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40 in 40: Robinson Canó

Robinson Canó is the leader the Mariners have desperately needed

Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros
smell the greatness
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Ever since I became editor of Lookout Landing, I have been thinking a lot about teaching and leadership. What does it mean to be a great teacher? What does good leadership look like? It’s not anything I would have expected to be doing a year ago, penning articles about eyebrows and Muppets and worrying to myself constantly about whether or not I had the chops to do this job, if loving baseball alone would be enough. When Nathan announced he was stepping down I didn’t think, at first, that I would apply; I didn’t think I could be enough.

But sometimes if you love something enough, and you have the time and talent and inclination to help other people love it too, you find yourself in a position to be a teacher, a leader. I have stumbled into every teaching job I ever had, from teaching freshman comp at UW, to helping kids fresh off a plane speak English, to running this site full of brilliant and engaged people. Great teaching, to me, is really about putting people into a place where they can do their best. I have always been suspicious of the teacher-centered narratives like Dangerous Minds or Freedom Writers; in my experience, that’s not what great teaching looks like. Great teaching is often a happy accident of the right person in the right place at the right time, where the teacher fades into the background, like one of those Victorian hidden mother portraits.

Robinson Canó might not have imagined, when he signed a ten-year, 240-million-dollar-contract, that he would become the leader of the Seattle Mariners. Maybe he did, and that was part of why he decided to sign here. But it’s hard to look past the money as motivation, the incredible validation one must feel to know that a team values you that highly, especially because Canó went on the record as being disappointed with the Yankees’ offer. Canó would have preferred to remain a Yankee; he is a Mariner now. Things happen how they happen. People come, people leave, and you’re left to make the best out of the current situation. Canó’s Yankee teams were led by marquee names like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez; Robi got fourth or fifth billing in the baseball equivalent of a late Woody Allen movie. In Seattle, Canó was met by a team of rookies, retreads, and Félix Hernández. A leadership lacuna was evident.

Félix is fantastic. We all know this. But Félix is a pitcher. It’s hard for a pitcher to lead a team. It’s even harder for a pitcher who has been carrying a losing team for the past decade. But sometimes people are thrust into a role that maybe isn’t the most comfortable for them, but there is literally no one else. So Félix was the leader, whether he liked it or not, whether he was good at it or not. It was just another thing he was asked to do, and he did it, because he loves this team and this city and this fanbase.

But then Robinson Canó showed up, and in a decidedly less star-studded locker room, far from the hot and constant breath of the New York media, something began to blossom. Canó found he was the right person in the right place at the right time to lead the Seattle Mariners. He coached rookie Ketel Marte and was instrumental in bringing Nelson Cruz, another locker room leader, to Seattle. He offered advice to Brad Miller that was summarily rejected and was reprimanded by Andy Van Slyke for his trouble (of the three, guess who’s still here). Canó, Félix, and Cruz served as advisory council for Scott Servais during his first year on the job. That’s the other thing about leadership—sometimes it’s strongest when it’s shared among people with a common goal. But as Canó’s attempted tutelage of Brad Miller shows, he’s not just limiting himself to his fellow Latin players; he is invested in the Mariners as an organization, and happy to lend his knowledge to empower everyone to be their best selves.

Being good at something doesn’t necessarily make you a great teacher of it; the two are separate, although related, skills. I have taken many writing classes from renowned writers who were rubbish teachers. These people loved writing, and were great at writing, but couldn’t communicate their knowledge in any meaningful way. Conversely, I have taken classes from writers who have never published beyond academic one-offs, whose names would not be recognizable to even the most devoted readers of literary journals, but who nonetheless understood how to draw the best out of their students. Robinson Canó is the rare talent who can do both. He authors beautiful plays on the diamond, but also is able to translate his understanding to enrich others, and somehow he does it all while looking like he’s having the most fun a human being has ever had. Second base is called the keystone, the key point for both scoring and defense. It is the appropriate position for Robinson Canó, centerpiece of this Mariners team.