Jose Canseco set a preposterous goal for himself in April, then had the audacity to announce it to reporters.

But the Oakland Athletics' right fielder has backed up his words.After Tuesday night's game against Minnesota, he had a league-leading 40 homers and 38 stolen bases, putting him within two steals of becoming the major leagues' first 40-40 player.

And, at age 24, Canseco's best years would seem to be ahead of him.

"In a lot of players' eyes, he's got the ability to be one of the best ever," Oakland second baseman Mike Gallego said. "He's got the athletic ability to put up the most unbelievable numbers people have ever seen."

Canseco came to the Athletics in September 1985 after hitting a combined .333 with 36 home runs for Huntsville of the Class AA Southern League and Tacoma of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League. He hit five homers with Oakland and awed crowds with some towering blasts in batting practice.

The following year, the Cuban-born slugger was the American League Rookie of the Year when he had 33 homers and 117 runs batted in while hitting .240. Last season, he improved his average to .257 with 31 homers and 113 RBI.

But Canseco stole only 15 bases in each of his first two seasons and showed no indication that he would turn into one of the league's top base stealers.

However, by the time he'd finished April with eight homers - and eight stolen bases - Canseco had decided he could join the 40-40 club.

At the time, he was unaware it was a club with no members.

"I'm going to go for it," he said April 30 in disclosing his goal, an idea encouraged by teammate slugger Dave Parker. "I'm just finding out more and more what I think I can do."

By midseason, when Canseco was the top vote-getter on the American League All-Star team and had 24 homers and 22 stolen bases, his teammates thought he might have set his sights too low.

"We finally got him talking about 40-40," Gallego said. "But why not make him talk 50-50? Why not 60, if he got hot?"

Mark McGwire, who has hit 75 homers in his first two major league seasons, agreed.

"He's got more power than I do," said McGwire, who set a rookie record in 1987 with 49 homers. "I said last year that if anyone could break the 61 (home run) barrier, it would be him."

"It's fun watching him play," third baseman Carney Lansford, a 10-year major-league veteran, said after the A's clinched the American League West Monday night. "Some of the balls he hits, you dream about hitting it like that just one time."

Canseco was dreaming too much about hitting when he first came up, according to batting coach Jim Lefebvre.

Under Lefebvre's tutelage, Canseco has ended his constant experimenting with stances and has become more selective at the plate, shortening his swing with two strikes. As a result, his strikeouts are down from a club-record 175 and 157 his first two years to 126, and he has a career-high 74 walks.