LAS VEGAS — Jose Canseco sits at one of the two long poker tables in the living room of his Las Vegas home, his massive biceps bulging through his tank top, and he’s ready to take a swing at any topic thrown at him.
His perceived banishment from the game? He’ll give you chapter and verse on that.
Regrets over writing the book that made him a pariah in baseball? Yes, plenty.
Do steroid users belong in the Hall of Fame? Hell, yeah, and there are some in there already.
His chances of one day managing in the majors? Better than zero.
Blowing through the $46 million he made as a player? It’s easier than you think.
His choice of attire — tank top and skull cap — on his TV appearances? Fans love it.
Through a good portion of his 52 years on this planet — and some might suggest he belongs on another one — Canseco has earned a reputation for speaking his mind, and he did so for more than an hour in an interview with USA Today.
His outspoken nature is part of what made Canseco attractive to the Oakland Athletics and their TV partner, NBC Sports California, who hired him to do pre- and postgame analysis on 25 of the team’s games this season.
This is his first job in the majors since, he believes, being forced into early retirement after the 2001 season, during which he played 76 games for the White Sox at age 37, when no team would offer him a contract, even at the minimum salary.
Canseco is convinced he could have played another five years but was blackballed from the game because of his strong links to performance-enhancing drugs, which he chronicled in the 2005 book “Juiced.” He went down swinging, accusing big stars such as former teammates Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Giambi of using steroids. Many of his claims were later confirmed.
Canseco didn’t envision the day he would return to baseball’s good graces — he doesn’t think his current gig meets that description — but the A’s saw their former slugger as a great fit for their needs.
Coming off consecutive last-place finishes and bereft of stars, the A’s were not exactly ratings magnets. New team president Dave Kaval saw in the 1988 American League MVP a chance to liven up the broadcasts and create a buzz while rekindling in fans thoughts of a happier past.
“I thought it was a joke when they first called me,” Canseco said. “I’m going, ‘C’mon, this is a bad joke.’ Is it April Fools? Who is this?’ If you look at my history, I wrote the book ‘Juiced,’ and I was kind of excommunicated from Major League Baseball. Nobody would hire me in the baseball world, whether in coaching, whether as an analyst, bat boy, nothing.”
So far, the A’s are glad they took a chance, and they’re even promoting Canseco’s appearances on social media.
He’s not as polished as Dallas Braden, who, along with fellow ex-pitcher Dave Stewart, also has joined the broadcasts as an analyst this season. But Canseco brings a self-deprecating sense of humor and particularly keen observations on hitting.
He’s also unafraid to rip the A’s when they perform poorly, comparing them to a Triple-A team during a lousy spell in April.
In a Bay Area sports landscape that includes two NFL teams, the hugely popular Golden State Warriors and the San Francisco Giants, anything that helps the A’s separate themselves from the pack represents a plus.
If Canseco likens a long game to sexual foreplay and an A’s walk-off win to climax, as he did last week, well, that’s part of the package.
“People have been impressed by his knowledge of the team, the players and the league,” Kaval said. “So he’s providing a lot of insightful commentary. At the same time, there’s a shock value to some of the things he says, but there are some kernels of truth to them, as well.”
Follow me on Twitter @jorgelortiz.
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