NORMAL — Former major league slugger Jose Canseco is returning to professional baseball as the Normal CornBelters' designated hitter for a three-game series in the coming season, Normal team president Steve Malliet announced Wednesday.
Canseco will suit up for Normal in Frontier League games against the Florence Freedom on June 29-30 and July 1 at the Corn Crib.
Malliet said the team received permission from both Florence and the Frontier League office to bypass the league's age maximum of 27 for those three games.
"We're excited about it. We contacted the Freedom and they love the idea," Malliet said. "They said it should be a lot of fun. I'm glad there were some open minds to do that.”
The 53-year-old Canseco hit 462 home runs in a major league career that spanned from 1985-2001. Canseco was among the former major leaguers who participated in the slowpitch softball Legends Game at the Corn Crib last summer.
"We saw him last year and he hasn't skipped a beat," said Malliet. "Jose is so confident he can get out there and perform at a high level. Jose believes he can still play in the big leagues, and I wouldn't doubt it.”
In 1988 with Oakland, Canseco became the first major leaguer to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season. He was named American League Most Valuable Player that season, two years after winning the AL Rookie of the Year award.
Malliet said the idea first arose last season when he and several Normal co-owners were lamenting the fact that minor league teams associated with major league organizations occasionally receive an attendance boost with the arrival of a major leaguer on an injury rehabilitation assignment while independent league teams do not.
“We wanted to come up with a way to have a player who was still very representative as far as being a professional baseball player,” Malliet said. “This gives us that opportunity.”
Normal manager Billy Horn is enthusiastic about the prospects of a weekend with Canseco in his lineup.
“I love it. Jose’s great. He’s a big-name, big-time major league player,” said Horn. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m close friends with one of his former managers with the Blue Jays, Tim Johnson. TJ has nothing but nice things to say about Jose.”
Where will Horn bat Canseco in the Belters’ lineup?
“I’m sure he’ll hit three or four,” said Horn. “He hit almost 500 home runs. He can hit where he wants.”
Canseco also played with Texas, Boston, Toronto, Tampa Bay, the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox. In 2006, Canseco wrote a controversial book “Juiced” about the use of steroids in major league baseball.