Jose Canseco was nervous. He repeated the fact several times Friday afternoon, twirling a pair of dark blue sunglasses in his right hand, standing in the club level at O.co Coliseum and wearing a white Athletics jersey that fitted the still-burly torso of the 50-year-old snugly.
It was the first time, Canseco said, he’d returned to the Coliseum since his playing career ended in 2001 – and since publication of his 2005 book “Juiced” alleging widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs in major-league baseball.
It was also the first time in years for Canseco seeing many of his former teammates from the 1989 A’s team that won the franchise’s last World Series championship, sweeping the Giants, and that is being honored in Oakland this weekend during the A’s series against the Baltimore Orioles.
“So far it’s been great,” Canseco said as a contingent of the team from 25 years ago, which will be honored during a pregame ceremony on Saturday evening, met with reporters Friday. “I’m still very nervous. I don’t know what to think or how the fans will react. I’m kind of putting myself out there in the most vulnerable state possible.”
Canseco, who debuted in 1985 and spent his first seven-plus seasons with the A’s, said the reception from former teammates had been positive. But there was a conspicuous absence from the 1989 group milling around Canseco on Friday – Mark McGwire, Canseco’s former “Bash Brother,” and one of the players Canseco named in his book as having used steroids during their playing days. McGwire, who has since admitted using PEDs, is in St. Louis this weekend as the hitting coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“One of the gentlemen I would’ve liked to see is Mark McGwire,” Canseco said. “I looked up to him. I idolized him for a lot of reasons.
“It haunts me to today that I actually said those things about him, even though they were true. But I could’ve gone about it in a different way and got my point across.”
Nearly a decade removed from the publishing of “Juiced,” Canseco said he regrets writing the book. Its publication helped spur congressional hearings on PED use in major-league baseball at which several prominent players – including McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa – testified.
“I regret putting my friends in it, even though it was a true account,” Canseco said. “The reason I did it was not a good reason. I was angry at the time.”
Canseco said his anger stemmed from not being able to find a job in baseball at age 37, after playing his last season with the Chicago White Sox in 2001. He believed he was being blackballed from the sport and wrote the book largely to retaliate.
MLB has toughened its stance on PEDs in recent years, strengthening its drug testing program and instituting heavy penalties – an 80-game suspension for a first offense, 162 games and loss of pay for a second and a lifetime ban for a third offense. Any players suspended during the season for PED use also become ineligible for that year’s playoffs.
Canseco said while he believes MLB would have “come to the same place” eventually, “If anything positive came out of the book, it’s that hopefully it helped clean up (MLB).”
Still, he said publishing the book was costly, to himself and the players named in it – particularly Hall of Fame candidates.
“I’m very worried and depressed about the way they’re trying to not vote these players into the Hall of Fame,” Canseco said. “It’s almost saying that an individual who used a PED, that the PED made them a superstar athlete.
“What happened to hard work? What happened to decision-making? What happened to athletic ability, adaptation in the game? I think we send a very poor signal to kids when we say that PEDs will make you a superstar athlete. In reality, they just don’t.”
Personally, Canseco said he lost relationships with many former teammates and people in baseball. He said he would like to return to affiliated baseball in some capacity – ideally working with young hitters “to teach the art of power hitting” – but that he doesn’t think baseball would welcome him back.
“It’s going to be hard,” he said.
Attending this weekend’s reunion, he said, is not a calculated step toward repairing any bridges. But he seemed relieved by the reaction of his former teammates to his presence.
“He is a part of this family,” said pitcher Dave Stewart, the 1989 World Series MVP. “When I heard about the book, I said, ‘The one thing I don’t know Josie to be is a liar.’ And it turned out, he wasn’t.
“It might not have been the right thing to do at that time, but things happened. But today is a different day. As far as I’m concerned, bygones are bygones, and I’m genuinely glad to see him.”