Tuesday, July 13, 2010

SPORTS>>Light-hitting Canseco does right

Leader sports editor

I never thought I could empathize with Jose Canseco.

But then, I never thought the guy would lose a boxing match to a 60-year-old man.

At Dickey-Stephens Park on Friday, UALR associate athletic director Gary Hogan, 60, beat the 46-year-old Canseco on points, 39-37, in a four-round bout before the Arkansas Travelers’ Texas League game with the Midland RockHounds.

It was another oddity in an eyebrow-arching career for Canseco, who in his post-baseball life has dabbled in boxing and mixed martial arts while trying to live down his use of performance-enhancing drugs as a player.

In a uniform that fit his 6-4 frame like spandex, Canseco hit 462 career home runs, good for 32nd all-time.

On the 1988 Oakland Athletics, Canseco became the first player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases. He was one of Oakland’s “Bash Brothers,” joining Mark McGwire to punish baseballs on the prolific A’s teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Oakland went to three straight World Series while Canseco played and won one, the 1989 classic thrown off schedule by the Bay Area earthquake.

That should have been a sign of the turmoil to come.

Canseco was issued multiple speeding tickets and a citation from California police for carrying a handgun in his car.

He had a dalliance with the singer Madonna that of course made the tabloids, and he nearly fought a heckling fan who targeted the relationship at Yankee Stadium.

Canseco clashed with Oakland management and was traded to Texas.

In one week with the Rangers in May 1993, Canseco had a fly ball bounce off his head and over the fence for a home run then nearly ended his career with a ligament injury when he pitched during a blowout loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Injuries continued to dog Canseco — he was with the St. Louis Cardinals but never played a game because of a back injury — and he finally hung it up in 2002.

His problems, even some of the injuries, seemed of his own making, and it’s hard topity a guy with Canseco’s fame and accomplishments, even if analyst Peter Gammons lumped him with Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden as the three great wastes of talent from 1980-2000.

Then Canseco wrote the book “Juiced” in which he admitted his steroid use and named McGwire, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro and Jason Giambi as users too.

Canseco also testified about steroids in baseball before a congressional committee, whose investigations led to a more stringent, anti-doping policy in the game.

He was vilified as a snitch and relegated to appearances on reality TV and in the ring as a boxer, wrestler and mixed martial-arts combatant. Meanwhile guys like McGwire, currently hitting coach for St. Louis, are still welcome in baseball.

Yet I didn’t feel sorry for Canseco any more than I felt sorry for McGwire when it became clear the one-time home-run king was going to be closed out of the Hall of Fame voting for some years to come.

Again, the career wounds seemed self-inflicted.

Then Canseco came to North Little Rock to fight Hogan, and I have to applaud Canseco for the way he handled the difficult spot in which he was placed.

Hogan, of course, is the former UALR baseball coach and local television sports anchor who fought a few exhibitions with former heavyweights in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In those bouts Hogan proved himself a stubborn competitor unwilling to go down. But, while he is in great shape thanks to his training at the gym of Golden Gloves guru Ray Rodgers, Hogan is still a 60-year-old with an artificial hip and five knee surgeries to his credit.

Canseco was roundly booed when he walked onto the field and climbed into the ring Friday night, and he clearly knew it would be worse if he pounded Hogan the way he seemed capable.

So Canseco bloodied Hogan’s chin in the first round and staggered him with a late shot, but otherwise he covered up and let Hogan pummel his midsection to gain the points for his narrow decision.

Afterward Canseco, who earned approximately $14,000 for his appearance, praised Hogan — who raised money for Rodgers’ gym — and called him “a great man.”

Predictably, people who knew Canseco only through his rap sheet and mishaps laughed and sneered that a 60-year-old beat him.

But what was Canseco to do?

“Anyone that would take advantage of a 60-year-old man in the ring deserves to get there [sic] skull cracked by me in the ring,” Canseco later said in a Twitter update.

Hogan may have outpointed Canseco, and the guy gets no points for spelling either. But this time I’m giving Canseco a break.