Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Michael Chabon on Jose Canseco

An author I admire is perhaps correct the nature of heroism and why one might count Jose Canseco a sort of hero (in a literature or cultural studies grad seminar sort of way) but wrong about pretty much everything else in this New York Times op-ed.

He writes:

Canseco has been described as a charmer, and a clown, but in fact he is a rogue, a genuine one, and genuine rogues are rare, inside baseball and out. To be a rogue, it's not enough to flout the law, break promises, shirk responsibilities, cheat. You must also, at least some of the time, and with the same abandon, do your best, play by the rules, keep faith with your creditors and dependents, obey orders, throw out the runner at home plate with a dead strike from deep right field.

Above all you must do these things, just as you other times neglect to do them, for no particular reason, because you feel like it or do not, because nothing matters, and everything's a joke, and nobody knows anything, and most of all, as Rhett Butler once codified it for rogues everywhere, because you don't give a damn. One day you make that breathtaking play at the plate from deep right. On another day you decide, for no good reason, to take the mound during the late innings of a laugher and pitch, retiring the side (despite allowing three earned runs on three walks and a pair of singles) - and ruining, forever, that cannon of an arm.

I've never seen a man who seems more comfortable with who he is than Jose Canseco. Not with who we think he is, like our current president, or with his best idea of himself, like our president's predecessor, but with himself: charmer and snake, clown and thoroughbred.

All of which I'll grant, if only for its clever poetry and the eminent appreciation of baseball, as will I also grant that Roberto Clemente probably wasn't half the man his posthumous image suggests (especially to those of us with first-hand memory only of his legend), but here Chabon goes to far:

As for claims that the man is lying: give me a break. He doesn't need to lie. What would be the point? He doesn't care what you think of him; if anything, he derives a hair more pleasure from your scorn and contumely than he does from your useless admiration. It's not that Canseco has nothing to lose, as some of his critics have claimed, by coming forward now to peel back the nasty bandage on baseball's wound. A man like Canseco never has anything to lose, or to gain, but his life and the pleasure he takes from it.

That's all well and good within the rarefied confines of Chabon's conceit but in reality Canseco has had money problems and problems with the law in the past. That he genuinely felt like 'writing' this book for reasons related to the honor of the game I'll assume for purposes of argument. What I won't disregard is the obvious gratuity of its sweep and its message.

Ken Caminiti had infinitely more class when he came forth with his mea culpa, and he didn't earn a dime off it. I'm sorry, but ingenious intellectual sophistry doesn't convince me that Canseco is doing this (in the way that he's doing it) for anything other than retirement security


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