The next crisis involved Jose Canseco, a great player and a five-tool guy in his prime. I used to say that managing Jose was like managing Elvis Presley. He was like a rock star. Even when he came out on deck the girls would walk down the aisles to the railing to get a closer look at him.
That spring, Jose came to my office and told me that he used to pitch in high school and volunteered to be an extra pitcher for an inning or so if I never needed him in a blowout game where I didn’t want to burn out anyone else on the staff. Other players had done it for an inning, including big stars like Ted Williams, Rocky Colavito, and Wade Boggs. He said it had always been a dream of his to throw an inning in the big leagues, something I understood completely but my first reaction was, “If I put you out there and you get hurt I’m done as a manager.”
I understood how he felt because I had actually pitched twice in Triple-A. But the big-money guys are the ones you really try to protect, for a variety of reasons. Not wanting to just spring the idea on everyone cold turkey, I went to the GM, Tom Grieve, and to George Bush, making them aware that Jose had volunteered to pitch and really wanted a chance to throw an inning. Basically, I was given the green light to make the call. I told them I’d have pitching coach Claude Osteen work with him just to make sure his technique was sound and that he didn’t hurt himself. That’s what we did, and Jose listened to everything Claude told him. Then in May, we had an off day but had to play our Triple-A club at Oklahoma City, a kind of goodwill thing. It gave us a chance to look at the Triple-A players and to use some of our guys who were usually on the bench. The regulars got one at bat and then came out of the game.
That’s when I gave Jose his first chance. We felt he was well prepared, and he came in, set them down one-two-three, had a strikeout and was throwing at about 95 miles per hour. We all thought. Hey he did it and he brought some real heat. He really looked comfortable out here. Then on the same road trip we began struggling a bit, suffering through some rough games. One day we were getting killed by the Red Sox at Fenway, a real blowout, and I had used up the pen the day before. Jose was DHing that game and I really needed a pitcher, the the perfect spot to let him throw his inning. He went down to the bullpen and in a minute I could hear the ball hitting the catchers mitt-hard. Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Because there were all sorts of fans down there watching, I think he was trying to show how hard he could bring it. I told Claude Osteen to call the bullpen to sit him down. He had thrown enough. Unfortunately, he never sat down.
Then we called him in to pitch the ninth and right away I noticed that he was having trouble. Instead of 95-mph fastballs, he was throwing knuckleballs, almost lobbing them in. The Sox got a couple of hits and he was still not throwing a fastball. The next day he admitted he had felt some pain while throwing in the pen but hadn’t
said anything, and then he told us his arm was a little sore. The irony was that he continued to play for a couple more weeks, hit some homers, and seemed fine. Then in June we were in Seattle, and Jose made a throw from the outfield. As soon as he released the ball he clutched at his arm. That’s when we finally had him checked, sending him to Los Angeles to be examined by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe.
I was in Tom Grieve’s office when we got the news. Jose had a torn ligament in his elbow and would need Tommy John-type surgery. He was out for the year. To call this a crisis for a first-year manager defines understatement. One of the team’s best players was lost for the year with a severe elbow injury after I green-lighted him to pitch an inning. Sure, I needed an extra pitcher that day, but in truth I was simply allowing Jose to scratch an itch he had had for some time. The report from Dr. Jobe took some of the heat off.
He explained that this was a progressive injury, a tear that was becoming greater over time and probably had begun the year before. Jose’s full-fan performance in the bullpen might have enhanced it, and then the throw from the outfield finally blew out the elbow. When I heard that, the light went on. Dr. Jobe said a ligament problem affects everything the player does, including swinging the bat. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Jose hadn’t had quite his usual bat speed before the injury, and I also recalled him pushing the ball from the outfield on occasion, not throwing like I thought he should. He was always the kind of guy who played injured and didn’t ask out unless he was hurting very badly.
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