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Robinson Cano and legacies

The fallacy of legacies and loyalty.

Scott Halleran

It was 1992 and the San Francisco Giants were coming off a generally uninspiring 72 win season, finishing fifth out of six teams in their division. The organization had two pennants in 20 years and all fans had to cheer about was Will Clark hitting .300 and Billy Swift's uncanny sinker. Attendance was at a five year low, and the only game in town was known as something called the 49'ers.

They suffered through a youth movement in the early 90's and ultimately ran names like Chris James, Mike Felder, and Kevin Bass out to left field with mediocre results. They had holes, lots of them, but it was clear that the team needed to make a move to not only try and improve the club, but put some backsides in seats and sell some garlic fries.

You know where I'm going with this, of course. The Giants outbid the New York Yankees for Barry Bonds, inking him to what was then an insane six year, $44 million dollar contract. They pried him away from the team that drafted him in the first round and turned him into a star. The next season they won 103 games and their average nightly attendance increased by 40%. Barry Bonds was the only addition to their starting nine.

Now, say what you want about how Barry Bonds tarnished his own legacy, but when you think of Barry Bonds, do you think of him as a Pittsburgh Pirate or do you think of him as a Giant? Setting aside his own personal choices about mysterious creams and clears, is his legacy as a player tarnished by his selfish money grab, giving the finger to the team who gave him the playing opportunity to become a star? Probably not.

The parallels are kind of striking.

I've read a lot about what leaving New York might do to Robinson Cano's legacy, mostly by national media, and mostly by media out of New York City. We've read the same thing about Jacoby Ellsbury, perhaps to a lesser extent for some odd reason. The thrust of most arguments being - you're a traitor to turn your back on the team that cultivated your talent, and thus whatever you do from here on out is diminished. Poof goes your legacy.


Paul Molitor took the Blue Jays money, leaving the Milwaukee Brewers after 15 years (mostly Bud Selig's fault, but still...). Carlton Fisk took the White Sox money, leaving the Red Sox after 11 seasons. Jim Thome took the Phillies money, leaving the Indians. Rickey Henderson took the Yankees money, leaving the Athletics. Manny Ramirez took the Red Sox money, leaving the Indians. Adrian Beltre, Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero, the list is endless.

These are all tremendous players. Just because they may have to argue with the good folks in Cooperstown which hat graces their plaque in the Hall of Fame, their legacy as a tremendous player isn't impacted by their choice to leave their original team. The loyalty has nothing to do with the statistics.

Great players leave in free agency, it happens constantly. The negatively impacted fan base cries foul, maybe we throw fake dollars at them for a few years when they visit. But is it only a legacy if you get old and gray with the same team that drafted you so that everyone can watch your skills diminish with endearment? No.

Great players are remembered for the great things they do on the field, not because they had any degree of loyalty to the color of their stirrups, their celebrity season ticket holders, or even their favorite local sandwich shop. When free agents leave, it stings. We know this all too well as Mariner fans. But didn't we give Ken Griffey Jr. a big old wet sloppy Seattle kiss when he came back even though he burned the organization so badly?

Robinson Cano is projected by the mathematical acumen of one Dan Szymborski (ZiPS) to finish his career in Seattle with a career .289/.340/.463 slash line with 361 home runs and over 3,000 hits. The last two second basemen with over 3,000 hits were Rod Carew and Craig Biggio. Whether he did that in Philadelphia, Florida, or Minnesota, his legacy left will be remembered as one of the great second basemen in the history of the game, pinstripes or no pinstripes.