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Yes We Canseco: A slugger's legacy

Thursday - 8/21/2014, 11:59am  ET

Canseco (AP)
Canseco (33) was welcomed with open arms recently back in Oakland, where he began his career. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

WASHINGTON -- When baseball's steroid era shifted from one of celebrating home runs to one of pointing fingers for blame of a corrupt game, one name was singled out above the rest.

Jose Canseco was vilified, his book "Juiced" roundly criticized and dismissed for making false allegations at the time. But as Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig heads toward retirement, Canseco's words now echo as perhaps the one beacon of truth in a generation of quiet cover-ups, the most honest voice speaking against the establishment.

Canseco, a 17-year major league veteran, hasn't played a game in the bigs since 2001. But his 462 home runs rank 34th in baseball history, above names such as Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Joe Carter. And yet, at age 50, he continues to search, to push for a place to play the game.

He has arguably become more popular in his retirement than he ever was as a player, attracting more than half a million Twitter followers to his enigmatic account. One of Canseco's favorite pastimes is to tweet out any brilliant idea he has -- from his desire to run for the office of mayor of Toronto to wrestling Shaquille O'Neal to taking over for the recently departed David Gregory on "Meet the Press" -- to the world, and to tell interested parties to follow up with Melendez.

The man in charge of corralling these ideas, of keeping Canseco's life on track, is another man named Jose. For sake of simplicity, he goes by Joe.

Joe Melendez is at once the least and most likely person to be handling Canseco's business. He has a few years of minor league baseball experience, but took on the challenge of managing Canseco's eccentricities because he was always a fan of the slugger as a player. One of Melendez's biggest challenges is having a line of direct access that is continuously publicized by his one and only client.

"The more I complain about it, the more he does it," says Melendez, who used to have a common msn email address.

Melendez said last year that he usually receives anywhere from 60-70 emails per tweet, ranging from random spam to death threats to people impersonating Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane.

"I've never had one good opportunity come from them," Melendez said.

When Canseco decided he wanted to run for the mayor of Toronto in 2012 (prior to incumbent mayor Rob Ford's very public issues), the effort was more than just a whim. He went so far as to construct a website: the URL -- yeswecanse.co -- lives to this day. And when he would tweet, fans would come calling.

"Guys wanted to marry Jose to make him a Canadian citizen," said Melendez. "One guy was pretty serious; he kept contacting me. He wasn't kidding."

That's where the hashtag #YesWeCanseco was born. It has since been used for any number of his whims, including his offer to be the next commissioner of baseball.

In Oakland, where Canseco starred, he is still beloved to this day, and much more so than Selig. He was recently invited back to join with others from the 1989 World Series-winning team as part of a 25th anniversary celebration.

Meanwhile, for five years, the Athletics have been waiting for Selig's appointed blue-ribbon panel to deliver a decisive statement in regards to their territorial-rights claim against the San Francisco Giants as they seek a new stadium. It will be a fascinating scene if Selig has to appear on the field in Oakland at the end of the year to present the World Series Trophy to a chorus of boos on the field at O.co Coliseum. It is the one place on earth where Canseco is unequivocally more popular.

And yet, as Selig rides off into the distance, Canseco presses on. He created the Canseco Home Run Challenge this year, offering to come to minor league cities across the country to take on fans. After booking 17 stops, the tour ends Sunday in Canton, Ohio, a week before the conclusion of the minor league season. Recently, it made a stop in Fresno, California, at Chukchansi Park -- home of the Grizzlies, the San Francisco Giants' Triple-A affiliate.

"I think some people thought this was more of a Bakersfield Blaze-level type of promotion," said Sam Hansen, marketing creative manager with the Grizzlies, referencing the A-ball team about two hours to the south.

Canseco's other two California stops were with the Single-A Blaze and the independent San Rafael Pacificas. But Hansen saw the value and had no problem bringing Canseco in.

"He's entertaining, whatever he does," he said.

The Grizzlies even tied Canseco into a promotion for their recent Taco Truck Throwdown, having him crush a piñata full of taco certificates with a bat.

"I was going to ask one of our players to do it, and then I thought, ‘Oh my God, we can ask Jose Canseco if he'll do it,'" said Hansen.

As he does with most chances to swing a bat these days, Canseco happily agreed.

"Juiced" ostracized Canseco from the professional baseball community at the time. While his claims of rampant steroid use in the game were initially roundly dismissed, it became clear over time that much more of what he had claimed was true than originally thought. Still, even he seems to have mixed views towards his work.

Melendez believes a movie made from "Juiced" would still have mass appeal.

"Look at the success of 'Moneyball,'" he said. "'Juiced' sold more copies. It should be successful."

Nevertheless, he too sees the toll the years of backlash have taken on Canseco.

"It caused him a lot of anger and grief. He really regrets writing that book."

That's the dichotomous crux of Canseco's existence in his perennial semi- retirement. He's known for his prodigious power, which he readily admits was aided by steroids. That steroid use keeps him ostracized from officially participating in the game he loves and that he continues to find any way he can to remain a part of.

So he floats around the periphery baseball, looking for any chance someone will give him to do what he does best: entertain.

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