It’s good to see that nothing’s really changed with the Yankees as far as how their legends dump on the organization and anyone associated with it once their robust contracts are up and the final destination in their baseball voyage is the Hall of Fame. Yankees greats from Yogi Berra, to Reggie Jackson to Dave Winfield to Don Mattingly have had their post-Yankees career gripes.
Now, just one season removed from an illustrious 19-year career with the Yankees, in which he established himself as the greatest fireman of all-time, Mariano Rivera is lighting up a little flame of controversy with his recent comments concerning Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia and former Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano.
In a new book, “The Closer,” written with Daily News sportswriter Wayne Coffey, Rivera questions Cano's lack of drive and admits he'd rather have Pedroia as a teammate. Rivera had some harsh words for Cano, who left the Yankees in the offseason for a Roc Nation Sports inspired $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners.
FOX Sports 1 showed excerpts from the book on Tuesday. Rivera basically questioned Cano’s heart. Yes, the big homie went there.
“This guy has so much talent I don’t know where to start…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.”
“If I have to win one game, I’d have a hard time taking anybody over Dustin Pedroia as my second baseman.”
There’s a lot to digest with these comments. For one, Rivera’s book is a must read for me after viewing the quotes. I guess Mo’s marketing team is doing their job to perfection right now, because Mo’s uncharacteristically critical opinion definitely raised an eyebrow.
But no more than former manager Joe Torre’s book, which he wrote shortly after a contract dispute forced Torre's bitter exit from the Yankees in 2007.
Torre followed a 12-year managerial stint which included four World Series c'hips, with an explosive book called “The Yankee Years.” Torre blasted the Yankees – calling many of his former players prima donnas, confessing he stopped trusting the powers that be years before he left the team and charging that general manager Brian Cashman betrayed him. Torre recounts his career in New York through interviews, and he got most personal in his attacks against Alex Rodriguez, who he says was called “A-Fraud” by his teammates after he developed a “Single White Female”-like obsession with team captain Derek Jeter and asked for a personal clubhouse assistant to run errands for him.
Torre’s book certainly ruffled some feathers, but the non-fiction work was a No. 1 New York Times Best Seller from February 25, 2009 - April 11, 2009. It’s really just the same old song. Time for Mo – a former mute as a player – to open up and cash in on his years as a consummate Yankees robot.
Cano isn’t with the Yankees anymore, so it’s not a direct shot at the pinstripes, but Rivera is well aware of the fact that the Yankees and Red Sox are heated, hated rivals and for him to reap such lofty praises on an arch enemy is a bit weird. Then, to characterize Cano’s shortcomings with words like (lacking) “passion” and “drive” only reinforces the derogatory reputation Yankees teams in Rivera’s latter years came to acquire—that they were a corporate, high-paid, spoiled and lifeless franchise, while Boston embodied spirit, hustle, brotherhood and desire.
As to the validity of Rivera’s claim, if we compare the two players based on power and hitting mastery, then Cano has the nod. He averaged 24 homers and 97 RBIs while holding down the position to the left of living legend Derek Jeter for a decade. Cano, a five-time All-Star, 2009 World Series Champion and two-time Gold Glover is recognized as a Top 10 MLB masher.
Pedroia, the 2007 AL Rookie of the Year, has averages of just 15 home runs and 78 RBI’s in nine MLB seasons, but he’s a two-time World Champion and his 2008 AL MVP Award, four All-Star nods and three Gold Glove awards exhibit the total magnitude of his impact. He’s garnered the coveted tag of being a “clutch” player. Most savvy baseball heads and sabermetrics soldiers would give Pedroia the edge in speed, defense and intangibles, although the D is a wash to me. Cano is mega-nasty with the leather and he covers more ground with less exertion of energy. Dustin has a body count glove though, without a doubt.
DP’s cut from the Pete Rose mold; maximize your talents through max effort. Rose is MLB’s all-time hits leader and repped the moniker, “Charlie Hustle.” Baseball nicknames don’t get much doper than that. He would bust it to first on everything, concuss poor catchers and spike shortstops Ty Cobb style, to break up double plays. Teammates tend to really respect a go-hard mentality. Athletes who recklessly sacrifice their bodies and bring pom poms to every battle quickly become fan favorites. They’re also usually less durable. Like Rose, Pedroia is known to go all out. Pedroia’s lauded as the ultimate scrapper and gamer. The undersized kid that nobody thought would rise to the top of the game.
Cano is cut from the Darryl Strawberry mold, only he’s much less vocal as a clubhouse leader than Straw was. However, on the field, like Crenshaw's Crusher, Cano is very laid back, confident in his abilities and nonchalant. His cool and the effortless way he plays the game is often misrepresented as “laziness” or “complacency.” Despite his mythical feats and celebrated five-tool arsenal, Mets fans and baseball bullies always wanted more from the 6-6, 215 pound freak. If he hit 39 homers, they craved 50. If he stole 38 bases, they craved 60. If he hit .288, they wanted .320. To top it off, they wanted him to hustle like he was a foot shorter.
Cano has always insisted that he has passion for the game and he hit some big homers for the Yankees and carried them through tough stretches when their most visible icons – guys such as Jeter and A-Rod—were going through an aging process. Cano’s been criticized many times for what appears to be a lack of hustle. Part of it is legit and much of it is hogwash. Fans always think that a player who kicks his bat when he strikes out or goes crazy in the dugout is trying to motivate other players and cares more about the game.
“Scrappy” is never used to describe a guy who has off the charts skills but isn’t an overly emotional guy. Critics say he’s not being a leader. Not being vocal enough.
Cano's vibe must have really bothered Mo during his time with the Yankees, but Rivera never publicly demeaned a teammate or questioned his squad’s heart when he was a player. I question why he would go at one of MLB’s superstars after he’s already left the stable and has an unblemished rep for being a class act.
To discredit Cano’s decade of dominance at his position is kind of foul. Every player is different. Everyone’s personality is different. Sports culture puts so much pressure on athletes to act in a certain manner. The way an athlete reacts or fails to react in a certain situation can permanently affect everyone’s perception of that athlete as a person and a player.
To be considered a more naturally-talented player is a gift and a curse. Managers and executives might draft you higher and pay you more, but the expectations from the baseball community will be heavy. A 6-0, 210-pound prospect can’t impress people as easily as a 5-8, 165-pound Pedroia can. Anything the player with the glaring physical tools accomplishes will almost be expected. Greedy, thirsty baseball heads will always want more from a player with “unlimited” potential. That’s a coffin word in my MLB book. When a player gets hit with that tag, nothing he does will ever be enough.
Cano probably assumed Mo knew the difference between a guy that was “dogging it” and a player who is just smooth like butter baby.
As we await Cano’s reaction to Mo’s first post-Yankees career cutter, it’s good to see that the Yankees are in first-place and a former player is opening up like Jose Canseco talking steroids in MLB. It’s business as usual. Then again, Jose was trying to sell a book at the time too, so if I was Cano I wouldn’t pay Mo no mind.