Twenty Years Later: Jose Canseco vs. Mike Greenwell

michael eisnerCorrespondent IFebruary 25, 2008

It's been 20 years.

Just tell that to Jose Canseco who, as a member of the then-Bash Brother combo along with a pint-sized Mark McGwire, broke the Major League Baseball numbers barrier by smashing 40 home runs and swiping 40 bases in a single season on his way to an American League MVP Award.

Unfortunately for Boston Red Sox Mike Greenwell, hitting a "clean" .325 with a rather pedestrian 22 bombs and 119 RBI was only good for runner-up to Canseco.

But, if we take a closer look at the numbers, and take into consideration the extra-curricular enhancement that Canseco admittedly engaged in that summer, perhaps the outcome may have been different.

Canseco was a burgeoning monster back in 1988, checking in at 6'4" and allegedly weighing 240 lbs.  He caroused with movie stars and models as he gained notoriety far beyond the norm for a professional baseball player at the time.

Greenwell was a quiet, if not unassuming, product of the hapless Boston Red Sox, who hadn't won a Championship since the turn of the Century. He didn't quite have the muscles that Canseco did, and did not date Madonna.

But, as fate would have it, both men were locked in that summer, which resulted in some pretty impressive statistics:

Canseco   - .307 42 HR 124 RBI 40 SB .391 OBP .569 SLG

Greenwell - .325  22 HR 119 RBI 16 SB .416 OBP .531 SLG

Upon closer inspection, Greenwell and Canseco had a nearly identical OPS (.950 for Canseco versus .947 for Greenwell).

Despite this virtual tie, Canseco won the MVP in a unanimous vote, while Greenwell struggled to a close second-place finish ahead of Kirby Puckett.

What set Canseco apart from Greenwell and the rest of the pack was his inagural membership in baseball's "40-40 Club."

Looking back, it's hard to imagine that nobody had ever amassed 40 home runs and 40 steals in a single season prior to Canseco. Not Willie Mays. Not Mickey Mantle.

Ironically, the closest anyone came prior to Canseco was in 1973, when San Francisco Giant Bobby Bonds hit 39 HR and stole 43 bases. 

That year, Bonds finished a distant third in the NL MVP voting behind Willie Stargell and Pete Rose, who won the Award that season.

Now, it's hard to imagine that Bonds finished third in the MVP voting that season, despite almost becoming the charter member of the elusive 40-40 Club. Here is how the top three NL MVP candidates fared in 1973:

Bonds   - .283 131 R 39 HR 96 RBI 43 SB .370 OBP .530 SLG

Rose     - .338 115 R 5 HR 64 RBI 10 SB .401 OBP .437 SLG

Stargell - .299  106 R 44 HR 119 RBI 0 SB .392 OBP .646 SLG

Arguably, Bonds had the best all-around statistics of the bunch; however, the allure of the almost-40/40 Club membership clearly wasn't as much of a factor here as it should've been.

After Canseco's monster season in 1988, the mystique that surrounded a 40 HR-40 SB campaign disappeared faster than Rudy Giuliani after the Florida Primary.

In 1996, Bonds' son, Barry, would join The Club that his father missed by a single home-run in 1973, en route to a fifth-place finish in the NL MVP voting that year, ironically behind admitted steroid-user Ken Caminiti, who won the award unanimously.

Fast forward to 1998, when Seattle Mariner Alex Rodriguez finished ninth in the AL MVP race, despite the following mind-boggling season:

Rodriguez - .310 123 R 42 HR 124 RBI 46 SB .360 OBP .560 SLG

It's hard to imagine that eight players finished ahead of Rodriguez that season; however, the names were household back then: Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, Albert Belle, Ken Griffey, Mo Vaughn, Bernie Williams, Manny Ramirez, and the MVP winner, Juan Gonzalez.

At least two of the aforementioned were "indicted" on the Mitchell Report (Gonzalez and Belle), which, coupled with Canseco and Caminiti, accounted for four MVP Awards. We all know about the seven awards won by Bonds.

What's amazing about all of this is simple:

The once-rare blend of superior speed and power used to be touted as the end-all be-all of baseball statistics. 

Before Canseco broke the speed and power barrier in 1988, becoming the charter member of the 40/40 Club, the closest anyone ever came was the elder Bonds in 1973, who fell one HR short.

Once Canseco broke the mold, those once mind-boggling statistics didn't seem to impress as much as they used to.

In other words, had Bobby Bonds hit that extra home run in 1973, it's quite possible that Greenwell would have been the American League's MVP in 1988, and we would've been all the better for it.