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The Fast Lane Has Its Share of Drawbacks

Being Jose Canseco is not a bad gig, according to Jose Canseco, but there are minor inconveniences.

You might, for instance, find yourself cruising along a lonely stretch of Florida expressway late at night in your new red Jaguar, not paying much attention to your speedometer. Or maybe it’s just that when the car edges over 120, the speedometer needle comes close to disappearing into the glove compartment.

You happen to be driving a car that is as big, powerful, smooth and fast as you are and you don’t realize you’re doing 140 m.p.h.

“One day I’ll take you for a ride in my car,” Canseco says, pleading his case in the Oakland Athletics dugout before Tuesday’s game against the Angels. “You’ll see, it’s the weirdest illusion. You can be going 100 and it seems like you’re going 50.”

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Dangerous car. What if you’re doing a mere 50, you have the illusion of being parked and you try to step out of the car?

Anyway, Canseco was tooling along in his new red Jaguar at about 140 m.p.h. He didn’t realize he had picked up a tail of five Miami PD cruisers, valiantly giving chase.

Canseco, on his way to meet his wife, exited the expressway and the cops whizzed past in the night. Then Jose realized that he had taken the wrong exit and got back on the highway, this time right behind the five cop cars that were chasing him.

“Hmmmm,” he thought. “Somebody’s in real trouble.”

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Still unaware he was the guy, Canseco drove a bit more, then left the expressway again. But the cops doubled back and got him.

“I thought I committed a crime,” Canseco says. “I thought I murdered someone. They made me get out of the car, made me put my hands on the car, frisked me. It was like “Miami Vice.” All the other (police) cars came peeling in. I thought, ‘Holy . . . , don’t shoot!’ ”

That was one of the highlights of the off-season for Jose Canseco, the ballplayer of the future, perhaps the game’s most awesome presence, history’s first 40-40 man--homers and steals.

But there were others:

--He was a no-show at a Baltimore dinner in his honor.

--He was traveling with a cousin who was arrested at the Detroit airport for trying to board a plane with a handgun.

--He got married, but his honeymoon conflicted with a Miami parade in his honor. He says nobody told him about the parade, and he missed it.

--He was a no-show at a big baseball card show, explaining that a cousin had botched the travel arrangements.

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--Last week in Phoenix, he was stopped--in his Jag again--and cited for an improper turn on a red light. The police officer also cited Canseco for having no driver’s license, no registration, no proof of insurance, and the wrong license plate.

The upshot of all this is that Canseco has discovered Newton’s First Law of Superstardom:

“When everything goes,” Jose says with a sigh, “it all goes at once.”

After the recent auto snafu in Phoenix, Canseco was called into a meeting with Sandy Alderson, the A’s general manager.

“I used that incident as a vehicle--pun intended--for discussing larger issues that arose during the off-season,” Alderson says.

The A’s and Alderson still love Jose Canseco, as a player and a person. They simply want to help him adjust to life in the fast lane, so to speak.

“He has to realize he is now viewed as larger than life,” Alderson says.

Faster, too, although the Jag has been garaged and Jose now putt-putts around Phoenix in a sedate white Corvette, usually driven by his wife. Just as well.

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As Alderson says, “A lot of things I can do in my ’75 Oldsmobile station wagon, you can’t do in an ’89 customized Jaguar with a candy-apple red paint job. If you’re going to drive that kind of car, draw that kind of attention, you’d better have your . . . together.”

Jose Canseco seems to have it together fairly well, if you consider that he’s a 24-year-old who got a lot of fame and fortune in a hurry and is starting to feel some backlash. Last season, for instance, a sportswriter accused Canseco, on national TV, of using steroids, without offering a shred of evidence.

Alderson says: “Going back to that steroid business, when the Red Sox fans taunted him (chanting ‘Steroids!’), he totally disarmed them with his personality.”

Canseco smiled engagingly at the fans and flexed his biceps.

He is a player who signs lots of autographs at the ballpark and is available to and amiable with reporters. Writers who travel with the team say they have never seen him so much as sip a beer, and he’s not a night-clubber. When his twin brother, Ozzie, got married last winter, Jose bought the new couple a home.

“I’m a very simple person,” Canseco says. “Things I enjoy are cars and music, and now I’m getting into boats. But it seems like you can’t drive your car without being pulled over.”

If there’s naivete in that statement, there’s also an effort to convey the feeling that he has been crushed by the avalanche of publicity you get from hitting .307 with 42 home runs.

“Basically, I had no life of my own in the off-season,” Canseco says. “I didn’t spend enough time really relaxing, doing things I like to do. The problem was, I wanted to please everyone and I couldn’t. I got caught up in that. I’m new at this sort of thing.”

He mentions the Miami parade he missed, shakes his head and says sadly, “I was never told. All the children were disappointed.”

Canseco had already committed to several card-show appearances in the off-season, and when his stock skyrocketed late in the season, and in the playoffs and World Series, he was flooded with more offers, including charity appearances he hated to turn down.

“If I hit 100 card shows and miss one, that’s a pretty good percentage,” he says.

Not to the promoters and fans at the one show he missed, it’s not.

“You have to be some kind of robot, a mechanical machine,” Jose says.

These are times of minor crisis for Canseco.

Alderson says: “The difference now is, he’s under the microscope now. People are looking for his foibles, for his weaknesses, for his flaws. . . . It will be interesting to see how he reacts to all this. Some situations can be exacerbated by reacting negatively.”

Fortunately, Canseco is a positive, de-exacerbating kind of guy.

“I always look at things positive,” he says. “My father’s different, he’s a negative person. . . . I enjoy who I am. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I understand it (the constant attention and overreaction to his every move), it’s part of baseball.”

So Jose takes it, and learns, and adjusts, and maintains a sense of humor.

He says the red Jaguar is in the shop. What for?

“I’m getting a better engine put in,” he says. “More horsepower.”

Asked how fast his new, 40-foot-long, cigarette-style racing boat can go, Canseco says, “Well, see, there’s no speed limit on the water, thank God.”

If the boat will go 140 knots, Canseco has a chance to become baseball’s first 140-140 man.


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