MINNEAPOLIS — A player choosing to accept a drug suspension in Major League Baseball is an unusual time to reflect on his legacy — especially if we’re grasping for nice things to say. And yet here we are. Robinson Cano, the Mariners’ all-star second baseman, reportedly has dropped an appeal and will serve an 80-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy.
Cano over the weekend was hit by a pitch, broke his finger, and is having surgery that likely would have knocked him out for a couple months. A cynic would point out that this is a convenient time to serve a drug suspension, since the days spent on the disabled list count just the same as those healthy days for the 35-year-old second baseman. The only fly in that ointment is that this tacit admission of guilt is damaging for his pocketbook — to the tune of almost $12 million — and much more importantly for a player of Cano’s stature, his repution.
It calls into question what a generation of Hall of Fame voters will think of Cano. The sure-fire Hall of Famer is now looking more like a smudged test case that will be weighed against recent precedent: Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Andy Pettite, Alex Rodriguez… And now, perhaps, Cano.
This hurts the 2018 Mariners, but that’s not what this column is about. It’s possible he’ll be back later from his suspension than he otherwise would have been after finger surgery. That’s a tough guy to replace in a lineup, and the Wild Card battle just got tougher in Seattle. (And on the chance that they make the postseason, they’ll again have to do without Cano’s services for however long that run lasts.)
I’m also not here to defend Cano’s alleged actions or decisions or his response to the news Tuesday. I’m not here to question his motives or talk about whether or not I believe the guy. I’m certainly not here to wax tirelessly about the Purity and the Sancity of the Great Game. I don’t know. People are people, which is to say that they’re imperfect. Baseball, like life, can be messy, and the truth is hard to come by.
The point of this column is just to share a thought I had Tuesday on my drive to the ballpark after I’d first read the Cano news.
Make a list in your head or on a scrap piece of paper. Name the baseball players from your lifetime that are the most aesthetically pleasing on the field. The ones that are a true joy to watch. Cano makes that short list for me.
This is admittedly a weird time to pile some praise on a guy who just accepted a suspension for taking a diuretic allegedly used as to mask steroid use. My baseball watching memory stretches back to about 1998, and in that 20 years, Cano has been one of the must-see players. There’s something subjective about making a list like that. I could see leaving Cano off this list if you admire above all else players that sprint to first base on every ground ball. (He’s guilty of dogging it from time to time.)
For me, it’s guys like Cano, Ken Griffey Jr., and Ichiro. Throw in Vlad Guerrero. Andrelton Simmons.
That’s what I kept thinking about on my drive to Target Field this afternoon. Cano suspended, huh? That’s too bad. He’s been such a joy to watch.