One of baseball’s most colorful and controversial figures is looking to make a comeback as a player at age 46, and his agent thinks Japan might be the place where Jose Canseco can resume his checkered career.
Nello Gamberdino, based in Chicago, represents the former major league superstar, and he has recently contacted all 12 Central and Pacific League teams, asking for a tryout for the one-time big league home run king and American League MVP.
Though it is obviously a long shot, Gamberdino thinks there is a chance some club will realize the potential of having the Canseco name in its lineup, despite the age factor, his history of using performance-enhancing substances and other off-the-field problems.
What has the agent excited is the fact Canseco played a stint last season in independent league ball with the Laredo Broncos (where he hit .385 with four homers and 13 RBIs in just 39 at-bats) and, according to Gamberdino, he went into the league out of shape but still looked good and hit some monster shots as he did regularly 15 or 20 years ago in the majors.
“He’s been working out and is in great shape now,” said Gamberdino, who added, “I know age is definitely an issue trying to land him somewhere, but I see where Japanese teams last season listed 16 players over the age of 40, including one (pitcher Kimiyasu Kudo of the Seibu Lions) who was 47.
“A second obstacle (in trying to get him a contract) is that people think it’s a joke or publicity stunt; that he’s only in it for the money, but Jose would play for free.”
Gamberdino adds he wouldn’t let his client play for nothing but would not be asking for a huge amount either.
Regarding the slugger’s revelation of having used the banned substances and authoring a tell-all book, naming others who cheated, Gamberdino had this to say: “He took steroids and admitted so, but it’s not so much what he did; rather the way he disclosed it by writing a book. Others who took steroids still enjoy playing and coaching (at a high level).
“I was not involved with him at that time and, as far as I am concerned, that is all water under the bridge. He is not taking steroids now and has not taken them in several years.
“Before deciding to take him as a client, I checked on him, and everyone with whom I talked who knew Jose said he was a great teammate; the first person to pick up a bill at a restaurant . . .”
Gamberdino has never been to Japan and never placed a player in Japan, so he does not have the contacts as do agents who have been regularly doing business with the Japanese teams. Canseco has experience playing in Japan as a member of the Major League Baseball’s 1986 postseason All-Star touring team. That’s when he was just breaking in with the Oakland Athletics at age 22 and was named the American League Rookie of the Year.
Gamberdino said he has sent a faxed letter to all 12 Japanese pro teams, trying to attract some interest. He had the message translated into Japanese and also sent it by regular post.
He confided that seven teams have responded, and four — Hanshin, Hiroshima, Softbank and Rakuten — said politely their foreign player rosters are full and they have no interest.
However, he said, as of Thursday, three clubs have left open the door for a possible connection, though he declined to name them. The other five teams have not responded.
Should a Central or Pacific League team decide to take a chance on Canseco, a contract would presumably have to be approved by the NPB, and there is precedent for a commissioner stepping in to dissuade a Japanese club from hiring an American player with a questionable background.
The late Steve Howe, in March of 1987, was invited to spring training by the Seibu Lions, but the former Los Angeles Dodgers star pitcher left the country after then-Japanese Commissioner Juhei Takeuchi said he would prefer Howe, suspended by Major League Baseball seven times for drug use, not play in Japan.
“There is no way we can know for sure (if Canseco can still play) unless some team gives him a chance. He would definitely put people in the seats, as attendance would skyrocket,” said Gamberdino.
“He can still crush the ball and hit home runs, and it would not be a bad business decision. Work him out, and see if you don’t think he can contribute as a first baseman or DH.”
They are also trying the Korea Baseball Organization.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com