by: Michael Shields
A love letter, of sorts, to the best player on the New York Yankees….
Sometimes pointing out the obvious is called for. Sometimes if it isn’t said – it isn’t real. Sometimes words left unspoken have the same resonance as a tree falling in the forest with nobody in the vicinity. Sometimes not everybody is truly aware that the sky is blue and water is wet.
With marquee names such as Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Texeira, CC Sabathia, and Mariano Rivera ((He will return, this much is certain.)) scribbled upon the lineup card each night, it is almost unimaginable to all but the hardcore fans of the game that another man could, and is, the most talented player on the club. To many talk such as this could be considered blasphemy. To those in the know it would be considered nothing but an obvious observation, something known for some time at this point; yet something kept on the low; corked and stored away for safe keeping. To me, it is nothing but the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: Robinson Cano is the best player on the New York Yankees.
Why do I bring this up? Simple – because no one else has. In a city runneth over with hyperbole and premature enshrinement of what is the best, what’s hot (and conversely what’s not) it seems the Cano and his brilliant performances are somewhat flying under the radar, as much as that is possible for a man wearing pinstripes. Sure, Sunday Night Baseball shows Robby’s pic in their advertisements and anyone who runs a fantasy team, is addicted to box scores and leader boxes, or has been to the corner of 161st and River Ave for a game knows the score, but that obviously isn’t enough for me.
If your not familiar with Robinson Cano let’s take a moment and bring you into the fold. Robinson Cano is from the Dominican Republic but was no stranger to the United States growing up as his father, who had the wherewithal to name his son after the great Jackie Robinson, played some Major League Baseball himself. Jose Cano was signed by the Astros in 1980 and fought his way into the majors eventually pitching 6 games for Houston in 1989. Robinson worked his way up through the Yankee system ((A must if you are to be unconditionally embraced by the Yankee fan base.)) and was called up May 3rd, 2005 ((He took over for Tony Womak.)). He wore #22 his first few seasons ((He belted his first grand slam during his rookie season.)) but unselfishly surrendered that number to Roger Clemens when he blew Susan Waldman’s mind and announced his return to the Yankees in 2007. He now wears the number 24, his namesake’s number backwards.
Let’s run the numbers. Currently Cano is batting .312 with 24 home runs and 62 RBI ((in 2011 he hit .302 with 28 home runs and 118 RBI; in 2010 he hit .319 with 29 home runs and in in the championship 2009 season he hit .320 with 25 home runs!!)). He has a lifetime batting average of .308, has 1,390 hits, 168 home runs, and 683 RBI. He has been to 4 All-Star games, won the Silver Slugger award 3 times, finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting behind Hudson Street ((5-1 with a 1.72 ERA)), and seems hell bent on winning his first MVP trophy, he finished 6th in voting last year and 3rd the season prior.
It is possible the reason that Robinson Cano is not heralded as the king of New York, besides the obvious fact that the throne is undeniably occupied, is the lack of historic moments. He has no dive into the seat type moments. It wasn’t Robinson who can claim to his credit the most heady relay in the history of the game in the 2001 ALDS ((I am, of course, referring to Derek Jeter – a man with endless amounts of highlight reel footage)) . And, his 3,000th hit will most likely not be a home run ((He did, however, have the final walk off home run at the old Yankee Stadium as well as the final RBI in the Stadium.)). He doesn’t have that signature play, or signature series.
It almost happened, he almost made his mark in the 2011 playoffs. Girardi set things up by shrewdly moving Cano up from fifth to third in the lineup for the playoffs to get him more protection and pitches to hit. In Game 1 of a series versus the Tigers he capitalized by hitting a grand slam and then later added a run-scoring double in the eighth to tie a club record for RBIs in a postseason game (6). He had 9 RBI’s in the short series and in the deciding game 5 ((Why these series are not 7 games is a question that befuddles and infuriates me.)) he hit a home run which, at the time, seemed to ignite the Yankees towards a comeback. The rally eventually fell flat and the series came to an end, and with it the hopes of Robinson Cano having that unforgettable legend-building playoff run that he is capable of, where he carries the Yankees upon his broad shoulders to victory.
He is easily on pace to be the greatest second baseman the Yankees have EVER had. His competition in this category isn’t as stiff as one may think. His two competitors are both Hall of Famer’s ((Some may throw Willie Randolph in this conversation, and although I love him as a player I wouldn’t. If he was able to stay healthy during his career there is no doubt he would be right there)), Joe Gordon ((Joe Gordon was the man who won the AL MVP the year Ted Williams won the Triple Crown – something that still makes Red Sox fans blood boil over. Joe led the Yankees to the Pennant that year with a .322 average, 29 doubles, 18 homers, and 103 RBIs so all is fair and love and war.)) and Tony Lazzeri. Joe was a 9 time All-Star who collected 1,530 hits in only 11 seasons, as he missed 3 seasons due to WWII. He was later traded to the Indians where he helped the Tribe win what is still their last World Championship. Tony, part of the legendary Murderer’s Row, helped the Yankees win 6 Pennants ((1926, ’27, ’28, ’32, ’36 and ’37)) and 5 World Series. In 5 seasons he batted at least .300, and 7 times he had at least 100 RBIs. Robinson Cano is on pace to surpass any numbers put up by either Tony or Joe ((Individual numbers, not titles.)) promptly, and is only 29 years of age.
An evening that comes to mind when I think of Robinson Cano – which is very often really – is the 2011 All Star Home Run Derby. I usually find the mid summer break and the festivities around it to be rather drab, but with Cano involved my interest was peaked. Cano has, over the last few years, become a player that not only hits for average but also increasingly for power. In 2009 he had 25 home runs, in 2010 he hit 29 ((His career high at this point)). Last season he hit 28 BUT this year he already has 24 ((He hit one just last evening)) and he is well on pace to shatter his own career high. He had every right to be amongst the league’s home run specialists that night, right along side the likes of Ortiz, Fielder, Kemp, Bautista, Gonzalez, Weeks, and Holliday.
In the first round that evening he hit 8 home runs and moved onto the next round with Adrien Gonzalez, David Ortiz, and Prince Fielder. In the second round he and Gonzo both crushed 12 setting up a Yankees – Red Sox final. High drama. Gonzo went first and set the bar extremely high by hitting 11 home runs. Cano went to work and eventually tied Gonzo’s final round total with a 472 foot shot ((His second 472 foot home run of the evening.)) which he followed with a 408 foot drive to capture the trophy. Cano hit 32 in all, 12 in the final round – a final round record ((He participated in 2012’s event but the results vary drastically. He hit zero home runs and finished in last place, and was jeered by the Kansas City fans for his snubbing, as the Captain of the team, Royals Billy Butler. Stay Classy Kansas City.)).
What made it all so special, besides seeing the coming of age of a future Hall of Famer, was that Robinson Cano’s dad Jose was the man situated right in front of the mound serving him up the bombs he was dropping into the outfield bleachers of Chase Field. I cannot imagine the feeling both men had that evening. To do what they have done so often in little league fields and in batting cages on a stage such as this, together, warms my heart to a boil. The hug they shared after Robinson hit that final home run is one of the finest father-son moments the world of sports has, or will ever, produce.
I guess it didn’t need to be said to be true. I could have let this alone and let Robinson and his bat ((And his glove – he has one gold glove which will not be his last. He received in after the 2010 season, a season in which he had only 3 errors.)) do the talking. Those in the know, like I said, are aware and the others don’t really care. I just want it on the record, which it now is.