Jose Canseco's Finger Has Fallen Off Again

The legend of baseball and life is making the best of a tragic situation.

Canseco during the 1989 World Series (Jeff Robbins/AP/The Atlantic)

The first time that Jose Canseco became separated from his left middle finger was when he shot himself in late October while cleaning a firearm in the kitchen of his Las Vegas home.

The bullet barely missed his wife, who was nearby. And it was that fact, not the personal injury, which brought the 50-year-old Canseco to tears in a subsequent television interview. The accident also gave some needed closure to the six-time Major League All-Star's smoldering minor-league comeback aspirations. But it was not an altogether surprising turn in Canseco's testosterone-addled career. In recent years he has completed a transition from superhero to punch line, in a self-induced spotlight, producing fits of some of the most poignant id that any celebrity has managed to bring to social media. The events of yesterday and today, though, will surely stand out among the highlights of whatever artistic and academic documenting of the man's existence is to come.

Surgeons reattached Canseco's errant finger last month, but his body did not pair well with its old companion. Canseco came to refer to the grafted digit as his "smelling" finger. As doctors learn in medical school, that is not a good sign. On Friday evening Canseco beguiled his Twitter followers with an oblique announcement: "Dam I was playing in a poker tournament last night and something crazy happened to my finger that I shot off and they put back on."

Five minutes drew out before he followed up. In what people of literary persuasion might call foreshadowing, Canseco tweeted, "I knew something crazy was going to happen with this dam finger cause it felt like it was falling off."

Finally, almost three hours later, he broke: "Ok well I might as well tell you. I was playing in a poker tournament last night, and my finger fell off."

Of course, Canseco's Twitter feed is not known as a bastion of credible information—he has made claims like the unsolicited "Immortality is about 25 years away. nanobots;" "Galactic Beings have used comets as star taxis for eons;" and, "fact if you hold a chicken upside down all the blood rushes to its head and it falls asleep." Actually, I don't know if that maybe is a fact. And his desire for attention seems at times unquenchable, which leaves it not outside the realm of possibility that all of this is a stunt. But it would be out of character for Canseco, who has come to be defined by his devastating earnestness, to fabricate something like this finger incident.

Canseco grimaces in disgust after tasting sake as his
then-wife looks on during a reception for the U.S. all-star
baseball team in Tokyo in 1986. (Itsuo Inouye/AP)
Canseco with Orel Hershiser at Dodger Stadium during
the 1988 World Series (Eric Risberg/AP)

And it is not uncommon for body parts to refuse reattachment. Severed blood vessels are not easily replaced in extremities. The smell Canseco noticed would indicate necrosis, a rotting of the tissue due to insufficient vascular supply.

All of this might also soon be widely verifiable, as there is video to be seen, though it is not (yet) public. Canseco claimed that someone at the scene recorded the incident and then sold the video to Canseco's agent. "It looks kinda funny," Canseco wrote after watching. "lol."

This afternoon he has continued to joke around, most recently in the form of an invitation that someone might eat the finger if they like, if they're into "finger appetizers ... or is it finger snacks[?]"

That's a decidedly upbeat take on losing an appendage, especially for someone with a career that once depended so heavily on his hands. Canseco is still actively bodybuilding, and this summer he hit the road for some home run contests in a bus-tour de ennui that I'm surely not at all the first to compare to Eastbound and Down. At one contest on a minor-league diamond in Wisconsin, Canseco was visibly distraught during his loss to the Madison Mallards' recently-acquired infielder Joe Dudek. The hulking man who twice led the American League in home runs could not outperform a recent high-school graduate of no particular power-hitting acclaim.

But that didn't stop him from sharing with his followers a YouTube video of the contest's highlights, a montage of handheld footage set to Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine."

Canseco finds a way to make failure work for him, if only in the form of generating attention. His willingness to turn losses and mistakes into engagement on social media without apology makes him stand out in the age of ultra-curated online personas. It works because he doesn't come off disingenuous, and he really seems to love the spotlight however it comes to him.

"My finger should have been amputated from the beginning," he tweeted last night. "It was very loose with no bone to connect it. It was also smelling really bad."