I don’t know how many people remember 1-900-234-JOSE, but it’s obvious now that Jose Canseco was probably the first pioneer in the effort by pro sports players to forget the media and talk directly to fans with blogs, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc. The difference is that Canseco actually made money from his communications: it cost $2 for the first minute and $1 for each minute thereafter to hear Jose talk, and you got daily updates from Canseco. It’s as though somewhere deep inside he knew he’d need the extra income someday.The hotline started about a month before the Loma Prieta quake. On September 21, 1989, the S.F. Chronicle reported:
Jeff Borris, Canseco’s Beverly Hills agent, said public response has been “overwhelming” since Monday, when the Oakland A’s star started filing daily reports on a 900 number. Callers pay $2 for the first minute and $1 for each minute thereafter.
Yesterday, fans learned what kind of pitch Canseco hit in the first inning of Monday night’s game (a curve ball down and away that he lined past the third baseman) and what he had for lunch (Italian food at the mall). They also learned that their hero feared for his safety when a bat – the live version – circled above him in the outfield in Cleveland and that he faced the prospect of going hungry because there was no room service in his hotel after 10 p.m.
It was “basically kind of a boring game,” he mentions twice in the recorded message, even though the A’s won in extra innings. The pennant race notwithstanding, it also was a “boring” day on the road with a first-place team, Canseco says in a recorded five-minute message.
Borris said Canseco is the first sports figure to make a personalized phone message work to his financial gain, although he did not want to talk about how much the slugger stands to make.
“The telephone company says they’ve never seen a 900 number with the “hang time’ Jose is getting,” Borris said. “Most of the callers are on for five minutes or longer.”
Frustrated by baseball writers who refuse to see and write the truth as he sees it, Canseco decided that the 900 number was the best way to speak directly to the fans.
“How it originally came out was, the media stuff was happening with the speeding and the guns, and people weren’t getting the story from the horse’s mouth,” Canseco said. “I just wanted to tell my side of the story.”
He put out ads on ESPN, MTV and USA, leaning against his white Porsche 930 Cabriolet turbo on the track of the Malibu Grand Prix next to the Oakland Coliseum and saying: “Hi, I’m Jose Canseco. I want to speak to you, so call 1-900-234-JOSE . . . I’ll give you the latest scoop on baseball and what’s happening in my personal life. If you want to know if I take steroids, how fast I drive, or why I was carrying that gun, call me at 1-900-234-JOSE.”
Here’s what he had to say about a day in Cleveland: “It was boring, I guess, because there were only about 400 fans (actually 5,931) in the stands, sort of like one of those Triple A (minor league) games where no one shows up. I like it when there are 40,000 or more. The most exciting thing for me was, I looked up once and saw a bat that must have been three or four feet long flying over my head. I kept looking up because I thought it might come down and bite me on the neck.
“My personal life was kind of boring. I woke up late again – like I say, I like to sleep late – and went to a mall with my friend and ate Italian food. Then I came back and watched TV for a while. It was one of those boring days.
“But I guess the worst thing is happening now. This hotel where I’m staying doesn’t have room service after 10 p.m., and I could starve to death. I guess I’ll call out for a pizza.”
A lot of people made fun of Canseco for his 1-900 number, so it’s interesting to take a look at what ballplayers are putting out on Twitter now for comparison’s sake. Here are a few recent tweets from Barry Zito:
“Sitting on the plane about to fly to Seattle. We’ll be turning it around up North..”
“The bay area’s weather is more perfect than SoCal right now, call your friends and gloat.”
“I mean, we’ve heard all the theories but what’s really the cure to a hangover? Some say grease, I say B vitamins.”
And here’s Tony La Russa’s response to 1-900-234-JOSE: “I saw the commercial when we were in Boston, and I thought, ‘This is ridiculous.’ I once heard him say he was going to be very careful about the types of commercials and endorsements he does. In my opinion, I wouldn’t have done this.”
Canseco also tried to sell his dirty socks at about this time.