In the world of sports, there are few things that bother me more than when an observer comments on the amount of effort being put forth by another individual. I find no value in old reliable sports media adages like, "that team just wanted it more". Making declarative statements about the inner recesses of a persons thoughts and emotions would never fly in the court of law (if Law and Order SVU is to be believed), yet it runs rampant in the world of sports without anyone batting an eye. Well, I object! However, this is not what I wanted to write about today. I find it to be very much a self-evident truth that no one ever really knows what’s going on inside another human being’s head. That being the case, I’ll move on. What I actually want to address are comments that surfaced a few days ago in Mariano Rivera’s recently released book The Closer; Specifically the ones regarding the Mariners newest star player, Robinson Cano.
If you don’t know what I’m referring to, how did you end up on this site? Just in case, here is what was written:
"This guy [Cano] has so much talent I don’t know where to start . . . There is no doubt that he is a Hall of Fame caliber (player). It’s just a question of whether he finds the drive you need to get there. I don’t think Robby burns to be the best … You don’t see that red-hot passion in him that you see in most elite players."
I think I’ve made it clear how I feel about such statements, but it’s not terribly interesting to simply shrug and say, "Mo doesn’t know what he’s talking about." After all, Rivera did share a diamond, locker room, and myriad airplane rides with the middle infielder over the last nine years, and I’m just another fan. Between the two of us, I’d say the all-time saves leader is certainly more qualified to speak on the matter. So for the sake of this post, I’m going to assume that Rivera does know what he’s talking about. Let’s say Cano doesn’t "burn to be the best". …Okay? …So what?
It’s evident from the national reaction that most people see this as a terribly scathing indictment of Robinson Cano, but why should that be? Why exactly is it such a bad thing to be satisfied with very very good? Really, it would only make him like nearly everyone else on the planet. Like it or not, those people who truly "burn to be the best" are the outliers. Why else is 75% of the wealth in the U.S. owned by the richest 10% of the population? Most of us simply don’t have that "red-hot passion".
The NFL draft starts tomorrow night, and in the interview process leading up to it, most prospects have said at one point or another that they, "want to be the greatest to ever play the game." Most of them are lying (whether they know it or not). In fact, only ~35% of them will actually earn playing time, and even among that group, you will still see stories of guys showing up to camp out of shape, or late to meetings. Is that what "red-hot passion" looks like? Some guys are just there to earn a paycheck, just like many other jobs. But for some reason they aren’t allowed to say that. None of us would say that in a job interview, but why can’t we? Why do we as a society delude ourselves so?
The point is that for most people, there is more to life than an all consuming desire to be the best at whatever it is that they do. Some people want to drink a few cold beers rather than hitting the gym, or take an extra couple days off to go camping with their family. These things make them happy. Aren’t they entitled to the pursuit of happiness? Now take a professional athlete. Are they not entitled to the same? Do they deserve scorn for wanting the same things we all want, simply because they possess an aptitude that we don’t?
Some might fall back on the idea that Cano would be even better with greater effort, and I’ve hear it said that, "the saddest thing in life is wasted talent". Let me head that argument off right now. First of all this is pretty obviously not true. I just watched 12 years a slave the other night. That shit is sad… really sad. Tell me, did you cry when you heard that Aldon Smith was arrested for performing a unabomber episode on his new hidden camera psych-out show? I certainly didn’t, and it wasn’t entirely because he’s a 49er. Wasted talent is like a 2 out of 10 in the grand scheme of sadness. Secondly, Robinson Cano isn’t wasting his! The dude is already a world series champion, five time all-star, a multi-millionaire, and owner of a supremely well groomed beard. His talent has very clearly been put to use in making his life awesome.
Most importantly, let’s not forget one thing. While it’s possible Robinson Cano isn’t dying to be the Babe Ruth of his generation, at the end of the day he, like all baseball players, is in the business of entertainment.