In today’s Los Angeles Times, writer Bill Shaikin catches up with Jose Canseco, the 1988 Most Valuable Player in the American League who now lives in Encino. He hit 462 home runs in the major leagues, plus three in the World Series, and played seventeen seasons. These days, when he isn’t talking about steroids in baseball, the 41-year-old Canseco swings an aluminum bat for the Valley Mets of the Los Angeles Mens Senior Baseball League. Players have to be 28 or over and out of the pros for at least three years to join the amateurs who play for teams like the Toluca Lake Drillers and Sherman Oaks Indians on fields at Valley College, Birmingham High and San Fernando High. Former major leaguers Bret Saberhagen and Eric Davis have played in the league recently.
Baseball has a long history in the Valley. Shortly after Van Nuys came into being in 1911, a team from there played against squads from San Fernando and other farm towns. When the Valley’s Japanese American farmers were rounded up during World War II, the San Fernando Aces played at Manzanar. After the war, the St. Louis Browns managed by Rogers Hornsby trainedfor several springs in Burbank. The Valley’s climate and plentiful acreage for fields allowed for year-round baseball on diamonds like Marks Field, and perhaps a hundred or more major leaguers got their start here. Don Drysdale, of course, starred at Van Nuys High before his Hall of Fame career with the Dodgers. Robin Yount began his ascent to the Hall in the Woodland Hills Sunrise Little League. When the Houston Astros sent pitcher Larry Dierker to a Florida instructional league for young pros in the early 1960s, he quipped later, “there were better players in the West Valley League.”