Juan Gonzalez talks about his situation, his goals and playing in the Atlantic League
By Ryan Dunleavy
CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. -- Once one of the most feared sluggers in Major League Baseball, outfielder Juan Gonzalez is trying to resurrect his career with the Atlantic League's Long Island Ducks.
Gonzalez has been sidetracked by a series of injuries and allegations from former teammate Jose Canseco -- who played for the Newark Bears in 2001 -- that he used performance-enhancing drugs when the two were teammates.
Gonzalez's career statistics -- .295 batting average, 434 home runs, 1,936 hits and 1,404 RBIs -- make him a borderline Hall of Famer, but the 36-year-old is still striving for one final crack at the big leagues.
First, Gonzalez and the Ducks will visit Commerce Bank Ballpark for a three-game series starting Friday against the Somerset Patriots. Here is what Gonzalez had to say this past weekend when the Patriots and Ducks faced off on Long Island:
Q: What brought you to the Atlantic League?
A: "I come here for one mission. I'm playing here to see myself get healthy and come back as soon as possible to the major leagues. That's the reason I come to Atlantic League. (Jose) Canseco, (Ruben) Sierra, (Carlos) Baerga, a lot of guys playing Major League Baseball before, come here to play and go back to the big leagues.
Q: Several Atlantic League teams were vying for your services. Why did you choose the Ducks?
A: "I have good friends working for the league, (such as league official) Ellie Rodriguez. (They) told me, 'Hey go to Long Island.' I said, 'Ok, I'll go there.' "
Q: Did you think being in the New York area might get you a better look?
A: "Probably. Teams here in the New York area, you see more scouts and supervisors watching you more (than) with the other teams in different cities. The thing is continuing working hard here, staying healthy and see what happens later. I don't have control over the injuries. I don't have control over nothing. The thing is going out there and trying the best I can for my team, myself, my fans and see what happens.
Q: Did you talk to any of the bigger-name players that played in the Atlantic League before?
A: "I talked to Ruben. He said, 'It's a good league. Go there. Try and keep working hard. You (never) know who is in the stands watching you.' "
Q: Have you ever talked to Canseco about this league?
A: "No, no. After playing with him, I don't see him no more. No telephone number. Nothing. He's crazy man. Talking too much."
Q: Is it your goal to show that you can hit still, or that you can play the field?
A: "Go out there and play inside the lines. That's my big goal. Go out there and play in the outfield. I'm positive. God has control of my situation. I'm happy."
Q: What has been your first impression of the competition in the league?
A: "Hey, let me tell you something. They have great competition in the league. This is a Double-A or Triple-A level. You see a lot of big leaguers here. This is a great organization. It's competitive here, which is one of the reasons a lot of scouts come here and sign a lot of guys for the big leagues."
Q: You have said that one hope is to reach the 500-home run plateau. Is that your main goal?
A: "That's my big goal, 500 home runs. It's frustrating because when you're working so hard every year and you have big goals -- and you have other injuries. I said before, I don't have control over injuries. The big thing is I'm working so hard."
Q: With everything that's happened in the majors to 1990s sluggers with the drug-enhancing controversy, do you still think the 500 homers means you go to the Hall of Fame?
A: "Right now, you see a bunch of the guys have 450-something. In my opinion, for the sluggers to go inside the Hall of Fame you need 500 or more homers. Automatic. Before you see with 379 homers, 390 homers, 399 homers go inside the Hall of Fame. Right now, it's different because you see a bunch of guys with 400-something home runs in his career."
Q: Your 2005 regular season with the Cleveland Indians lasted just three pitches. How would you describe last season?
A: "Big frustration for me. I'm hurt (with) four games remaining in spring training before spring training is over. I stay there rehabbing, working so hard -- swimming pool, weights, everything. And when I come back, one at-bat, I started to run and my tendon (ruptured)."
Q: You said that this is your spring training. It was reported during the off-season that you signed a minor-league contract with the Boston Red Sox. What happened there?
A: "My agent, Alan Nero, (got) a verbal agreement. Verbal agreement, for me, is no good. The real agreement is when you sign the paper. Their manager, (Terry) Francona, told some negative comments about myself. No, I'll decline going to Boston. Francona is a former coach when I play down in Texas. I never have confrontation with him -- or with anybody in this game. I respect everybody in this game. I'm going to stay here and see what happens with other teams.
Q: When your daughter was born she became one of only 50 people in the world -- and the first known Puerto Rican -- to be diagnosed with Sebastian Syndrome. (This is an extremely rare genetic disease that results in impaired blood clotting function and abnormal platelet formation, according to the encyclopedia of genetic disorders online.)
A: She's one of my big inspirations. My parents, too. (But our relationship is) not good, not good because I don't see my daughter sometimes at all. -- No matter, I pray for my daughter. I'm working hard because one of my big goals was hitting 500 homers and dedicating it to my daughter and my fans.
Q: A petition with 30,000 signatures asking for Roberto Clemente's number to be retired was recently presented to Major League Baseball. As a native of Puerto Rico, would you like to see that happen, and what does mean to you?
A: "He's the greatest hitter for us down in Puerto Rico. The thing is it's different when people talk about retiring the number here (in America). I don't have a lot of comments about it. But he was a great hitter for us and a great inspiration for the people playing baseball in Puerto Rice. And, you know, he was a great human being, too. He opened the door for the next generation of Puerto Rican players."
Q: Your Texas Rangers teams made the playoffs in 1996, 1998 and 1999 but were eliminated by the New York Yankees all three times. What do you remember about those series?
A: "Great moment for me. Great for the people there (in Texas) because the first time with the Rangers making the playoffs we played so great against the New York Yankees. Great Yankees teams. I hit five homers in four games in '96. What I remember for all-time in the playoffs is I play 15 games in the playoffs and have 15 RBIs in the playoffs -- swinging my bat very well in the playoffs. You see all-star players making a lot of frustration in the playoffs. It's the same game. The only difference is three out of five or four out of seven."