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HANDS OF FATE : Canseco Twins Have a Lot in Common, Including Identical Injuries

Times Staff Writer

The Canseco brothers, Jose and Ozzie, are twins. Real-life identical twins, not the kind they make movies about. However, with the recent events that have befallen the two, their story is rapidly gaining big-screen potential.

Besides all the obvious similarities associated with growing up together, their lives have lately taken a few odd twists.

First, each is a power-hitting professional baseball player. Jose plays for the Oakland Athletics, and Ozzie is with an Oakland farm team, the Huntsville (Ala.) Stars of the Southern League. Each is right-handed. Each is an outfielder.

Each also is a big guy who has recently been sidelined by a little hook-like bone in his left hand.

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If it seems ironic that Jose Canseco, baseball’s $1.6-million he-man, would find himself undone by a tiny, obscure bone at the base of his left hand, it’s probably just as ironic that the routine surgery on that injury last week caused a circus of media attention.

But in an eerie coincidence, Jose injured the hamate bone in his left hand only days after Ozzie had done the same thing. Now, a month after Ozzie’s surgery, Jose has had his operation.

Ozzie suffered his injury swinging a bat--merely swinging it--in the A’s first intrasquad game at spring training March 1. Six days later, Jose injured the same bone in the same hand, while doing the same thing. Neither player had hit the ball when he was injured.

Doctors who examined Ozzie said his X-rays showed a clean break of the bone where it hooks, indicating that surgery would be necessary. Jose’s stress fracture in the same place was not immediately diagnosed.

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While Ozzie was undergoing surgery and recuperation, Jose rested his hand to see if it would heal. When he injured it again March 22, the A’s again chose the conservative approach, rest instead of surgery.

Ultimately, they decided to send him to the minors to test his wrist. Normally Canseco would have gone to Oakland’s triple-A club in Tacoma, Wash. Instead, he asked to be sent to the double-A team in Huntsville.

By the time Jose arrived, Ozzie was back in the lineup, having been reactivated 50 days after his surgery. The brothers got to play together for a couple of games.

Jose was fine in the first game, going one for four, but in the second, May 7, he reported feeling something snap when he cracked a single in the third inning. Canseco was obviously in pain as he ran to first base.

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“I’m getting a sharp pain and movement is minimal at best, so it’s pretty bad,” Jose said at the time.

So, Jose had his surgery last Wednesday in San Francisco’s Children’s Hospital, which also treats adults. The operation was performed by Dr. Bill Green, a hand specialist, who was assisted by Dr. Frederick Bost, the A’s orthopedist.

Naturally, it was the same surgical team that had performed the same operation on the same bone of the same hand of identical twin Ozzie, in the same hospital.

Jose went into surgery at noon, and the 1-hour 45-minute procedure went as planned. While Canseco was still under anesthesia, Dr. Allan Pont, the A’s team physician and the hospital’s chief of medicine, was busying conducting a press conference, complete with a model.

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“We knew we had to have visuals for the television people,” said Ann Heglin, a hospital spokeswoman. “We brought in some models of hands and things like that. But we learned that rolling a skeleton through the hallways of the hospital was not a great idea.”

Heglin said that Canseco was checked out at 7:45 that same night and asked that all the flowers sent to him be shared with the kids in pediatrics.

Much ado about a little thing?

According to Dr. Roy Meals, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at UCLA, the operation to shave off the hook of the hamate bone is a delicate undertaking.

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“The bone is close to the ulnar nerve, which supplies all the muscles in the hand,” said Meals, a hand specialist.

He added that in the operation undergone by the Cansecos, a 1 1/2-inch incision is made and a surgical pick is used to slowly shave away the hook. He said that the tendons and ligaments that normally attach to the bone are reattached to fibrous tissue in the same area.

Meals described the hamate as the bone most often broken when someone uses a hand to break a fall.

“Surgery is often called for because the hamate rarely, if ever, heals on its own,” he said.

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That the Canseco twins would suffer the same injury is a strange coincidence. As Pont put it: “It makes you hear music out of ‘The Twilight Zone.’ ”

What are the odds that two players would suffer the same obscure injury? And the odds that the victims would be twins?

It may be that, since the Cansecos are both sluggers, the velocity of their swings hastened the onset of their injuries.

For Jose, who hit .307 last season, there has never been any question about how hard he swings the bat.

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“This guy takes as hard a swing as there is in baseball, so the chances were it wasn’t going to hold up,” Oakland Manager Tony LaRussa said. Apparently, Canseco’s hamate bone never had a chance.

But Ozzie’s case is a little different. Although he, too, is a free swinger, he spent the first few years of his pro career as a pitcher and has taken fewer swings in his time than Jose.

What about the possibility of a genetic weakness that both the Cansecos might have been born with?

Barbara Crandall, professor of pediatrics and genetics at UCLA, suggested that identical twins having identical injuries has more to do with their identical jobs than it does with genetics.

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“I would tend to think it’s more environmental--what they are exposed to,” she said. “There are genetic diseases that affect bones, but they affect multiple bones. You don’t get this kind of thing. They both play baseball. That would seem to explain it.”

Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. This cut-from-the-same-DNA pair seems to have bonds that go beyond science’s ability to explain.


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