When Leila Shennib, a 24-year-old California model with superhero abs, met a tanned older guy with a tree-trunk neck at a charity event two years ago, she had no clue who he was. Only after they went bowling the next day did she realize she was dating Jose Canseco.
He didn't seem like one of Miami's greatest baseball players. Nor did he act as if he were the deranged steroid fiend she had read about. He was sweet, funny, vulnerable. For the next year and a half, she followed him everywhere. When he was evicted from his house in Los Angeles, she even moved with him into a friend's mother's converted garage and then to Laredo, Texas, a place she describes as "like a Third-World Country where no one speaks English and you have to watch baseball seven hours a day."
Still, she was happy enough making sandwiches for the infamous slugger's minor-league games — until his wild mood swings, his anger, and his ego brought her back to her senses. She broke up with him this past March.
Two months later — after weeks of Facebook rants and an angry phone conversation with her mother — he took revenge. Calling Shennib an "egotistical bitch" and promising she was an "easy lay" if given some pot, Canseco tweeted her cell phone number to his 400,000 online followers. She was devastated.
"I'm 24 years old," Shennib says. "This is when I should be starting my life, not dealing with a 47-year-old who can't get his shit together."
Miami long ago ditched its juiced-up hometown hero, but in the past year, the disgraced slugger has hit a new low. He sent his twin brother Ozzie to box in his place at a celebrity match in Broward, publicly raged against Shennib, and barraged the world with strange tweets during his gig as an indie-league baseball coach in the tiny border town of Yuma, Arizona.
On top of all that, when New Times questioned him last week on the phone about his attacks on Shennib, the roided-out Bash Brother called a reporter a "piece of shit." When New Times caused a national stir by publicizing Canseco's phone number just as he had done with Shennib's, he called us names and promised vengeance. "Don't be so ignorant," he added.
Canseco was born in Havana in 1964, immigrating to Miami with his family when he was 9 months old. He went to Coral Park High, where he was skinny and relatively unimpressive on the diamond; he didn't play varsity ball until his senior year in 1982, when he was third-team All-Dade. He did not graduate.
But he worked his way into the minors, hit the gym (and, the world would later learn, the pharmacy), and packed on 50 pounds. By 1986, Sports Illustrated called him "a 6-3, 225-pound, Cuban-born Roy Hobbs" — referring to the film The Natural — as he cruised to a major-league Rookie of the Year award. One of only two Cubans playing in the bigs, Canseco was a hero on Calle Ocho.
When his MLB career ended in 2001, he had racked up an impressive resumé: the 1988 American League MVP, the first player ever with 40 homers and 40 steals in a season, and 462 career dingers. But he also had amassed a well-earned rep as a knucklehead. His ex-wife Jessica later said he had regularly abused her and cheated with "hundreds" of conquests he derisively called "road beef."
Canseco's true mark on baseball, though, wasn't his stats or his philandering; it was his 2005 tell-all memoir, Juiced. Canseco admitted the obvious truth: He had abused steroids for years, and he named teammates with whom he had allegedly shot up roids — stars including Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Jason Giambi. Sure, it was a self-serving payday, but it also turned out to be mostly true.
But Canseco paid the price. He was ostracized from the game, and from the Magic City. In 2008, the city commission voted to strip his name from SW 16th Street near his alma mater.
Meanwhile, his fortune, blown on mansions, cars, and women, dwindled to the point that he desperately tweeted about having no money and no friends. He tried his hand on at least three reality TV shows, wrote a widely ignored second book, and, in late 2010, traveled to Texas to play baseball for the Laredo Broncos, a low-end, semiprofessional team that has since folded.
After a stint on Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice, he hit a new low: This past March 28, he tried to trick hundreds of fans who had shelled out cash at Hollywood's Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino to see him box in a celebrity match. Jose sent Ozzie in his place, a ruse quickly sniffed out by promoters, who canceled the fight.
In April, shortly after Shennib ended their relationship, Canseco and Ozzie signed on with the independent Yuma Scorpions. The experiment so far has made the Hindenburg disaster look like a fender-bender.
With a 15-28 record, the Scorpions are the worst team in the league. Canseco has all of two home runs on the year, and his giant dog Bruce escaped the clubhouse and delayed play by running around the field during one game, he said in a tweet. In the second inning of another game, he was served legal papers, according to ESPN. He even started a bench-clearing brawl — on Little League Day.
It was last month when Canseco took to Twitter — where his regular forays into self-pity and bizarre rants have earned him almost 400,000 followers — to reach out to Shennib. "Someone tell leila shennib that I love her," he wrote June 3. "Leila please call me."
On June 9, he proposed to her on Twitter. A day later, as she continued to ignore him, he changed his tune: "I made a total fool of my self for someone who never even cared about me .what an idiot I am."
On July 7, Canseco sent her a massive teddy bear, taller than her sofa, holding a red heart embroidered with "From Jose: I love you." The next day, when Shennib again asked him to stop harassing her, Canseco let loose on Twitter, unleashing a slew of insults before tweeting her cell phone number and discussing her drug and sex habits.
Shennib described all of this to New Times — and no other newspaper — as her life fell apart last week. After scores of strangers called her to offer weed and ask for sex, New Times phoned Canseco to get his side of the story.
The slugger at first originally politely declined to comment. But then he called back.
"I can tell you right now she's an absolute liar," Canseco said. "She's lying just like Major League Baseball lied about me and my brother."
He and Shennib didn't live in a garage, he countered. "It was a large, over a 1,000-square-foot room." He smoked weed with his ex-girlfriend, he admitted — but only because "she forced [him] three times." (Canseco is still a muscular 240 pounds, it's worth noting.)
But why tweet her phone number just because she broke up with you, Jose?
He referred to an argument they had after she told him to stay out of her life. "I said I'd never forgive or forget what she said," he explained. "I wanted people to call her and ask her about what she's said and what she did."
Don't you feel bad about the harassment she's gotten in return?
"I'll tell you this," he said. "She loves attention."
There was only one way to call Canseco to task for his online abuse: New Times shared his cell phone number with the world the same way he had been so giving of Shennib's personal info.
When we explained the plan to Canseco, he wasn't thrilled. "You're just a young, little boy," Canseco hollered at a reporter. "[You're] a piece of shit... You obviously have something personal about this."
Nothing personal, Jose. Just a little sweet Internet justice. Websites around the world linked to New Times' blog after we published his number — 818-903-6598 — and Canseco's voicemail filled up within hours.
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Shennib, it should be said, played no role in our vigilante campaign. She's still trying to put her life back together — changing her cell number, meeting with lawyers about a possible defamation case, and dealing with a mammoth Verizon bill.
If nothing else, the past two weeks have hammered home one fact that all of Miami probably could have told Shennib two years ago.
"I made one mistake," she says. "Dating Jose Canseco."