoffs, you win that, and you go to the World Series and you win that – just the atmosphere of being on a team that’s a contender, that people expect you to win, the fans are behind you, and you’ve got an excellent offensive-defensive team, pitching staff, and going to the World Series – all eyes are on you and you’re on the biggest stage in the world. It’s great.
It’s almost impossible. It’s one of the best feelings in the world, and I think very few have had that feeling. It’s something you relish, but I don’t think you can get that back. I don’t think you could replace it with anything else. You can maybe do other things – like maybe when my daughter was born, or something like that, that’s kinda close, but they’re completely separate. In sports – that’s the pinnacle of sports, winning the World Series, for me.
Is that something you’re still chasing now, that feeling?
Yeah, but I’m not in the major leagues. But I think when I’m hitting out there, once our team gets going, starts winning, we get to the playoffs and hopefully go all the way, it’s a great feeling also.
Thanks to Nick Gagalis for coordinating this interview.