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BASEBALL : Numbers, Dollars Add Up for Canseco

May 27, 1990|ROSS NEWHAN

What do you apply to Jose Canseco's home runs, a tape measure or a calculator?

The distant drives of the Oakland Athletics' right fielder are about to become far-reaching in a financial manner, as well.

Canseco has the A's over a barrel to the extent that they have no choice but to hand over the keys to the bank.

With each game, as the stupendously talented Canseco enhances his stature as baseball's best active player and generates comparisons to the best ever, he drives up his price.

A's General Manager Sandy Alderson, who began negotiations with Canseco's agent, Dennis Gilbert, on a multiyear contract Tuesday, doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.

"He's making it tough on us," Alderson said of Canseco's daily display of power. "We might have to go from negotiating to begging."

Canseco seems destined to make Don Mattingly and Will Clark look like paupers.

In the culmination of baseball's madcap salary signings of last winter, Clark agreed to a four-year, $13.2-million contract with the San Francisco Giants, and Mattingly signed a five-year, $19.3-million deal with the New York Yankees. Outstanding players, those two first basemen, but their overall skills don't compare with Canseco's.

Neither runs as well, hits with as much power or plays as challenging a position as Canseco, 25, whose defensive skills have improved to the point that he merits Gold Glove consideration.

"We feel that you have to equate salary to ability," Gilbert said. "Jose is the best player in the game right now. Therefore, we feel he should be paid the most."

The A's are believed to have made a five-year, $20-million offer.

Canseco, eligible for free agency after the 1991 season, is believed to be thinking in terms of $25 million, with the first pure $5-million-a-year salary.

He has talked about the free-agent potential of New York and Los Angeles, but "if the money is right, he would be happy to stay in Oakland," according to Gilbert.

Said Canseco: "As long as they want me here, I'll stay. I can't imagine leaving. I wouldn't mind having a 10-year deal. But the longer the A's take to sign me, the more difficult it's going to be. They see what I do in opposing ballparks. I mean, the Oakland ballpark could cost me 40 points a year on my batting average and 15 to 20 home runs, and if I get the chance, I'll prove it to them."

Some of that is negotiating rhetoric, though there is no doubt that he pays a statistical price in Oakland.

On a recent eight-game trip, Canseco batted .424, drove in 16 runs and hit eight homers, including a grand slam in the Toronto SkyDome that bounced off the windows atop the center-field restaurant and revived memories of his international launching there in Game 4 of last year's American League playoff series against the Blue Jays.

There have been 79 homers hit in 27 games at the SkyDome this year, and Canseco said, "60 (by one player) would not be safe in a place like this" if he played there.

Would he consider it?

"Being paid in Canadian money and being taxed twice? Forget it," he said.

Presently, Canseco looks as if he can hit 60 anywhere, even Oakland.

Canseco has hit 10 homers and driven in 26 runs in the A's last 14 games. He has 18 homers, 47 RBIs, a .340 batting average and 11 stolen bases in 41 games. He leads the majors with 38 runs.

"I probably think he's better than he thinks he is," A's Manager Tony La Russa said. "As far as pure talent, I think he's in the echelon with anybody you want to mention, anybody who has ever played."

Said third baseman Carney Lansford, of the current negotiations: "I'm not the one laying out the iron, but from a business standpoint I'd tie that guy up for as long as I could, as soon as I could. I've played with some Hall of Famers, and he's the best. I have to believe he's the best who ever played."

Canseco is being paid $2 million this season. Last winter, the A's signed Rickey Henderson to a four-year, $12-million contract and gave Dave Stewart a two-year, $7-million extension. They also considered a multiyear deal for Canseco, but Alderson said that with the threat of a work stoppage and severe financial damage to the franchise, "We weren't prepared to take the risk with another big contract."

Too bad, for them. Canseco said he probably would have signed for less than Clark at that time. If so, his price has doubled.

"The A's and Sandy Alderson had a chance to sign me for peanuts and didn't do it," Canseco said. "Thank you, Sandy Alderson. Thank you, Oakland A's."

Canseco is making an attempt to improve his image, ensuring the A's interest.

The profits from his 900 talk line are being used to bring underprivileged children to his summer baseball camp.

And the other day, when Stewart handed him a $10,000 check as payoff on his 1988 bet that Canseco would not get married before the 1989 season, Canseco said he will match it and buy a van for a handicapped fan in his hometown of Miami.

All of that is to be applauded, but Canseco still marches to the beat of his own bat.

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