It's a distant memory now, but twenty years ago, Jose Canseco was a rock star. As an outfielder in the late 1980s and early '90s, Canseco helped lead the Oakland A's to three straight World Series appearances and one title, became the first player to hit forty home runs and steal forty bases in a season, and comprised one half of the slugging duo the Bash Brothers. He later played for other teams and went into injury-riddled decline, but for a time, Canseco was the most celebrated player on baseball's premier team. He drove fast cars, attracted scores of women — even Madonna — and had his own 1-900 number. Teammate Walt Weiss once told Sports Illustrated, "Going to a restaurant with Jose — going anywhere with Jose, for that matter — is like going somewhere with Elvis or Springsteen."
It wasn't like that with Canseco's latest trip to Oakland.
Canseco visited a Barnes & Noble store in Jack London Square on April 9, as part of a book tour. In the decade since he last donned an A's uniform, he has written one bestseller, Juiced, and now a second, Vindicated, all about steroids. Overall, the signing was fairly sedate. About two hundred people lined up for autographs, and Canseco signed for the last of them within an hour.
The event passed without disruption. Business continued elsewhere in the store. There weren't the angry hecklers or reported death threats that accompanied Canseco's tour for Juiced. The signing may have been obscured by the fact that it received little media attention beforehand and that the Olympic torch came through San Francisco that day, sparking waves of protest. But Canseco's star also may have faded, simply due to the amount of time since his career's peak. Local fans continue to steadfastly support former San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds, but that more recent high-profile steroid user did not have his best seasons during the Reagan administration.
Canseco nevertheless said the signing went great. "We got a lot of supporting fans out here, very positive, no negative talk and so forth," he said. Neil Bannon, 27, of Hayward was one of the people there in search of Canseco's autograph. He was among the first in line, arriving hours before the event, taking the day off from work. Bannon stopped short, however, at listing Canseco among his favorite A's players.
Overall, the slugger found some calm amidst a tour that's had its share of fireworks. There was a widely reported Manhattan meeting with baseball investigators to discuss steroids and human growth hormone. The Chicago Tribune also reported that Canseco chided a television reporter in Chicago and refused a courtesy coffee from store employees there because he thought it might be poisoned.
In contrast, Canseco arrived an hour early in Oakland, in black leather and shades, and had no problem accepting coffee from Barnes & Noble staff, requesting "heavy, heavy cream and sugar." (Perhaps that counteracts the poison.)
The trip didn't hold much apparent emotional significance for Canseco. He maintains few, if any, ties to Oakland, and told the Express he hadn't been in town since the Juiced tour. He also noted that he has no ongoing relationship with the Athletics' organization, due to an overall blackball from baseball, and doesn't keep in contact with any former A's teammates.
He has positive memories, though. "There were great memories, coming into Oakland playing here, those winning days, great ballclub we had, just a very exciting team that we had," Canseco said.
With his girlfriend staying at his hotel in San Francisco, and another signing slated for the next day in that city, Canseco appeared to be lying low, saying only that he hoped to find a nearby poker tournament.
His liaison David Golia has assisted other authors who haven't enjoyed such quiet. Six years ago, Golia escorted Muhammad Ali to an appearance at Oakland's Marcus Books. During the course of Ali's visit, the boxing great decided he wanted a haircut, so he and Golia visited a local barbershop. "There was a guy getting a haircut and the barber saw Muhammad Ali walk in and he just — the guy had like literally half a haircut and the barber just went, 'That's it, you're done.' Pulled him out of the chair, champ's here. And within ten minutes, everybody phoned each other and there were like a hundred people at the barbershop."
Then again, as Jose Canseco's story demonstrates, not everyone can be the Greatest.
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