Cuban-born Jose Canseco immigrated with his family to the United States as a child in 1965. He made his name as one of Major League Baseball's star hitters with the Oakland Athletics in the mid- to late 1980s. After retiring from baseball in 2001, Canseco re-entered the spotlight with a tell-all book revealing his longtime steroid use, and that of other star baseball players.
From Cuba to America
Famed baseball player Jose Canseco was born on July 2, 1964, in Havana, Cuba. He and his twin brother Ozzie, also a baseball player, were the only children of Jose Sr. and Barbara Canseco. Canseco's father had been a successful a territory manager for Esso Standard Oil and a part-time English teacher during Cuba's Batista years, but he fell upon hard times when Fidel Castro's communist government came to power in 1959. Canseco Sr. soon lost his job and his home; in 1965, when the Castro government offered to airlift citizens who opposed the regime to Miami, Florida, the Canseco family jumped at the opportunity. Barely one year old at the time, Canseco and his family boarded a small propeller plane to begin a new life in the United States. "We had nothing," Canseco's father recalled.
Capitalizing on his English skills and previous experience as a manager for an oil company, Canseco's driven father soon landed jobs as a territory manager for Amoco Oil and a part-time security guard, allowing him to provide a comfortable American life for his family. Canseco Sr. was also an avid baseball fan, and he soon set out to teach his sons to play the game he loved. However, much to his father's chagrin, as a boy Canseco was an average baseball player. "You're going to grow up and work at Burger King or McDonald's," the slugger later recalled his father screaming at him when he failed to excel on the baseball diamond. "You'll never add up to anything."
High School Baseball
Canseco attended Coral Park High School in Miami, where he continued to struggle with baseball. Although he occasionally showed flashes of a remarkable natural talent at the plate, Canseco was painfully inconsistent, failing to make the varsity squad through the first three of his four years in high school. After being named the MVP of the junior varsity team during his junior year, Canseco finally made the Coral Park varsity squad as a senior. Finally he enjoyed a true breakout season, displaying fearsome power at the plate, and was again named team MVP.
In 1982, after graduating from high school, Canseco was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 15th round of baseball's amateur draft. The A's sent him to play for their Premier League team in Idaho Falls, Idaho, where Canseco earned $600 a month on his first minor-league contract. "Seven or eight of us all lived together in a place that was almost condemned; it was such a dump," Canseco later remembered. "It had no heater, no nothing, and if you wanted to use the bathroom, you would have to wait until you went to the ballpark."
While he was struggling adjusting to life in the minors, Canseco's body began to undergo a remarkable change. As an 18-year-old in 1982, Canseco was so skinny that one opposing pitcher joked that he could hula-hoop with a Cheerio. By the time he made his Major League debut three years later, Canseco had transformed into a hulking giant with the physique of a bodybuilder. Although at the time he attributed the change to an intensive workout regimen, he has since admitted that those years marked the beginning of his steroid usage.
Pro Baseball Career
Canseco made his debut with the Oakland Athletics in the middle of the 1985 season and was instantly found success at the Major League level, batting an impressive .302 in his rookie season. Playing outfield and designated hitter during his first full season in 1986, Canseco hit 33 home runs and established himself as one of baseball's most fearsome young power hitters, winning American League Rookie of the Year honors. He and fellow Athletics slugger Mark McGwire, who came up to the big leagues a year after Canseco and succeeded him as Rookie of the Year, were nicknamed the "Bash Brothers" for their muscular bodies and home run stats.
In 1988, Canseco became the first player in Major League Baseball history to have at least 40 home runs (42) and 40 stolen bases (40) in the same season, winning the American League MVP award. Although he missed much of the 1989 season because of a broken wrist, Canseco still hit 17 home runs and helped the Athletics win the World Series over their local rivals, the San Francisco Giants.
In 1992, the A's traded Canseco to the Texas Rangers, where he spent three years putting up productive numbers without ever really matching the dominant play he had displayed in Oakland. In 1995, Canseco moved on to the Boston Red Sox, where he played two mostly unremarkable seasons. After returning to the Athletics for a single-season cameo in 1997, Canseco played most of the next three years with the Toronto Blue Jays (1998-2000). He had a brief stint with the New York Yankees at the beginning of the 2000 season. Late-career highlights included a surprising 46-home run season with the Blue Jays in 1998 a second World Series championship, won with Toronto in 2000. An increasingly injury-plagued Canseco retired from Major League Baseball after playing the 2001 season with the Chicago White Sox.
Canseco finished his illustrious baseball career with 462 home runs, six all-star selections, one American League MVP award and two World Series championships.
But Canseco's greatest influence on the game of baseball may have come after his retirement. In 2005, he wrote Juiced, a tell-all book revealing his own longtime steroid usage and claiming that abuse of performance-enhancing drugs was virtually ubiquitous among baseball's top stars. Huge stars Canseco outed as steroid users included Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Jason Giambi.
"The challenge is not to find a top player who has used steroids," he wrote in his book. "The challenge is to find a top player who hasn't." The allegations contained in Canseco's book helped spark the 2007 Mitchell Report, the culmination of a 21-month investigation into steroid usage in Major League Baseball led by Senator George Mitchell. The investigation revealed that baseball's long-ball era—a period of the late 1990s and early 2000s when decades-old home run records were obliterated by hulking stars like McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds—had been, as Canseco suggested, fueled largely by rampant steroid use.
In 2008, Canseco wrote a second book, Vindicated, which further elaborated on the place of steroids in baseball and accused clean-cut New York Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez of using the drugs. Rodriguez eventually confessed to juicing earlier in his career, though he insisted he had stopped using steroids years earlier.
In 1988, Canseco married Esther Haddad, and they remained married for three years until divorcing in 1991. He then married a Hooters waitress named Jessica Sekely in 1996, but they too divorced in 2000. Both of Canseco's ex-wives cited incidents of domestic violence as the cause of divorce.
Once celebrated as one of the most popular stars in Major League Baseball, Canseco's name has since become virtually synonymous with the game's "steroids era." While some revile Canseco for steroids abuse and then ratting out former friends and teammates, others admire him for being brave enough to blow the lid off Major League Baseball's rampant problem with performance-enhancing drugs. Canseco himself expresses little regret for his choices, either in the past or in the present. "I wanted to be the best baseball player in the world," he said. "That was my goal, my only goal, really, and I never let things stand in the way of my goals. So in that sense, no, I'm not ashamed of it. I cared so much about winning, and about making the game more exciting for the fans, that I did what I had to do."
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