Yesterday Robinson Canó and Nelson Cruz were interviewed for a piece on ESPN. This is not unusual; they’re two of the bigger stars in baseball, and they’re both playing for the defending-champion Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic. However, there are also a number of things that were mentioned in the interview that more broadly demonstrate the culture within MLB and the state of the Seattle Mariners clubhouse, which itself has inexplicably come to be one of the best representations of modern baseball.
The first thing to note, within this article, is the platform on which it was published. ESPN launched Béisbol Life three days ago, on March 6, and have subsequently produced seven pieces of content; three Q&As, two bits of audio/video content, and two more traditional articles. Within these seven pieces three members of the Mariners have already been featured. This demonstrates both the sheer number of Latino players on the team but, most importantly, the high level in which these Mariners are regarded by MLB as a whole, and the Latino community specifically. In Seattle approximately 7% of the population is made up of people of people who identify as Hispanic or Latino, but Félix Hernández, Robinson Canó, and Nelson Cruz are three of the most well-regarded men in the city, nevermind the surrounding region. These men are heroes within the Latino community, and will be deeply entrenched within baseball’s history; they will also be remembered (partially, if not for all) for their time playing in a Seattle Mariners uniform.
Before we move on to the meat of the interview itself, I’d like to briefly take a moment to appreciate Marly Rivera, the woman (yes, woman) who conducted this interview. The most significant part of this is not her gender (though she is one of just a few Latina national baseball writers, and is also a proud member of the BBWAA), but rather the fact that Rivera is bilingual and therefore was able to conduct this interview in either Spanish or English. It doesn’t matter so much if the subject gives his interview in Spanish or English, what matters is that he’s given a choice, and that he can subsequently speak to the interviewer in whatever language he is most comfortable conversing in.
Getting into the core of the interview, the first thing I want to recognize is Canó’s assertion that he and Cruz “really started spending more time together in 2009, when we went to the WBC.” This sentiment echoes an idea that Jerry Dipoto articulated recently, on The Ringer MLB podcast with Ben Lindbergh and Michael Baumann. In speaking about the difficulty of calling a player to tell him he’s been traded, Dipoto mentioned that with the development of international competitions like the World Baseball Classic it has become easier for players to move around the league, because they are now more likely to know guys on their new team. In this way the WBC has been a huge benefit to Mariners fans, because without the friendship kindled on the Dominican Republic team Canó might not have campaigned so hard for Cruz to come to Seattle.
Beyond Cruz and Canó’s contributions on the field (worth a collective 22.3 fWAR in three seasons), their presence on the team has had a noticeable impact on the Mariners’ clubhouse. We’ve seen this impact specifically come into play in the last year, with things like Canó’s adjustment to Leonys Martín’s swing, and his and Cruz’s collective push to get Félix working out hard in the offseason. Even Canó’s work with Jean Segura in the 2016 offseason, borne out of a national kinship and friendship, will (hopefully) prove to be another example of all that the second baseman has done to influence his team, beyond his own production. These Seattle Mariners do not simply have one of the highest percentages of Latinos on their team, their team is led, and dramatically influenced, by this strong Latino core. For all that we talk about baseball’s unwillingness to change, this is dramatically different from just a few decades ago, when players like Roberto Clemente, Felipe Alou, and Juan Marichal, spoke about being isolated in the clubhouse, and in need of their own bill of rights. Now we have Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais talking about how critical it was that team leaders like Canó, Cruz and Hernández buy into the new regime, and attributing much of said regime’s success to their subsequent participation and enthusiasm. The voices of these Latino players are not simply heard, but considered to be an integral part of the clubhouse. It’s representative of this new era in baseball that Dominican players like Nelson Cruz are talking about how “it is almost necessary to have Latino players [in the clubhouse],” and his commitment to “allow the rookies to feel welcome and make them feel at home.”
Final note: That cover photo for the interview. You could write a thousand words analyzing that shot alone. I won’t do that to you, since you’ve already been patient enough to have read this far, but please enjoy that picture. And then enjoy it a little extra.