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After years as a football agent, Nello Gamberdino has been trying to forge a second career as a baseball agent. He’s been moderately successful over the last 18 months, and even has several Triple-A clients on the brink of Major League call-ups. But, as prospects go, it’s no sure thing.Earlier this winter, Gamberdino opened his e-mail inbox and found a message from a former MVP and World Series champion seeking his representation. But instead of celebrating a big breakthrough after a year-and-a-half advising clients barely making six-figures, Gamberdino delved deep into thought. He had a decision to make.
That former MVP was 46-year-old, famed steroid abuser, Jose Canseco.
On the one hand, Canseco has the kind of name recognition that could help Gamberdino make a name for himself in baseball circles, and perhaps open some doors. Yet the most recent contract Canseco signed was for a reality TV series, not baseball.
“It was definitely met with some raised eyebrows,” Gamberdino said, of asking MLB confidants what they thought of his representing Canseco. But the agent spoke with his prospective client at length and came away impressed. “He’s an extremely nice guy, very down to earth, and he knows the situation… He’s self-aware.”
And perhaps that last bit is the most comforting thing onlookers pulling for Canseco, and by association Gamberdino’s success, can hope to hear. It means Canseco’s aware that in many circles he’s merely dismissed as a bad joke. Consider some of the activities he’s chosen since last playing in the Majors back in 2001:
- Canseco appeared with D-list celebrities on VH1’s “The Surreal Life.”
- He wrote Juiced in which he estimated 80 per cent of Major Leaguers took steroids and then Vindicated where he claimed he’d “be remembered as the guy who did more to change the game than any other player.”
- He insisted those two books got him blacklisted from baseball.
- Canseco got badly beat in a celebrity mixed martial arts match.
- He also got beaten badly in celebrity boxing matches.
- Made the rounds at party circuits across the country.
- Tweeted at Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, pleading for a chance to sign with the club.
- Agreed to appear on the upcoming season “Celebrity Apprentice.”
“It must be nice for people to sit on their high horse and judge him,” Gamberdino said defensively, “but Jose’s had to do those things for financial reasons.” (It’s unclear how, exactly, Canseco blew the nearly $50 million he made in his 15 year career). Canseco hasn’t made many friends since writing his two tell-all books, and Gamberdino – who only began representing the slugger after he had already signed on for March’s “Celebrity Apprentice” premier – reminds him that his extra-curricular activities do not portray him as someone who takes baseball seriously. But he’s got the name, Gamberdino said. “And until he can make some money in baseball, celebrity appearances are the best way to pay the bills.”
Yep, you read correctly, Canseco hired Gamberdino because he’s seriously plotting another comeback to baseball.
Crazy as it sounds, at 46, Canseco can still rake. Last year, he saw live professional pitching for the first time in four years during a short stint with the United Baseball League’s Loredo Broncos. In his first at-bat he faced a lefty throwing 90-miles per hour and crushed the third pitch he saw more than 500 feet, according to Gamberdino. In 11 games with the Broncos he hit .385 with 4 home runs and 13 RBIs.
Despite his client’s public outcries to the Mets, Gamberdino knows Canseco’s best shot at playing high-level baseball is in the ultra-competitive Japanese and Korean professional leagues. And before you make your first juiced jokes, know that Canseco is completely clean and doesn’t take any banned substances. (But beware, kids: he has to take doctor-prescribed testosterone supplements just so his substance-damaged body can achieve normal levels.)
Still, scoring a roster spot in the Far East will be an uphill battle for Canseco. He only hired Gamberdino in the last month, and by then most teams had already filled the handful of slots allotted to international players. And Canseco’s off-field antics won’t help in countries that take disciplined approaches to the sport. Canseco is offering to pay his own way to these countries to score workouts, and is prepared to settle for a season in US independent leagues, if things don’t work out.
“The main obstacle that I’ve had to get over as his agent,” Gamberdino explained, “is when you initially throw his name out there, people think it’s a joke. We’re trying to make it clear that, no, he’s not doing this as a publicity stunt; he’s doing this because he wants to play, he loves baseball, and he still feels he can contribute as a player. In this country where everyone has a second, third, and sometimes fourth chance at redemption, why can’t someone step up and help him? There are certainly guys in baseball that have done far worse than write a book.”
Gamberdino has risen to accept that challenge. And if he can defy probability and keep Canseco in baseball and off the reality television circuits, it could in turn lift his own fortunes as he works his way up the baseball agent ladder. (Though, to be fair, that would also require building connections with new clients and negotiating well for his existing ones.)
And maybe the next time a former MVP comes calling, it won’t be 22 years after the fact.