Exclusive Excerpt: Bash Brothers: A Legacy Subpoenaed

AN is being given the privilege of an exclusive excerpt from Dale Tafoya's book Bash Brothers: A Legacy Subpoenaed.  The book explores all aspects of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, everything from their rise to superstardom in the green and gold to their eventual fall from grace.

If you click on the link below you'll be able to read the intro to the book provided exclusively to AN by the author himself, Dale Tafoya.

I also wanted to provide a link for those of you who want to preorder the book.  It's released this week.  If, after reading the excerpt, you are interested in ordering the book from amazon, you just have to click on the image below to order it.

Thank you to Dale for providing this exclusive look inside the book for Athletics Nation.

 

INTRODUCTION

“They’ve got a chance to be the best [duo] there ever was. If they stay healthy and if they stay together for 10 or 15 years, I don’t see how anybody could be as good as they are.”

—Former Oakland A’s third base coach Rene Lachemann
October 1988

Nineteen eighty-eight. Mark McGwire had been slamming the weights for over an hour. The weight room, in the bowels of the Oakland- Alameda Coliseum and steps from the A’s clubhouse, had been his haven. At six foot five, 220 pounds, and strutting rock-like forearms, McGwire had beefed up the lanky frame he carried during his rookie season in 1987. Stretched across his t-shirt screamed, No Mercy. He stole that phrase from his brother-in-law’s bowling team and wore the t-shirt underneath his jersey during each game. Beyond sliding it on, however, he internalized the fearless spirit of the phrase. That attitude intensified his workouts in the weight room and performance on the field.

Moments later, José Canseco strolled into the gym. At six foot four, 230 pounds, he was a twenty-four-year-old oddity. His chiseled face, biceps of steel, and trim waist had once prompted Tigers manager Sparky Anderson to hail him as a “Greek goddess.” Observers, though, understood what Anderson meant. In Anderson’s four decades of baseball, the sport hadn’t seen such an Adonis. Yet Canseco hadn’t lifted weights for over two weeks—the hiatus hadn’t deflated his strength. He slid on the bench press and lifted “everything in the building,” according to former teammate Dave Parker.

McGwire shook his head in disbelief. “You make me sick,” he sarcastically barked at his foil.

Seventeen years later, however, the mood wasn’t so casual. On March 17, 2005, with Americans glued to their televisions and curious congressmen sitting on the dais, glaring down at both and sharpening their inquiries, the muscle-bound duo once dubbed the Bash Brothers marched before the House Government Reform Committee. Without adoring cheers and a glistening baseball field on which to find shelter, McGwire and Canseco were the subjects of an investigation that questioned the legitimacy of their careers and, ultimately, our National Pastime. Drugs, muscles, accusations, greed, and hypocrisy headlined the agenda. The home run, the celebrated feat that personified their careers, had ironically led them before Congress. Facing this knee-buckling task, both braced themselves for a different kind of heat. Even voices from their past sensed the silent tension that hovered over the crammed room in the Rayburn House Office Building. “I felt so uncomfortable,” remembered Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley, who watched the congressional hearings on television. “It was awful.”

“That was the saddest day I had ever spent in sports—without a doubt,” admitted Andy Dolich, the marketing force behind the Oakland A’s during the 1980s and ’90s.

“It bothered me,” recalled former A’s strength and conditioning coach Dave McKay. “I knew Mark’s program, how he took care of himself, and I knew he was uncomfortable there.”

“I felt bad for both of them,” said George Mitterwald, who managed both when they first teamed professionally in Single-A Modesto in 1984. “It was sad.”

“It’s a shame it had to come to that point,” said Keith Lieppman, who managed them with the Triple-A Tacoma Tigers in 1985–86. “I felt sorry for them.”

Some claim that if the Bash Brothers hadn’t transformed the game, someone else would have. Unprecedented power, shattered home-run records, and million-dollar lifestyles, generated by slabs of muscle, would have eventually lured any player into the weight room. Other skeptics, hoping to downplay the duo’s role, insist that they were nothing more than two burly power hitters who had coincidentally headlined the same lineup for parts of eight seasons. After all, there had been prolific, heavy-hitting duos sprinkled throughout baseball history. In the 1920s, the legendary duo Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig highlighted the New York Yankees lineup. Three decades later, in the 1950s, Eddie Matthews and Hank Aaron clobbered 863 home runs while teammates for the Milwaukee Braves. The following decade, the 1960s produced heavy-hitting tandems Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, and Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. One could imagine what those iconic sluggers would have accomplished if they had played in today’s supplement-fueled era, which players dub, The Show. Still, the Bash Brothers, Mark McGwire and José Canseco, ushered a unique brand of player into baseball. After each muscled a tape-measure home run, their ruggedly animated forearm bash at home plate became a swaggering endorsement for strength and testosterone. In Canseco and McGwire, bodybuilding—with all its vanity and supplements—had infected baseball.

“Up until that era, it was considered taboo to lift weights. They were two of the first [sluggers] who proved you can be buff and muscular and still be productive,” said Ron Kroichick, who covered the A’s for the Sacramento Bee from 1990 to 1994. “It was unlike anything the game had seen. Much like Goose Gossage brought intimidation to the mound, they brought it to the plate.”

Ripped physiques, mysterious supplements, and personal trainers soon crept into the highly competitive baseball culture. Extensive state-of-the-art weight-training facilities had also emerged in every major league stadium. That muscled-up formula altered the game beginning in the late 1980s.

“They played a big role in the way the game changed,” said former teammate Mike Davis. “Prior to Canseco and McGwire, none of the major league teams really had weight rooms. After them, every player started going to weights.”

By the late 1980s, Canseco and McGwire merged into one phrase, like Smith & Wesson and Proctor & Gamble. Headlining posters, tshirts, and magazines, the duo became one of baseball’s feature attractions.

“It was like traveling with a rock band with thousands of fans in each city, in the hotel lobby and at the ballpark,” former A’s public relations director Jay Alves said in a 2004 email. “We set road attendance records. Many times we had to enter hotels through the back entrance.” Teammate Greg Cadaret recalled the phenomenon: “It was a cult following. They were a hip and flashy West Coast duo that played in the World Series and attracted a lot of fans.”

On the East Coast, players like Mickey Tettleton, a once light-hitting catcher who played for the Oakland A’s from 1984-1987, bulked up and bolstered his home-run production with Baltimore and Detroit. Tettleton, who hit only twenty-two home runs during his first four seasons with Oakland, clubbed 224 over his next nine. That power earned him two All-Star Game appearances in 1989 and 1994. “It [weight lifting] helps late in the season,” Tettleton told USA Today in 1997. “When you feel sluggish, it makes you feel like you have a little left in your gas tank.” But it also helped him smash colossal home runs. In 1991, during one week, he crushed two home runs that cleared Tiger Stadium. Said one former teammate of Tettleton, “I remember when he was getting bigger and I was thinking, ‘man, he’s getting huge.’”

Five years later, his former teammate in Baltimore, lead-off hitter Brady Anderson, at age thirty two, attributed weight lifting and the over-the-counter nutritional supplement creatine monohydrate to his ripped six-foot-one, 185-pound physique. That combination, he said, also fueled his fifty-home-run season in 1996. In 1997, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post wrote, “A few weeks ago, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter encountered Anderson near the batting cage. Jeter just started laughing. ‘Fifty homers and 110 RBI from a leadoff guy,’ was all he said. Then he walked away.”

The bodybuilding movement spread. Player by player, team by team, and from weight room to weight room, players added strength and transformed their physiques. While many players camouflaged their steroid use with nutritional supplements, such as creatine, some weren’t that naïve. Steroid use “wouldn’t surprise me,” San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean told USA Today in 1997. “If it gives somebody an edge, guys are going to use it. Look how it’s affected other sports. We’d really have our head in the sand if we thought it wasn’t here in baseball.”

Either through steroids or natural means, several mediocre players soared to new heights and a few already talented ones reached stardom by adding muscle and acquiring strength. That left unparalleled greatness reserved for those naturally gifted. That transformation showered them with millions.

Jason Giambi, a slim, sweet-swinging, free-spirited rising star for the Oakland Athletics, pounded the weights. Soon, his sizzling linedrive doubles that pierced the right-center-field alley gained wings and trajectory, soaring over the fence. In 2000, he blasted forty-three home runs, capturing the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. After the 2001 season, he signed a seven-year, $117 million contract with the New York Yankees.

Mike Piazza, a sixty-second-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988, climbed through the minor leagues and gained freakish strength. As a right-handed slugger, his booming home runs toward right field arched eyebrows and became his trademark. With his powerful wrists, when the ball met his bat there was a unique-sounding explosion. In 1999, he signed a seven-year, $91 million contract with the New York Mets.

Sammy Sosa soon curled dumbbells and caught the wave in 1993. Over the next thirteen seasons, he averaged forty-two home runs. That’s a staggering increase compared to the ten he averaged during his first seven seasons in professional baseball beginning in 1986. As Sosa’s back widened, so did his wallet. In 1997, Sosa inked a four-year, $42.5 million contract with the Chicago Cubs, becoming the third highest player in baseball at the time.

Barry Bonds added slabs of muscle and morphed into arguably the greatest slugger of all time. Bonds, the son of former All-Star Bobby Bonds, the cousin of Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, and the godson of the legendary Willie Mays, was groomed for greatness. Before his transformation and rigorous tear-dropping battles with weights in the gym, he had already been destined for Cooperstown. But complementing his polished swing and astute approach was his strength that propelled him past the forefathers of the game. In 2001, he slammed seventy-three home runs, shattering the single season record of seventy, established by Mark McGwire three seasons earlier. After that season, he inked a five-year, $90 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. Before those players, though, bench-pressed their way through the new millennium and earned millions, the Bash Brothers pioneered the movement during the 1980s. Silencing decades of tradition that insisted weight lifting did more harm than good for a player, both proved muscle could elevate them to superstardom. Bill Bathe, a former teammate in the minor leagues and major leagues, christened both as the forefathers of a new era that whirled through every level of baseball.

“They had a big impact on baseball,” said Bathe. “They had a huge affect on high school and college players who wanted to emulate them during that era.”

Their trailblazing fame, however, didn’t only compel their peers to the weight room; it also translated on the field. From the time both barged into the major leagues to their retirement in 2001, home-run totals increased by thirty percent. Though one may blame that increase on the juiced balls, expansion teams’ watered-down pitching, and hitter-friendly stadiums, the Bash Brothers ignited that era. “They changed baseball,” said former A’s television broadcaster Greg Papa. “They brought the Incredible Hulk into baseball—that humongous player that thrived. They may have not been the very first [weight lifters] in the sport, but they were the most obviously noticed by the rest of baseball.”

Fans took notice, too. They crammed onto the left-field bleachers two hours before game-time to watch them take their ferocious cuts in the batting cage. When Canseco and McGwire strutted into the cage, players stopped stretching, reporters stopped writing.

Everyone watched. “They hit balls during batting practice like it was fucking Little League,” said Eckersley. “It was intimidating.” One by one, both hammered tape-measure home runs into uncharted territory, drawing standing ovations from fans. Such a spectacle overshadowed the game itself. Perhaps no other duo commanded such silence.

“Back to back, they hit eleven hundred feet worth of home runs on two pitches in one inning in Detroit,” marveled former batting coach Bob Watson. “As a hitting coach, you shake your head and say, ‘my goodness.’”

That the San Francisco Bay Area boasted such a celebrated duo seemed appropriate. Across the Bay, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana heaved his way into Bay Area hearts. His accomplice, legendary wide receiver Jerry Rice, thrilled millions by slanting and snatching down field. The duo fueled the 49ers to four Super Bowl Championships. But it was the 1980s that ushered in other greats: A tongue-hanging Michael Jordon of the Chicago Bulls electrified auditoriums by demonstrating mind-blowing slam-dunks; the twenty-year-old Iron Mike Tyson invaded boxing rings and ferociously roughed up opponents, becoming the youngest heavyweight champion ever; and hockey icon Wayne Gretzky scored his way to superstardom.

In Oakland, Canseco and McGwire climbed through the minor leagues and entertained players and fans by slamming head-scratching, game-swaying home runs. “You will probably never have two of the more dominating players together coming up like that again,” said Dave Wilder, the senior director of player personnel for the Chicago White Sox.

But encountering superstardom, flaunting beefcake physiques, and muscling the Oakland Athletics to three straight World Series appearances, including a championship in 1989, can lead to a colorful lifestyle. Away from the stadium, the spending sprees, fast cars, and provocative woman awaited Canseco and McGwire. At the venue, relentless reporters and adoring fans hounded them.

“They were not very easy guys to deal with,” said former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent. “Neither one of them were very friendly to me. I would see them on the field and they were kind of distant. Maybe they were a little concerned, I don’t know. They weren’t very outgoing. Maybe they were worried; they knew they weren’t doing things terribly right.”

Yet, despite their fame echoing through stadiums across the country, there couldn’t have been a more opposite pair of teammates. Canseco, a Miami-groomed maverick, relished the spotlight, while McGwire, a reserved, all-American athlete, shunned it. Teammates they were; brothers they were not. “They were two different people and hung out with two different crowds,” said Dave McKay. “They didn’t have a lot in common other than playing on the same team. They certainly weren’t workout partners. Absolutely not.”

But even contradicting personalities, shocking allegations, and a stomach-turning breakup before Congress couldn’t rip their names apart. Their names will forever be traced to an era when power and an obsession for greatness doctored the game. “They revolutionized the game,” said FOX Sports International baseball analyst José Tolentino, who played with both in the A’s minor league system.

Yet, to some, the Bash Brothers foreshadowed baseball’s fate. What Canseco and McGwire provided for the A’s in the 1980s and ’90s is what performance-enhancing drugs provided for baseball after the 1994 strike that canceled the Fall Classic; they revived sluggish fan interest and resurrected a frail institution into a thriving empire. “They were the face of our franchise,” said Sandy Alderson, the former general manager of the Oakland A’s. Meet the Bash Brothers.

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