November 18, 2011
LAS VEGAS — The following is a true story. Rather than stopping by unannounced, I called the agency representing Jose Canseco to set up an interview with the former slugger. Daily except for Mondays, he has been signing autographs at a memorabilia store inside of a shopping mall at the Mandalay Bay resort, which is at the south end of the Vegas Strip.
I was curious to see him again and to have some questions answered — about fighting Shaquille O'Neal, about his barnstorming life in independent baseball, about asking Lady Gaga on Twitter to marry him, about the good old days with his Bash Brother, Mark McGwire. But unlike one of them paparazzi, I didn't want to ambush Canseco, especially if he had become Major League Baseball's answer to Joe Louis — a broken-down boxer pathetically greeting gamblers at a casino.
So I called Jose's people. And instead of inviting me to "come on down," or just replying "no thank you," the man at the other end of the telephone told me a funny story.
"Jose doesn't do interviews for free," he said. "He doesn't do anything for free. And the price for an interview like the one you want starts at $2,000."
I laughed accordingly at the Dr. Evil-like demand.
Two-thousand?! I wasn't that curious. Even $200, after digging through my pockets, wasn't going to happen. I work for a Yahoo! Sports Blog, not a supermarket tabloid. And Jose Canseco is not the Octomom. Besides, what about remuneration through advertising? A friendly Q&A like Answer Man might help him profit with autograph sales just by getting the word out. Heck, it couldn't hurt, right? Canseco himself may have redefined the concept of no such thing as bad publicity.
The man at the other end of the telephone said he understood, but it wouldn't change Jose's curious stance. I told him he didn't have an enviable job. Hey, at least he has other clients, those who can reason. Besides, I wasn't beaten yet. There was always Plan "B," which was simple: Head down to Mandalay Bay anyway, purchase an item for Canseco to sign and see how much time it would buy me with him.
The Art of Music shop at Mandalay is like any sports, music and pop culture memorabilia store you'd find at any local local mall. It sells celebrity autographs, along with intriguing but way-too-expensive framed art and amusing T-shirts that Derek Holland(notes) would wear proudly. TVs hung from the ceiling and played video highlights of Canseco's unique baseball career, in which he slugged 462 homers from 1985 to 2001. The video also plays humorous clips that allude to his use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Stationed in the storefront window like a living mannequin, Canseco sat at a table and usually could be seen looking at a notebook computer, presumably to keep from going mad from boredom. Business appeared slow. It was a Thursday afternoon, after all. But he looked good, especially for 47 years old. Tanned (possibly sprayed on), fit (bulging biceps, possibly enhanced) and handsome-ish (no more than one or two face lifts).
I went to the back to grab an item, pausing to look at the TV as it played a grainy replay of Canseco hitting a monstrous home run for the Blue Jays into the top deck at Skydome against Andy Pettitte(notes) of the Yankees. Looking down, I could have picked the least expensive item — $59 for an 11x14 photo for him to autograph — but I didn't want to look like a total cheapskate. So I went for the $75 baseball ($81.08 including tax). The steepest price was for a framed "VIP package" (so Vegas) that would have bought me a jersey, a photo opportunity, a ball and a certificate of authenticity — all autographed — for $749. (Boy, for only $1,251 more, I could talk to him for 20 minutes! I imagined seeing "media interview" on the price sheet.)
Figuring that he wouldn't, I asked Canseco if he remembered me from his time with the White Sox. I had considered not revealing that I was a reporter. After all, Canseco + $2,000 interview extortion + Las Vegas = ethics, what ethics?
"Hey, Jose, Dave Brown," I said, extending my hand to shake. "I used to cover you in Chicago when you played for the White Sox." (He wore this shirt into the clubhouse at least once.)
Canseco looked me over and furrowed his brow. Nothin'.
"Chicago?" Canseco said. "That's a long time ago. That was, like, 2000 (actually 2001). More than 10 years."
After the pleasantries, I pivoted. "So, Jose, I'm wondering if paying for the ball would get me an interview for a few minutes."
Nope, he said. I'd have to get in touch with his representatives. "I work for this store and they handle all that stuff," he said.
I mentioned that his representative told me of the $2,000 demand, but I couldn't believe it (I kind of could). Trying to get Canseco to confirm it, I asked again. Would it really cost $2,000 to interview him? He wouldn't confirm. Talk to my agent. It was a weak response. Canseco had been polite, cordial, even friendly — there's a nice guy in there, somewhere, possibly — but he completely weaseled out when asked to own up to his own demand. At least hit me with a counter offer! Throw in the framed "Chuck" cast photo on the wall behind you, brother!
Canseco's method makes sense in a way. He presumably got lots of money to write "Juiced" and "Vindicated," books that shined a light on MLB's PED culture and helped make Canseco a pariah in his old circles. Anymore, if he's going to open his mouth (unless it's on Twitter), he wants to get paid.
So, before anyone asks "Why are you surprised by all of this?" ... I'm not. I'm more disappointed, because I thought he'd be a great Answer Man interview subject. Canseco doesn't owe anybody an interview, but it's also bad business to try and sell one when you're looking to get fans to shell out big bucks for your signature. What's more: Canseco doesn't fully embrace his surroundings. It's Las Vegas, man. It's OK to sell yourself here. It's even expected. Don't be ashamed of it. Don't have your agent ask for money and then act like it was your twin brother, Ozzie, who made the demand.
In that spirit, let's start the bidding on this Jose Canseco signed ball at $2,000.
OK, do I hear $81.08?
Coming Monday: Breakfast in Vegas with Pete Rose. No, really.
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