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Healthy Outlook

Baseball: After an almost nonexistent role with Yankees last year, Canseco hopes an injury-free season with Angels might help him recapture his potential.

February 10, 2001|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — The World Series went on without him, really. On baseball's biggest stage, the roster of the most storied team featured one of the game's most glamorous players, but the New York Yankees basically told Jose Canseco to sit in a corner of the dugout and hide.

Benched? No one benched Jose Canseco. Who invented the 40 home run-40 stolen base club? Who knew when he might hit a ball 500 feet, or more? The complete list of active players with more home runs: Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds. That's it.

Benched? No one benched him, but the Yankees did. The Yankees could have won the World Series championship without him, and did.

"It was probably the toughest time I ever had as a baseball player," Canseco said. "It was the first time in my career that I was healthy and I couldn't play."

Canseco was a pawn. When the Yankees claimed him on waivers from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays last August, essentially to thwart the Rays from trading him to the Boston Red Sox or Toronto Blue Jays, Manager Joe Torre said he was "a little stunned."

Torre neither needed nor wanted Canseco and played him sparingly in September. Torre did not play him in the division series, removed him from the roster for the American League championship series and gave him one at-bat in the World Series.

"I understood the situation," Canseco said. "I have a lot of respect for Joe Torre. He had a lot of respect for his boys. I was basically in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Canseco, 36, could be in the right place at the right time this year, though the four words that have dogged him throughout his career follow him to Anaheim as well: if he is healthy.

The Angels, desperate for power, signed Canseco last month. With Mo Vaughn out for the season after arm surgery, the Angels hope to use Canseco at designated hitter every day . . . if he is healthy.

Despite seven stints on the disabled list in the past six seasons, Canseco said Friday he is healthy. The 6-foot-4 Canseco said he has dropped from 242 to 220 pounds this off-season, altering his workout routine to emphasize flexibility and endurance.

"The less muscle you have, the less muscle you have to pull," he said. "I'm going to work like a baseball player now, not a weightlifter."

From a man whose workouts were once detailed in a national weightlifting magazine, this borders on a revelation. So does this: Canseco said he has used androstenedione, the controversial dietary supplement whose boosters claim it builds muscle and whose detractors claim it can cause long-term damage to the heart and liver and should be classified as a steroid. The substance is banned by the NFL, NCAA and International Olympic Committee but not by major league baseball.

McGwire stirred national debate by acknowledging he used andro during the 1998 season, in which he hit a record 70 home runs. McGwire stopped using andro after the season, reluctant that children might perceive him as endorsing the product.

Canseco said he tried andro for "three or four months" around that time.

"I didn't find that it worked at all, so I just stopped taking it," he said. "I thought it was a lot of hype."

Canseco knows hype, and results. Before his first full major league season, in 1986, the Oakland Athletics portrayed him as "The Natural" on the cover of their media guide. He was named rookie of the year. In 1988, he called his shot and became the charter member of the 40-40 club and won a unanimous vote as most valuable player.

His body, however, has mostly betrayed him since. In the past nine seasons, he has had 500 at-bats once--in 1998, when he hit a career-high 46 home runs for Toronto.

Canseco ranks 23rd on the all-time home run list with 446. If he were healthy . . .

"I think they're going to regard me as the guy who could have broken so many records but was injured all the time," he said. "I may go down as the guy who hits 500 home runs with the most injuries.

"For me, 500 home runs is not a big plateau. It is in one sense because I've been injured so much, but if I were healthy . . . My friends talk about it all the time: If I were healthy, I'd have 650 home runs right now."

Only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays have hit more.

How many can Canseco hit for the Angels this season? He says 60 . . . if he is healthy.

How far can he hit them? Canseco, in Las Vegas to defend his championship in a charity home-run hitting contest, hit a ridiculously high and deep shot during batting practice Friday.

Gary Sheffield turned around and said, "How are we going to compete with that?"

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