PEORIA, Ariz. – All things considered, Kevin Long would have approved of Robinson Cano on Tuesday afternoon. When it was put to the former New York Yankee, the new Seattle Mariner, that his erstwhile hitting coach had been critical of his hustle, Cano couldn't have run harder.
"I don't really pay attention to that," he said. "I just want to talk about Seattle. I'm here now."
Way to bust it, Robbie.
The only thing a guy who doesn't run hard likes less than running hard is talking about not running hard. Unless it's other people talking about him not running hard.
The solution, of course, is to run hard, but Cano was having none of that talk in his first official day in a Mariners uniform, two months after he agreed to the 10-year, $240 million contract that is supposed to help the Mariners become relevant again.
"Same guy," Cano said. "I'm going to go out there, play my game, play every single day, give everything that I got."
Over nine years as a Yankee, it's gotten him (and the Yankees) a .309 batting average, 204 home runs, some truly deft defense, a ton of MVP votes (but no actual plaques), a World Series trophy and then, of course, the $240 million from the Mariners.
Whatever percent with which he'd toddled down to first base for those nine years, it served him – and his organization – reasonably well. The Yankees offered Cano something like $175 million for him to bring it back, which wasn't Mariners money but wasn't disrespectful (for most) either, which is why Long's Tampa-based sniper attack struck the nerve it did.
Cano dogs it to first base on routine outs, as a rule. Of course he does. He does it a lot. More than he should, probably, not for the result, but for the perception of it. Sometimes he's a bit casual in the field as well, but that's his way, and the Yankees signed him as an 18-year-old and developed him and promoted him and played him and paid him and wanted to play him and pay him more. They had plenty of time to suggest to Cano they'd prefer a different style. To insist on it. For Cano to walk away and take a public insult off the back of his head from a man in a Yankees uniform, well, let's call that false hustle.
"If somebody told me I was a dog, I'd have to fix that," Long told the New York Daily News. "When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that's your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to."
Long sprinkled in other observations – "He'd take plays off in the field, he'd give away at-bats in RBI situations," adding, "He made a lot of personal decisions to get over the hump in those areas." – and there you go, who's dogging whom?
The Mariners presumably are aware Cano has a tendency to, you know, pace himself. Also, that Cano has played at least 159 games in each of his past seven seasons. And that he hits. And that he was willing to come to Seattle, where free agents tend to disappear.
As an organization, the Mariners – just like the Yankees – have chosen to accept Cano, his production, his personality, his work ethic, and even his 90-foot trundles, and put him on billboards. He's their horse. Sometimes, their marketing director could beat him to first. He's still their horse.
Lloyd McClendon, the new manager, defended Cano. More, he defended the Mariners, and he showed a clubhouse of men who don't know him that he will defend them, which isn't a bad place to begin.
"I was very disappointed," McClendon said of Long's criticisms. "I've been in this game a long time, particularly at the major league level. One thing I was taught, you worry about your players and getting them ready, and not players on other teams. Disappointed. Surprised. I didn't know [Long] was the spokesman for the New York Yankees. My concern is Robinson Cano in a Seattle Mariners uniform and what he does moving forward. I don't give a damn what he did for the Yankees. I have no concerns whatsoever.
"One of the messages I'm trying to send to my players is, we don't have to take a backseat to anybody. That includes the New York Yankees or anybody else. We're the Seattle Mariners. My concern is my players and the family atmosphere that we build here. Anytime anybody attacks one of my players, I'm going to defend him. You don't like it, tough [expletive]."
So Cano will wear the beard he never could with the Yankees, and he'll stand in the middle of this lineup, and he'll wonder if right field ever ends in Seattle, and he'll play the way he always did. The Mariners apparently are OK with that, with all of that.
"To me," Long told the Daily News, "there was no acceptable answer."
Maybe Cano never felt like he deserved one. And he wasn't going to run his mouth now.