Thursday, May 21, 2009

Those Who Do Not Learn from Jose Canseco…

Entering Wednesday night's game against the Rays, Oakland's Jason Giambi was [quote-unquote] hitting .193 BA / .324 OBP / .319 SLG. He can no longer get around on good fastballs and his once-prodigious power only reaches the warning track these days. And, Lord, don't get me started on his mummified defense at first base. In all my years, I've never seen anyone so obviously afraid of making the throw to second base on a 3-6-3 double play.

A's fans really should've seen this coming. Hell, if anything, recent history has only repeated itself. Back in 1997, my favorite team welcomed back another anabolic prodigal son – Jose Canseco – after a four-year absence. The Giambi and Canseco scripts have been eerily similar, so far:

January 27, 1997: Canseco is traded from the Boston Red Sox to the A's in exchange for John "Way Back!" Wasdin

At the time, the A's were four years removed from relevance. They'd just come off a 78-win season in which they finished last in the AL in attendance (1.14M). The Canseco acquisition – no matter how the team or the media spun it – was made to put butts in the seats. And, boy, did the team and media spin it:

AS SOON as fans heard that Jose Canseco was returning, the A's switchboard lit up. Roughly $45,000 worth of tickets were sold in one day, the team's best day at the box office since Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann bought the club [in 1995].

[Mark] McGwire hits towering home runs for record distances, but the ball doesn't leap off the bat as it does with Canseco. Canseco's trademark is the searing line drive that barely gets a dozen feet off the ground as it slams into the left-field bleachers, leaving the park so rapidly that the left fielder barely has time to take a step.

Once a strong-armed outfielder who was improving enough to be considered a candidate to play center field, he has become a defensive liability.

By the by…Canseco was NEVER "considered a candidate to play center field" – even in an era where the Rangers rolled out Pete Incaviglia as their everyday CF. The current version of the A's finished with 75 wins in 2008 and drew 1.66M to their intimate toilet of a ballpark (good enough for 13th out of 14 AL teams). The offseason had been one P.R. bobble after another, so who better than Giambi to engender some goodwill and maybe move a few dozen extra tickets?

The next chapter of the Canseco saga was built upon the media's unrealistic expectations:

The A's made a point to say the trade was not a rash move, or an easy way to pick up some quickie headlines. They believe Canseco will be in Oakland long-term, and that his presence may convince [Mark] McGwire to stick around after his contract expires at the end of the season.

McGwire didn't even "stick around" until the end of the '97 season, as he was gifted to St. Louis for a triumvirate of bums at the trade deadline. Meanwhile, before the '09 season began, one columnist had reached similar crazy-man conclusions about Giambi:

So it's Jason Giambi, and why not? He…had the second-best homers-to-at-bats ratio in the American League [in 2008]. The A's need a sassier, feistier stance for the public, one they didn't have a year ago, and Giambi, though a stopgap measure until one of these two-veterans-for-five-projects deals comes up trumps, is the most affordable fellow with his skill set who could get folks to come back to the Coliseum.

Through 18 games, the A's are averaging 18,030. That number will surely trend upward once summer arrives, but the team will almost certainly come in under one million fans for the first time since 1980. Also, I'm guessing that Giambi's three home runs in 119 at-bats isn't currently among the top two ratios in the league right now.

In 1997, Canseco was his usual streaky self as a hitter:

April 2 – May 9: .230 BA .298 OBP .370 SLG (his first 33 games)

May 10 – June 18: .269 BA .379 OBP .588 SLG (his next 34 games)

June 19 – August 26: .209 BA .303 OBP .440 SLG (his final 41 games)

It wasn't long before the team and media turned 180°:

Jose Canseco was an expensive mistake. However, it appears this is one blunder [General Manager] Sandy Alderson doesn't intend to make again.

Although the A's general manager carefully avoided saying he does not want Canseco to get the 142 plate appearances the player needs to qualify for an automatic contract renewal for 1998, it appears unlikely it will happen.

Canseco, who's been on the disabled list with a bad back, declared himself fit and ready to play again before Tuesday night's game against Boston was rained out. However, the A's did not activate him. This decision fed speculation management is unwilling to pay him a $4.5 million salary for 1998, the sum he would earn if he has 1,000 combined plate appearances between last season and this one.

Just watch yourself, Giambi…that's all I'm sayin'. Canseco had a similar goofball, self-deprecating interview style that the press gobbled up like anything else put in front of them that was plentiful and free. And, what might the next few months hold for Giambi if he inexplicably heats up? Trade bait!

The Yankees talked trade with the A's yesterday for the third straight day and confirmed that Jose Canseco is on their short list of candidates for a trade in the coming days. Cecil Fielder will miss eight weeks with a broken thumb, and the Yankees are in a hurry to close a deal, so they can add another right-handed bat to their lineup.

The A's are unlikely to take a chance on Yankees left-hander Kenny Rogers, who had offseason surgery on his shoulder and elbow -- even though the Yankees would be willing to pick up $3 million to $4 million of the $12 million Rogers has coming in salary over the next two-plus seasons. But a young pitcher like 25-year-old sinker-baller Ramiro Mendoza (3-4 with a 4.42 ERA) could interest the A's.

Spoiler alert: the A's DID take a chance on Kenny Rogers, acquiring him in November 1997 for Scott Brosius. Canseco ended up fouling a ball of his foot in late July and – probably not coincidentally – remained an Oakland Athletic. In August, he'd re-injure his oft-injured back and was essentially told to stay the hell away when he reportedly healed up. More bashing by the media, please!

And worse, Canseco is a bad influence. Even those who like him and enjoy his style have to admit that his nonchalance does not set a good example for the young players. It will be bad having him around next year, and once again, the decision to keep him calls into question how serious the A's really are about going all-out in the rebuilding direction. They want to be serious, but until they jettison Canseco, they will be making moves like a team that can't quite let go of its past.

So, the Jose Canseco Experience v2.0 didn't exactly work out in the clubhouse or the standings. But, it surely increased attendance and kept the turnstiles spinning all season long:

You won't hear much talk about it today though, unless you run into one of the 4,764 who were rattling around the Coliseum. It was the A's smallest crowd in 11 years.

Welcome back, Jason!

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