“Never a Bad Game,” which chronicled the first 50 years of the Southern League, has been updated and re-released. (Ordering information below). Over the coming weeks, I’ll present excerpts from 10 of my favorites of the 50 stories told in the book.
On a partly cloudy, 85-degree fall day in central Florida, Jose Canseco did what Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks and beleaguered fathers from across the country do. He took his family to Walt Disney World. He took a moment to indulge his Twitter addiction:
“They should create a Jose Canseco characature for Disney.”
Forgive the spelling and agree with the sentiment. Fact is, though, from Day One in a Huntsville Stars uniform through his controversial career, Jose Canseco was always part character, part caricature.
If Canseco wasn’t the greatest talent and best prospect in the Southern League in its first half-century, he was on the short list.
Canseco was on the Huntsville Stars’ first team, in 1985, winning the league MVP award despite playing only 58 games. In that time, he bashed 25 homers and drove in 80 runs, batting .318. (That would be 62 homers and 199 RBIs over the course of a 144-game schedule.) On June 24, he hit three homers and drove in nine runs in the first game of a doubleheader at Birmingham. “I set so many records it was a joke,” he wrote in his autobiography.
“Every time he went to the plate, you expected something big to happen,” said David Sharp, then the Stars’ batboy.
Joe Davis Stadium sits just off Memorial Parkway, which prompted a nickname for Canseco – “Jose Parkway.” Across the parkway was a lumberyard where second-shift workers would listen to Stars’ games. They’d flash a red light atop the building every time Canseco homered.
A righthanded hitter, he never reached the parkway that’s a football-field distance beyond the rightfield fence, despite the rumors.
They were homers produced via chemistry. Canseco finished his ’84 season in Single-A as a lean, 6-3, 185-pounder He confessed to using steroids that off-season, showing up in camp at 230, and continued to use performance-enhancers in Huntsville that he obtained at a local gym.
David Sharp, the one-time batboy, wore No. 33 as a high school player in honor of Canseco. He carried 33 cents in change in the back pocket of his uniform. But now he wrestles with a dilemma. He enjoyed a good relationship with Canseco, but Sharp has been a high school baseball coach and still is involved with young players.
“My impression of Jose has changed,” Sharp said. “It doesn’t mean I dislike him. But the situation I’m in now, I’m leading young kids. And I’m going to do what I can do and lead these kids in the right direction. Has it changed my opinion of him? Yes. But I know how he treated me individually.”
As Sharp began his college playing career at Montgomery’s Falkner University, he naturally shared Canseco stories with his teammates. And, naturally, they were skeptical.
In the fall of 1992, Canseco had to make an appearance in court in Montgomery regarding an autograph show snafu. Sharp and a teammate skipped class and went to the courthouse. Canseco remembered him. “I was big stuff, then,” Sharp said.
Then Canseco said, “Hey, what are you doing tonight? I’m going to Montgomery Athletic Center to play wally-ball (volleyball on a racquetball court). Why don’t you and some of your teammates come and play.” So Sharp and seven or eight friends joined Canseco, skepticism firmly erased there in a 40 x 20 room with a character they’d only known from a distance.
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