Jose Canseco was Major League Baseball’s first $5 million man. He signed his contract in 1990 and in the article about the signing in the LA Times you can almost hear the remorse of the Athletics organization that they had to do this. Sandy Anderson indicated that it reflected the “Dramatic change in the marketplace.” It’s fair to say that since that contract was signed, inflation has made the $5 million contract almost an insulting joke given Canseco’s impact on the game as one of the original “Bash Brothers” with fellow Oakland A, Mark McGuire.
Canseco was coming off of a year that was shortened by injury and had started to have run-ins with law enforcement. Despite only playing in 65 games he was selected to the All Star Game. He had some pretty incredible offensive years. He hit 42 home runs and stole 40 bases in 1988 and won the MVP. This made him the first 40 HR and 40 SB player in baseball history. From 1986 through 1992 he led the major leagues in home runs.
Canseco was a big man and an even bigger personality in public than his quieter counterpart McGuire. For his part, Canseco handled the largest contract in baseball with a little humility. He saw it as a win for the players and was quoted as saying, ‘The way I see it, this is a big win for all the players. It will make it that much easier for Mark McGwire and Matt Williams and other young players to negotiate for themselves.”
The A’s were a powerhouse having won the pennant three of the last four years. Canseco played well and was in the on deck circle when it was announced that he had been traded to the Ranges. It was a shocking move. The A’s were in the midst of another run at the pennant. The amount of talent they received in return made the trade go down a little easier, and they clinched by the end of the season.
In 1993 on the Rangers, Canseco had one of the greatest plays of all time, taking a header off a fly ball and sending it over the fence for a home run. With the level of play that he had achieved, his personality over the course of the following years made that one play one of his most popular simply for the goofiness of it.
Three days after that, in an act of pure bravery, he pitched against Boston. He blew out his elbow and was forced to get Tommy John surgery which kept him out of the remainder of the 1993 season. He won comeback player of the year when he came back in 1994. Traded to Boston in the offseason, he continued to decline and had only one season left where he returned to a form resembling his dominance in the late 80’s/early 90’s. (1998 with Toronto) He would attempt comebacks in later years, but the specter of steroids and his tell all books erased what was at one time a promising career.
In the end, the best description of his career might be the quote, “He wasted more ability than most of us ever had.”