Canseco retires, 38 homers shy of 500

Tuesday, May 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Jose Canseco was as brash as he was bash.

The former AL MVP, known as much for his over-the-top antics as his awesome talent, retired Monday. Hampered by injuries in recent years, he leaves 38 homers shy of the 500 mark he'd hoped to reach to bolster his Hall of Fame chances.

``I thought he was the most complete athlete I've ever managed,'' said Tony La Russa, Canseco's manager with the Oakland Athletics. ``This guy really could run and, when he was concentrating, play defense. And he loved to take the tough at-bat. Injuries just took the important part of his career from him.''

Oh, but what a career it was. From the time the A's called him up in 1985, he hit home runs in bunches. He and Mark McGwire were Oakland's ``Bash Brothers'' way before the Bay area even heard of the Giambis.

The 37-year-old Canseco finished 22nd on the career list with 462 home runs. He was the first to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in a season, and he's one of only nine players in history with 400 home runs and 200 stolen bases.

A career .266 hitter, he finishes with 1,407 RBIs and 200 stolen bases in 1,887 games with Oakland, Texas, Boston, Toronto, Tampa Bay, the New York Yankees and the White Sox.

His numbers would be even more gaudy if not for the injuries. Canseco spent time on the disabled list in seven of his last 10 seasons, mostly with back problems.

Cut by Montreal in spring training, he signed a minor league contract with the Chicago White Sox on April 18. He was hitting .172 with five homers and nine RBIs in 18 games at Triple-A Charlotte when he called it quits, saying he wanted to spend more time with his daughter.

``Jose felt that because of personal reasons and a strong desire on his part to spend more quality time with his young daughter, it was time to announce his retirement,'' Alan Nero, Canseco's agent, said in a statement released by the White Sox.

Messages for Canseco and Nero were not returned Monday.

``He's one of the most knowledgeable hitters I've been around,'' Mo Vaughn said. ``He was the first 40-40 guy, MVP, rookie of the year, and he's got a couple of rings under his belt. So he's had a tremendous career.''

A colorful one, too. He dated Madonna and drove fast, expensive cars, getting clocked at 125 mph. He had public disputes with both of his wives, and drew complaints from neighbors because of his unusual collection of pets. He once brought a large land tortoise into the Oakland clubhouse.

And who can forget the time a ball bounced off his head and over the wall for a homer?

``Jose had done some things in his career that gave the impression that he wasn't very smart _ but he was very smart,'' Vaughn said. ``To really get to know him was great.''

Born in Cuba and raised in Miami, he was called up by the A's on Sept. 2, 1985. One week later, he hit his first major league home run. He hit 33 homers and drove in 117 runs the following year, earning him rookie of the year honors.

In 1988, he led the majors with 42 home runs and 124 RBIs, and he was a unanimous choice as MVP.

Oakland won the World Series in 1989, but it was Canseco's homer in Game 4 of the AL championship series that stands out. He put Mike Flanagan's pitch in the upper deck of Toronto's SkyDome, about 480 feet away, a place where no ball had been hit before during a game.

``He's one of the most significant Latin guys that there were in the game,'' Roberto Alomar said. ``It's sad to see a guy like that go, but on the other hand, he did the best he could for the game and I wish him well.''

Though he hit 34 homers with 95 RBIs in 1999, Canseco's injury problems left him fewer and fewer options. Released by the Angels in spring training in 2001, he did a stint with Newark of the independent Atlantic League.

He signed with the White Sox last June as a replacement for the injured Frank Thomas, and hit .258 with 16 home runs and 49 RBIs in 76 games. But with Thomas healthy again, the White Sox didn't have a place for Canseco and he became a free agent.

He went to spring training with Montreal but was released after being told he wouldn't be an everyday player. Though he hoped his stint in Charlotte would pave the way back to the big leagues _ and 500 home runs _ Canseco instead struggled at the plate.

``I know he wanted to get to 500 home runs, but that's not important. He should still be proud of himself,'' Mike Piazza said. ``He really did a lot to further the game and raise the bar for all the players today.''