April 27, 2000

Canseco joins Elian boycott

South China Morning Post. Thursday, April 27, 2000

Jose Canseco said his conscience kept him on the bench.

As players and coaches around Major League Baseball skipped games, joining a work stoppage by Miami's Cuban-American community to protest at Elian Gonzalez's removal from the home of his relatives, Tampa Bay's Cuban-born slugger had a change of heart and joined in.

"I just thought it was the right thing to do," said Canseco, who owns a financial services business in Miami.

Canseco joined six Florida Marlins, two San Francisco Giants and New York Mets shortstop Rey Ordonez. Several coaches also joined the sit-out.

Florida third baseman Mike Lowell, pitchers Alex Fernandez and Vladimir Nunez - all of Cuban descent - decided to sit out the Marlins 6-4 extra innings loss to the Giants. Dominican teammates Antonio Alfonseca, Jesus Sanchez and Danny Bautista joined them in a show of support.

"There aren't many more important things in my life than this game tonight, but this is one of them," Florida manager John Boles said. "I'm not saying what's right and wrong. The organisation is not making a value judgment. If I didn't have to be here, I wouldn't. I've got a lot of Cuban friends and I know how deeply they feel about this."

Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski said any of the club's front-office personnel, players and coaches wanting to support the protest would be excused with pay for the day.

In addition to the players, third base coach Fredi Gonzalez, infield coach Tony Taylor, bullpen catcher Luis Perez and assistant equipment manager Javier Castro accepted the offer. So did Cuban-American Hall of Famer Tony Perez, an assistant to Dombrowski.

After hearing what the Marlins were doing, Giants manager Dusty Baker called right-hander Livan Hernandez, catcher Bobby Estalella and administrative coach Carlos Alfonso, advising the three Cuban-Americans to take the day off. They obliged.

"You're talking about life and death situations that supersede baseball," Baker said. "A lot of us don't know the situation unless you live in Miami or you're from Miami. It's sad that politics have to go into baseball, but baseball is part of the world."

Baker said he wasn't concerned as much for the players as he was for their family members, many of whom live in Florida.

That seemed to be the same sentiment in New York, where Ordonez and third base coach Cookie Rojas sat out the recent game against Cincinnati.

The Mets backed the decision, and the team's general manager Steve Phillips said both would be paid.

Ordonez and Rojas were both born in Cuba and live in southern Florida during the off-season.

"Baseball should not be a political forum, but they felt they needed to support the communities in which they live," said Phillips. "I support their decision."

During batting practice Canseco, who had originally said he would play, was listed fourth in the lineup as designated hitter. But half an hour before the game, it was announced he had been replaced by Bubba Trammell.

Canseco said he originally thought the work stoppage was only by Cuban players with the Florida Marlins in Miami.

"It became more of a national thing than what I thought. That's about it. It's over with," he said.

Tampa Bay manager Larry Rothschild said he supported Canseco's decision.

"I talked to him before the game. He was aware some other players were not going to play, players away from Miami, which made his decision a lot tougher," Rothschild said. "He thought it was just a local thing down in Miami but it was different than that. It's something away from baseball that affects a lot of people."

Published in the South China Morning Post. Copyright ©2000. All rights reserved.



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