The LA Times’ Bill Shaikin catches up with Jose Canseco, currently hitting tape-measure home runs for the Los Angeles Senior Mens League’s Valley Mets.
As Barry Bonds chases history amid a media onslaught, Canseco leans against his truck, in the uniform of the Valley Mets and without a camera in sight. Even now, after time off measured in years, Canseco says he could hit major league pitching if a team would give him the chance.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Why not? I’m 41 years old. I’m in tremendous shape, even though I’m not in baseball shape. For baseball, it takes about six weeks to get back into that kind of conditioning. But no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
The Mets trail, 10-3, in the third inning. With the bases loaded and two out, Canseco strikes out looking, on a pitch that appears low. There are no replays here, but Canseco doesn’t need to see one.
“That ball was on the ground and you know it,” he tells the umpire. This is a scolding, to be sure, but with no yelling and no animated gestures. “That’s terrible.”
As he jogs back toward the outfield: “I’ll let you know when it’s a strike. I’ve been doing this for 20 years.”
In the dugout the next inning, as teammates commiserate: “If it’s a strike, I’ll let him know. I’ll hit it out.”
Gary Zelman, the manager, owns Revolution Eyewear in Simi Valley. He hires celebrities to promote his business, so that’s how he became friends with Canseco and invited him to play.
There are no rules against ringers. If you’re 28 or older and you haven’t played pro ball in the previous three years, Zelman says, you’re eligible. Bret Saberhagen and Eric Davis, among others, preceded Canseco in the league.
“He just happens to be the very best hitter we’ve ever had in the league,” Zelman said.
Zelman sponsors his team, so Canseco doesn’t pay to play, and neither do his teammates. But, Zelman says, Canseco throws $5 into the pot to pay umpires every week, same as everyone else.
“You play once a week and have fun with the guys,” Canseco said, “win, lose or draw.”