Saturday, September 13, 2008

Say It Ain't So, Cano

Thursday was, as we all know, September 11th. Consequently, a lot of people were preoccupied thinking about, well, September 11th. So, it would have been easy to miss some of the other things that were going on in the world that day. Major stuff. Like the announcement of the radical cutting edge plan to “overhaul” the ailing swing of Robinson Cano.

No, you read that right. So you can just go ahead, sit down, and stop what you’re doing.

The plan is simple. The Yanks are going to send Kevin Long to the Dominican Republic this winter, where he will help Cano with his strike zone discipline and the mechanics of his swing.

I only have one question: How do I get that job?

The way I see it, it’s a win-win for Long. If this strategy proves effective, he is hailed a hero. If not, he can say that Cano was undisciplined, unfocused, and downright impossible to teach. Either way, he gets a winter in the DR out of it. I don’t really see the downside.

Long claims to have high hopes for the venture and has said, "You're going to see a huge difference visually. You'll see less movement, an explosive, compact swing, and you'll probably see more home runs. I think his average will go way up and I think his walks will go way up."

Well, one should hope.

Robbie is currently 6 for his 38 at bats this month. He has an OBP of .295 this season, compared with a career OBP of .333. Not to mention the fact that he has committed a whopping 13 errors this season, often with plays where he looks—how shall I put it?—like he’s giving it a little bit less than 110%. And, well, having just signed that big old contract for $30 million over four years in January, it makes you wonder—now that Robbie got his payday, is he just putting on the uniform, showing up, and going through the motions?

Say it ain’t so, Cano.

Well, Robbie did have something to say, though that wasn’t exactly it. What he said was, “It’s not your business.”

Huh. I must confess that I was a little taken aback by what I perceived to be a direct and personal attack by someone who I had always thought of as a friend. Not my business? Oh, really. Not my business? So that’s how we were going to play this? Well, how about as long as I am the schmuck who buys the tickets, and t-shirts, and bobble heads that pay your salary, it actually kind of is.

And just as my lather was reaching its pinnacle, as I was preparing myself to write the kind of excoriating piece that I felt worthy of his betrayal, I read the rest of the quote. “There is one other good thing. I’m going to know who’s on my side. Who’s my friend; who’s not my friend. Who’s talking behind my back. I’ll remember all that. Because I’m going to go back and be the player I’m supposed to be.”

And that’s when it occurred to me. Robbie isn’t telling us it’s not our business because he doesn’t care about us. He’s telling us it’s not our business because his feelings are hurt. All this talk of friends and being gossiped about behind his back? Well, it’s what you say when you’re feeling wounded. And if wounding Robbie is within our capability, it suggests that—far from being smug and indifferent—Robbie cares deeply about we think. Which would lead me to believe that he probably doesn’t feel too great about his performance this season, with or without the big salary. And as the person who coined the phrase, “To Cano him is to love him,” that makes me feel a whole lot better about the world.

From the very beginning, I always had a special place in my heart for Robbie. He brought to the game a youthful exuberance. The kind of passion for the sport that I really respect. I remember the day he hit his first home run. The camera panned to the dugout and the grin on his face just said it all. Here was a kid who loved baseball. A kid who was living a dream. It was written all over that grin. And I don’t think that kind of sincerity goes away just because you tack a lot of zeros onto the end of a paycheck.

Don’t get me wrong. Just because I happen to like Robbie, it doesn’t mean I’m going to give him a pass on this one. The bottom line is that he hasn’t handled the criticism with the grace and maturity that I have come to expect as the signature of a Torre baby. However, I am inclined to believe that his frustration is earnest and that his struggles are more the results of sloppiness and immaturity than anything else. In a sense, his behavior with the press and off the field reflect the nature of his problems on the field—Robbie, love him though I may, is a little bit of a baby. And it’s time for him to grow up. We’ve walked him through his infancy. So, now, what I would like to see when he emerges from batting camp, is a player who has changed his approach, not only mechanically, but mentally.

What Cano needs from Long is more than just a batting coach—he needs a life coach. Someone to give him encouragement along with that swift kick in the pinstripes he occasionally deserves. Based on what we saw when Robbie was under the tutelage of Larry Bowa, he is the kind of player who really benefits from one-on-one mentorship. And based on what we know from Oprah, a life coach can be just the thing to turn a rookie into a champ.

Will this require Long to go jogging on the beach with Robbie and tackle him in the waves in slow motion at least once alla Apollo Creed in Rocky III? Possibly. But, then, I’m pretty sure that Rocky went on to do some serious damage in the fight against Mr. T, so…you tell me if you think it’s worth it.

And, incidentally, I pity the po’ fool who don’t eat my Coco Crisps.

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