In case you had forgotten, after last year Andy Van Slyke imbibed a beer or five, and went on the radio in St. Louis and said a bunch of things he should not have said, regardless of their level of truth. It made for good, salacious copy, but crossed a lot of the lines of clubhouse camaraderie that baseball has long held sacred, and also had the doubly bad form of criticizing a player who was indeed playing through significant injury the entire season.
Robinson Cano is a proud man, and while he has repeatedly stated that Van Slyke's comments had no effect on them, that is not the truth. These things burn all of us, each and everyone. No one likes to hear someone speaking negatively about us in public, particularly when the culture makes that kind of public sharing seem like a violation of trust. It burned Cano, and festered within him. Today, finally, he decided to say something about it to Mike Salk and Brock Huard of 710 ESPN.
The incident cited revolves around Cano offering a piece of hitting advice to Brad Miller, and a follow up conversation between Cano and Van Slyke that went something like this:
"Andy came into my locker. 'Hey, I wanna talk to you.' I said, 'Oh, yeah, go ahead, Andy, what's up?' He was like, 'I'm gonna play the bad guy.' I said, 'Bad guy of what? What happened?' (Van Slyke said) 'I know you talked to Miller, but I mean, you know, he's a guy that you cannot say anything.' I said, 'I didn't say anything to him. I just said what is good for the team.' He said, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it, but when it comes to hitting don't talk to him.' I said, 'That's how you feel like it, perfect.' After that day..."
Now, a few things about this:
- The first instinct here is to take Cano's side. He's the star, he's the one that's still a Mariner, and the one that will be a Mariner for eight more seasons, almost certainly no matter what. However, it's important to recognize that these words from Cano are A) biased from his view and B) colored by a lot of emotion.
- Foremost for me this anecdote speaks fundamentally to how broken the layers and levels of communication were in and around the 2015 Mariners' clubhouse. A team leader offers a younger player hitting advice, and later a coach tells that leader he's not allowed to offer advice to that young player. Whatever the motivation, it's easy to see how Cano was non-plussed by Van Slyke's direction.
I don't know all the context here, I don't know what happened before or after Cano's referenced events, but there's a lot of things here that are the kinds of things you and I deal with at our jobs, between our coworkers and bosses. Human beings are fickle, proud, confusing and inconsistent. I don't want to speculate on what could have led to this point, because Cano has offered only the smallest insight into the situation. But I can imagine how a complex social environment like a major league clubhouse, with its various hierarchies, traditions, and pay scales could quickly devolve into a nightmare without strong, clear communication. The 2015 Mariners very clearly did not have that.
- This is, as I said, far from the whole story of everything that happened between Cano and Van Slyke that led to such a fractured and poisonous relationship. What this sounds like is the first breaking point, the moment when player and coach first butted heads and left a gap in the conversation wide enough for all of the elements of time and personality to widen into a gaping fissure. These things are never one person's fault, regardless of Van Slyke's poor choice in sharing them on the radio.
- What does this say about Robinson Cano? It says that he hears you, and me, and everyone who doubts him, calls him overpaid, or questions his defense at second. We may all be right to say those things. He is overpaid, and his defense at second is a concern, particularly past 2016. But while Cano always appears to be smiling, shrugging, and doing an excellent job of not letting his detractors get to him, he hears it. He hears you, and me, and he remembers it all.
As always, with 97% of all clubhouse issues, frustrations with critics, and other baseball meets real life minutia, none of it matters as soon as the Mariners are in first in early July and Robinson Cano is the American League starting second baseman. Just win Robbie, and all you'll hear are cheers.