Jose Canseco (above, right) didn’t take part in last week’s 20th Anniversary reunion of the 1989 Oakland A’s World Series Champs, and in the wake of considerable bashing of one half of the Bash Bros., former Sacramento Bee beat reporter Susan Fornoff stands up for Canseco in today’s SF Chronicle. “On steroids or not, selfish or not, antisocial or not,” Fournoff writes, “Canseco played a pivotal role in the success of the late-1980s A’s, their manager and his players. Why make the retro-face of the team Stewart, who pitched only every fifth day? Why make it Dennis Eckersley, who pitched only when the team’s bats had already given it the lead?”
Tony La Russa has never cared about whether a player is a good person or a bad person or whether he is, as he said of Canseco, “into his contract and his celebrity.”
La Russa cares only about a player’s contribution to the success of the team. He has always had a reputation as a veterans’ manager and for good reason: La Russa does not mentor. He considers the main part of his job to be filling out the best possible lineup every day, which is why America’s hotel bars are littered with napkins containing his scribble. He fathered daughters, not sons, and has not been a father figure to his players.
This is by no means a flaw. La Russa has been successful, and so have his teams, which is what matters in the world of sport. After Dave Kingman embarrassed the A’s organization by sending me a gift-wrapped rat in 1986, La Russa wanted to bring Kingman back in 1987 because he felt Kingman’s bat would have lifted the A’s record. The A’s did not sign Kingman, and neither did anyone else. But La Russa would have; it wasn’t about character, it was about home runs.
it is neither fair nor classy, 20 years later, for La Russa to say Canseco was not a team player when it mattered not a bit to the manager as long as the slugger, the 1988 Most Valuable Player, was hitting 17 home runs in 1989 despite missing all but 65 games that year with a broken wrist. If Canseco was good enough for La Russa to put in the lineup every day he was healthy in 1989, he is good enough to share in the celebration of that season 20 years later.