PORT ST. LUCIE — Robinson Cano spent 11 minutes on Tuesday apologizing, though never exactly saying what about. As first attempts to explain bad behavior, it was better than Mark McGwire and Pete Rose and worse than, you know, the full truth.
I have known Cano for nearly 20 years and like him, and I felt uneasy watching him have to answer one tough question after another, including from me. In part because it is crazy that a second baseman in his second language was facing the kind of grilling that most elected officials never stay still for about way more vital subjects to the common good than using illegal performance enhancers to play baseball better.
Nevertheless, in this little corner of the world, Cano committed a significant violation — testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. It was his second offence. For that he was suspended without pay for the entire 2021 season.
Cano has given up quite a bit via the two suspensions: his reputation, about $36 million and probably any chance to make the Hall of Fame.
Conversely, he returns as a player in good standing with the league. Assuming he does not violate the drug policy again — and how can you assume that, when Cano was brazen enough to be caught a second time? — he will receive $48 million over the next two years to finish his 10-year, $240 million pact — $40 million of it paid by the Mets.
But by far the most fascinating benefit for Cano is that the Mets have wrapped him in their blue and orange embrace. Buck Showalter already is talking up Cano as a leader. His teammates are not giving him the cold shoulder, instead staying on script about second chances (or third) and forgiveness and everyone makes mistakes.
“What are we supposed to do?,” Showalter said. “We’re not planning to beat up on him every day. I mean, what’s the return there? He’s wearing our colors.”
Exactly. This is the polarizing world we live in — politically and in sports. What colors are you wearing? My guy is right, your guy is wrong—before I even know the subject. And even after, the only prism that matters is not morality or right or wrong. Just what colors are you wearing?
We saw this during the worst of the steroid era. Fans hated the infestation of performance enhancers, and the artificial inflation and decimation of beloved statistical achievement. Nevertheless, in San Francisco they cheered and defended Barry Bonds. The same in St. Louis for McGwire. If a Boston fan brought up, “What about Giambi,” a New York fan countered, but what about “Manny?” As if your own moral code could vanish because the other guy might be cheating too.
I had fans ask me — demande moi — what they should tell their kids about the cheaters. Then I saw the same fans and their kids wearing A-Rod and Clemens jerseys. Maybe ask the guy in the mirror. Tolerance was absent — unless the guy was wearing your colors. Then you could forgive and forget that a steroid user was cheating the game and his fellow players. A lot of current Mets competed against Cano. He thought nothing of cheating them. Knowingly.
“He called me personally and said he’d like to apologize for missing last year and what that did to the team,” said Brandon Nimmo, the Mets’ player rep to a union that has a “joint” drug agreement with MLB. “For me, that showed me the character of my teammate. He wanted to call us individually and apologize. He knows he messed up. I told him I’m a big guy on forgiveness and him calling me and telling me that told me all I needed to know and he has my forgiveness. And now what’s in the past is in the past, and we move forward from here, and all I care about is the teammate and the player that you are from this point forward.”
New Mets reliever Adam Ottavino, who as a Yankee faced Cano in a 2020 at-bat, said, “As a teammate, generally you try to reserve judgment as long as possible even though you might feel a certain way you try to dial that back a little bit for the greater good. Yeah, no doubt. It’s tricky. I don’t know that there’s a good answer for [handling this].”
But as Showalter noted, you embrace because for the Mets the other options are to defy the basic agreement and not pay Cano or destroy the team from within by making him an outcast.
So Cano spoke to selected teammates by phone in the offseason then asked for and received a chance to talk to the whole club on Monday, and on Wednesday he spoke with reporters for the first time since his suspension. He stuck to the talking points about apologizing and having no excuses, and promising to try to make amends to all — fans, teammates, etc. It was generalities, few specifics and now we will all go on.
I am sure those who attend games at Citi Field hate the idea of steroids in sports. But what are you doing the first time Cano homers? I have an orange and blue idea.