Right This Very Second, Robinson Cano Probably Isn’t Sprinting

Jeff Sullivan · February 18, 2014 at 1:28 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Here’s as February a story as you’re ever going to find. Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long said some things about Robinson Cano’s effort running down to first base. Lloyd McClendon subsequently issued a response. Long has since issued a response to the response, and Joe Girardi has also been asked for his own opinion. In this way, the media can create the illusion of a war of words, and out of one quote there can be written several articles. Mission accomplished, for the newspaper types, and to be fair this is a hell of a lot more interesting than learning about which player lost weight to get better, and which player gained weight to get better. If you’re holding out for substance, you won’t be doing a lot of baseball writing or reading this month.

The heart of what Long said that caused a stir:

“If somebody told me I was a dog,’’ Long said here Sunday, “I’d have to fix that. When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that’s your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to.’’

McClendon:

“Last time I checked, I didn’t know that Kevin Long was the spokesman for the New York Yankees,” McClendon told ESPN.com. “That was a little surprising. I was a little pissed off, and I’m sure Joe [Girardi] feels the same way. He’s concerned with his team and what they’re doing, not what the Seattle Mariners players are doing.

“I’m a little surprised that Kevin Long is the spokesman for the New York Yankees. I wonder if he had any problems with Robbie when he wrote that book ["Cage Rat"] proclaiming himself as the guru of hitting.”

So here’s what’s going on here. Spring training just started, and Robinson Cano just showed up in Peoria, and McClendon is a new manager who’s trying to defend his new superstar. Probably, McClendon was sought out for comment, and probably, McClendon heard about Long’s criticisms while paying less attention to the context. McClendon is trying to defend his own team and get off on the right foot with Cano so that the two can have a deep and positive relationship. There was realistically no other way he could have responded. McClendon, of course, has no issues with Cano because he hasn’t managed him yet. As far as he’s concerned, Cano’s starting over in a new place. McClendon’s supposed to be the leader of this team, and here there was a chance to stick up for a guy and speak forcefully about it. This is Lloyd McClendon, Mariners manager, managing.

And Long? Long, probably, was sought out for comment. Jogging down the line has long been a criticism of Cano’s, and you hear about it now more than ever, and Long acknowledged that much. But one should also pay attention to the rest of his words. Long and Cano formed a very strong relationship, and Long talked about how hard Cano worked to improve in all the other areas of his game. To go with one critique, there were a lot of compliments, and Long noted that last year Cano started to become more of a leader. It frustrated Long and the Yankees that Cano still jogged sometimes, and that led to a worse perception, but it’s important to understand that Long didn’t call Cano a dog. He said that he dogged it sometimes, which I don’t think anyone disagrees with. Even Cano would probably say, yeah, sometimes he doesn’t bust his ass. He’s 31 now and that’s just part of his game.

Long said a critical thing, among complimentary things. McClendon stood up for his player against the critical thing. Long, later, noted that there were a lot of complimentary things, too. Today is February 18th.

We can try, I guess, to evaluate the impact of Cano not always running so hard. Maybe it’s cost him a few groundball singles. Maybe it’s cost him a few reached-on-errors, or advances after a dropped pop. Alternatively, maybe it’s helped Cano stay so healthy, as he’s played at least 159 games seven years in a row. Any effect you’re going to find is going to be super small, and it also isn’t really the point.

The concern isn’t about a player busting it to first. The concern is about what that tendency, or lack thereof, says about the player. If a player jogs to first on a grounder, it probably doesn’t make a difference on that grounder, but it makes you think the player might be lazy. Maybe the player doesn’t care. Maybe the player isn’t committed. Maybe the player doesn’t put in the extra hours. Maybe the player is just coasting on his own talent. Jogging can suggest a total lack of drive.

And none of these assumptions would be true about Cano. Long’s own words:

 “He overcame so much while he was here,’’ Long said. “As a young kid there were holes everywhere. There were holes in his swing, in his makeup, in his body composition. This kid grew and grew and grew.

“All the other stuff … he’d take plays off in the field, he’d give away at-bats in RBI situations. He made a lot of personal decisions to get over the hump in those areas. People don’t know how hard he worked, how many times he was the one asking me to do extra work in the cage.’’

Cano reached the majors as a non-prospect. At least, he was never considered elite. He made improvements everywhere and turned himself into one of the best and most reliable all-around players in the world. There’s no indication that Cano was ever content to rest on what he already had. It takes work to become that good and stay that good, and no one has ever said Cano isn’t a hard worker, at least since he was a younger player. All that gets said is that Cano jogs to first base sometimes, when he figures he’s hit into an out. The positive spin would be that Cano cares so much that he’s beside himself when he makes an easy out and is too upset to sprint.

If you see Cano jog to first, there is no deeper significance. It’s not that he isn’t a hard worker. It’s that, at that instant, he isn’t working hard. Probably because he worked hard through the at-bat, and now it’s effectively over.

In a way this is a variation on the Ichiro/diving-for-fly-balls theme. People couldn’t stand that Ichiro wouldn’t lay out. Ichiro didn’t want to chance it, and for a decade he was an absolutely fabulous player. Cano’s fabulous, too, and Ichiro had some other weird quirks and didn’t have the leadership potential that Cano does. I can at least understand why Ichiro might’ve been hard for some people to like. Cano seems to have one issue, and it almost couldn’t be more insignificant.

If Cano jogs, and the Mariners are losing, people will grumble, because that’s what dumb fans do. Teams can’t please all the dumb fans, and teams shouldn’t strive to please all the dumb fans, and it’s mostly all better when the team is better, and Cano will make this team a lot better. It doesn’t matter how Cano is perceived by the fans, and the people with the team will see a lot more than Cano taking the occasional grounder off. They’ll see the other work he does, for himself and with his teammates, and they’ll see a professional role model, solitary quirk be damned. Yeah, okay, I guess I wish Cano would go at 100% literally all of the time. I’d like to not even be talking about this. I also wish Justin Smoak would slug four-friggin-fifty.

Comments

23 Responses to “Right This Very Second, Robinson Cano Probably Isn’t Sprinting”

  1. Miles on February 18th, 2014 1:50 pm

    Justin Smoak slugged four-friggen-seventy-five vs righties. He either needs to get platooned or someone needs to take away his bats he uses right handed.

    Cano and the M’s are going to kick some Yankee bootie this year!

  2. RITTEM1 on February 18th, 2014 2:15 pm

    Sweet Justin Smoak article

  3. Milendriel on February 18th, 2014 2:18 pm

    In other Mariners-and-Yankees-related news, from an article on ESPN’s front page about Brendan Ryan as Jeter’s backup:

    “Ryan said he and Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long are going to a more simplified approach instead of trying to hit for power, which, the shortstop said, he was instructed to try to do in Seattle.”

  4. bookbook on February 18th, 2014 2:32 pm

    The M’s couldn’t tell Brandon Freaking Ryan wasn’t a slugger? That’s gotta be from an Onion article, right?

  5. MrZDevotee on February 18th, 2014 3:47 pm

    If they called him “Brandon” Ryan, then yes it was probably an article in The Onion. (hee hee)

    As for Cano, if we can get 9 lazy players like him we’ll be a pretty damn fine team. Nothing to see here folks.

  6. selfloathingMsfan on February 18th, 2014 4:42 pm

    Root sports needs to make a Mariners commercial with Cano hauling ass everywhere.

  7. Westside guy on February 18th, 2014 5:49 pm

    When I read that article over this weekend, I wondered what all the kerfuffle was about. Long wasn’t being critical at all, in my opinion. He was talking about perceptions, and more importantly he was trying to pick his words carefully to avoid giving the impression he was being critical.

    In other words: nothing to see here, move along…

  8. unkrusty on February 18th, 2014 5:56 pm

    selfloathing, inspired idea!

    (they won’t do it, but still)

  9. Dobbs on February 18th, 2014 7:11 pm

    It all makes sense now. Bloomquist was brought in to teach Cano to hustle!

  10. MrZDevotee on February 18th, 2014 7:20 pm

    Dobbs-
    Where’s Raul when we need him… And Mike Sweeney too!?

  11. Sowulo on February 18th, 2014 7:21 pm

    Why would Cano’s lack of hustle to first be an issue if Morales’ wasn’t?

    I don’t remember anyone ever complaining about Morales. A high percentage of time Morales’ effort being described as jogging would have been very charitable at best.

  12. SeattleSlew on February 18th, 2014 8:43 pm

    I would rather have Cano not hustle to first on grounders than become an injury plagued player like Gutierrez.

    After the investment made on Cano I bet the FO is trying to encourage him to hustle even less and hit more hrs.

  13. goalieump413 on February 18th, 2014 8:57 pm

    So let’s see… Cano jogs on some grounders. Eh?

    I remember when A-Rod was a young pup and everyone was wetting themselves about how he busted is butt on every ball in play, regardless if it was a tapper to 1st. How’d that work out?

    Also, I’ll take an easy stroll to 1st once in a while with Cano over our C/1B project in Tacoma who “just ate” in the off-season and now has around 50 more PSI hitting the ground every stomp he takes.

    Maybe we should score how every batter-runner heads to 1st like the figure skating judges do over in Sochi.

    But… “If Cano jogs, and the Mariners are losing, people will grumble, because that’s what dumb fans do.” Well, smart fans will grumble too, so quit picking on the dumb ones. Whether you’re dumb or smart doesn’t matter. What matters is if the jogging causes losing.

  14. bookbook on February 19th, 2014 6:23 am

    Goalieump, you do know that A-Rod is one of the 50 best players in major league history, right? I don’t think excessive hustle did him in.

  15. MrZDevotee on February 19th, 2014 7:46 am

    We’ll never know if A-Rod is one of the 50 best players… Now Asterisk-Rod, no argument there, he’s easily one of the 50 greatest, if not Top 10 of all-time. Don’t confuse the two.

  16. djw on February 19th, 2014 7:52 am

    I remember when A-Rod was a young pup and everyone was wetting themselves about how he busted is butt on every ball in play, regardless if it was a tapper to 1st. How’d that work out?

    He went on to produce more value on the team than any player from his era not named Barry Bonds and was without question the second best shortstop the game has ever seen?

  17. goalieump413 on February 19th, 2014 8:17 am

    A-Rod hustled when he was young, produced at the plate nicely too, but “how it worked out” was more a commentary on his career objectives, not his box score line. As a ballplayer, few could argue that A-Rod had his day in the sun, and at the cash machine, and I’m not comparing Cano with A-Rod as far as productivity.

    My mention of A-Rod was to illustrate how our perception of a ballplayer’s approach to the game, and his attitude, can be skewed by what we witness on the field. What kind of a person he is deep down, is generally none of our business, until the end, when a player’s career can be summarized by professional writers.

    Cano looks like a much different person, a gradual rise to stardom, and the attitude of appreciation for his position to boot. Let’s hope that in the following seasons, we as smart baseball fans witness the productivity, even without all the hustle, that Cano should provide.

  18. bookbook on February 19th, 2014 8:58 am

    Professional writers get it wrong, as much as the rest of us unfortunately. But I take your point that what we focus on (hustle, guesses at character, etc.) is often meaningless.

  19. dantheman on February 19th, 2014 5:08 pm

    How ridiculous. I’m sorry but a major league player – any major league player – should hustle to first. Interesting how some people, now that the team they like has acquired someone known not to always run out groundballs, are so willing to lower standards. There’s no excuse for not running hard to first (barring injury) and, no, running hard to first does not have any relationship to whether you turn out to be Alex Rodriguez (what kind of argument is that?). I liked the fact that Carlton Fisk once yelled at opposing player Deion Sanders who stood at home plate rather than run out a grounder: “Run the f***ing ball out you piece of ****”. It was about respect for the game. Make all the excuses you like but the same rule should apply to Cano and everyone else. It’s frankly appalling that anyone would try to justify a lack of hustle.

  20. SeattleSlew on February 19th, 2014 6:57 pm

    @dantheman

    Everyone should love each other out of respect for human life but unfortunately that doesn’t happen.

    In the same way not everyone hustles to first on grounders. If a player is playing well but doesn’t run hard on grounders people will look past that as long as he keeps producing.

  21. Hunter S. Thompson on February 19th, 2014 8:50 pm

    I like all the if he’s a great we don’t care if he dog’s it at this part of the game. Honestly if Cano dog’s it to first, I will hold it slightly against him. If at work I mail in a standard part of my job, now one cares, until it matters. Now one cares if I don’t document I didn’t discuss ( a piece of contract law) until theh 1 in 100 time it matters.

    Do I care if Cano doesn’t run out a grounder, no I don’t until the time the first basemen drops it and then picks it up and touches the bag before Cano gets there.

  22. dang on February 20th, 2014 2:23 pm

    I think it reflects negatively on Cano’s intelligence if nothing else. It is so easy to just not have the issue come up by running at a fast jog – that’s all it takes! Is he so dim-witted or stubborn that he can’t just make it a non-issue? Of course it’s possible he’s already decided to do that.

  23. cgreen1500 on February 20th, 2014 9:49 pm

    Does anybody remember Griffey’s early years when he received criticism for jogging to first on routine grounders? I, as a junior high student, remember reading an article at the time, in the Times I think, which claimed that when Don Baylor interviewed for the Mariners manager job after Jim Lefebvre was fired, he was asked what he would do if Griffey jogged to first. He replied something along the lines of that he would take him out of the game and bench him or impose some kind of mild disciplinary action. Apparently the Mariners people who interviewed Baylor felt that this was a poor response that hurt his chances to get the job.

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