What Happened to 1989?

1989 was such an amazing year for the A’s and for many of us, it is our only living memory of the A’s winning it all.  It certainly is disappointing that only 20 years later, we realize that not only do people associate October 1989 with terrible non-baseball memories, but that after all that has happened in baseball, even the baseball fans who should have been happiest with 1989 have tainted memories as well.  A natural disaster took the joy from celebrating a World Championship then, but it is truly a shame that scandal and drama inside the game may have taken any joy we may have had looking back on it.

I wanted to comment on the recent exchange of words between Jose Canseco and Carney Lansford regarding the 1989 reunion this week. As we all know, the A's have taken quite a bit of heat for the lackluster turnout and small market style of the 20-year reunion; understandable with the controversy that surrounds the players of that era; maybe a 1970's reunion would have been a better idea? 

It's hard to lose a baseball hero in life. Jose Canseco went from being my absolute favorite player when I was a teenager (I cried for days when he was traded), to being someone who I can no longer defend. I think he's a self-serving bad guy, and lives up to the charges of being out for himself, instead of part of a team. That being said, the A's are shady in reporting even the most banal of news; when they said that they invited all of the 1989 players back for the reunion (coming directly from the A's VP), that raised a red flag. Apparently, it did with Carney Lansford as well, who said that if Canseco was coming, no one else would show up.

Of course, Canseco denies that he was even invited, and why wouldn't you believe him? There's no way MLB and the Oakland A's want anything to do with him, and the allure of the reaction and the spotlight just may just have tempted him to show up. So why did the A's PR department not spin something in the "We're trying to minimize distractions" vein? Why create a he said/she said situation and give Canseco a forum to speak out against the A's?

[Update 2:34pm: (thanks micdog2001): The A's have said again that they invited Canseco:

CANSECO INVITED: Ken Pries, the A’s vice president of broadcasting, said that contrary to Jose Canseco’s claims to CSN Bay Area, the team sent him an invitation to Tuesday’s 1989 team reunion. “We absolutely 100 percent sent an invitation, I personally put it in the mail,” Pries said. The invite went out in March, and the A’s believe their address for Canseco to be accurate.

But both The Examiner and the Press Democrat point to a late-planned event:

The flawed ceremony, apparently was due in part to planning by the A’s front office, which only cobbled together the promotion weeks ago. Invitations were sent just a month and a half ago, according to some reports.]

For whatever reason, Carney Lansford (who was not named in Canseco's book), took it upon himself to fire the shot on behalf of the team:

Lansford was quoted in Monday's Chronicle, saying if Canseco were coming to the reunion, "I don't believe there's a guy on the '89 team who'd show up. Not after his book and all the lives he ruined. It's selfishness, basically. I hate to say that, really. I played with him and thought he was a nice guy, but I don't know how you can do that to people."

I adore Carney Lansford, but I think he's dead wrong here. Canseco may have been a bad guy--the worst of guys--but he didn't ruin anyone's life. Ruining someone's life implies a villain/victim situation, and Canseco broke the clubhouse code, ratted out many key MLB players, shed light on MLB's dirty little secret, and sold everyone down the river with him, but Canseco did not force anyone to take steroids. He simply outed the players who did.

From Canseco:

"First of all, the only life that was ruined was mine. I paid the ultimate price. I was completely severed from Major League Baseball at 35, 36 years old, 38 home runs short of 500, and basically lost all my income and completely broke right now.   All the other players that were mentioned in my book, or have come out, tested positive for steroids, have gotten multi-year contracts, are millionaires, and still in the game of baseball.  So obviously Carney Lansford is one of the most ignorant individuals I’ve ever met to say that I’ve ruined other people’s lives.

My life was completely ruined by Major League Baseball. I paid the ultimate price. All these other athletes got a slap on their hands or fines, or basically can’t play for 30 or 40 days. But they’re still playing, they’re still making millions.  For example, the first baseman at the time for the YankeesJason Giambi said I used steroids, I’m sorry, got a multi-year deal.  I was the only individual in Major League Baseball who paid the ultimate price with my career. No one else did that so Carney Lansford is one ignorant S.O.B. to be even saying those things."

Is there anyone who feels sorry for Canseco? Probably not. But it's hard to not feel the same way about the other players who cheated along side of him. Had Canseco had been a police informant and ratted out his partners in crime, would we feel bad for everyone that was caught? I think spending a lifetime in jail would actually qualify as someone "ruining your life"; yet who can you really blame for your jail time; the person who sold you out, or yourself for committing the crime? And he's right. No one is in jail for steroids; very few of the accused are even out of baseball, and most have signed contracts that will take care of them for life. You want to know who I feel sorry for; it's the clean players on the very cusp of AAA/MLB who made the league minimum season after season who didn't make it to The Show because they lost their spot to someone who chose to take steroids.

Canseco deserves every bit of his raw deal; he has absolutely no one to blame but himself, and he distanced himself from the game of baseball with his actions. But is it fair (if anything is "fair" in all of this) to minimize the effects of the scandal by laying the blame on certain individuals; i.e Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco? Sure; they're easy targets, but they are only responsible for two of the many, many cases of steroid use in MLB, and it's about time that other players started taking responsibility for their own actions. Lansford sympathizing with Jose's "victims" rubs me the wrong way. It's easy to blame Canseco for writing the book. It's not so easy to blame the players who gave him the plot.

I still have my 1989 World Series banner. I still have the empty spaces where I thought a 2000-2003 pennant might go. I'm thinking about trading them all for the 1970's, and I wish the 2009 A's were better. We were cheated out of 1989; we didn't really get to enjoy it then, or now.

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