By Roberto Salvador Klapisch
Any Yankees fan is hereby excused for blinking back the disbelief at the sight of Robinson Canó in a Mets uniform. True, it’s been six years since he last played in the Bronx, but it still feels like there was an unpaid debt left behind.
He said goodbye to the Yankees in 2014 because the Mariners offered him a monstrously large contract. That was his first transgression. Then Canó had the nerve to land across town in Queens this off-season and look happy about it. That was his second offense, as if being traded was his own doing.
The truth? The veteran slugger has done nothing wrong, at least not to the Yankees’ community. Canó wasn’t Mantle or Mattingly or Jeter, but he was nevertheless a terrific hitter at a time when the Bronx Bombers were transitioning away from declining stars like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira
Now it’s the 36-year-old Canó who has the mileage on him, not to mention the legacy-scars from a ban for performance enhancement drugs last year. But from the first day in spring training, the Mets embraced Canó as a leader and role model. Canó hasn’t had a perfect career, but his time in the Bronx deserves to be remembered more fondly. And that’s true even if Canó somehow takes the Mets to the World Series.
Ask yourself how Canó would be received in the Bronx if there’s another Subway Series? It’s more fantasy than reality, granted. And actually the verdict was rendered the first time Canó returned to New York in 2014.
As he ran out to second base in his Mariners road uniform, Canó was taunted by a particularly derisive chant of “You sold out!” It was a pointless insult from a fan-base that prides itself on knowledge and sophistication. Canó claimed he didn’t hear it. True or not, he was owed more.
What, exactly, made Yankees fans so angry? All Canó did was accept a deal with Seattle that paid him $65 million more than the Bombers’ final offer. Canó didn’t sell out – he lucked out. There wasn’t a single Yankee, let alone a Bleacher Creature, who would’ve done otherwise.
That’s the other lesson that needs to be repeated: Ballplayers are businessmen surrounded by agents, lawyers and accountants. They are capitalists nurturing their No. 1 asset, their careers. All of them – yes, even Jeter, the most beloved Yankee of his era – have played baseball for the money. Canó was no better or worse than his peers. He did nothing wrong by picking the Mariners.
When Canó grounded out in the fourth inning of that homecoming game, the ball rolled into the glove of Teixeira, who signed with the Yankees for $180 million. He flipped the ball to CC Sabathia, who was in the middle of a $161 million contract. And he was playing in the new Stadium because the Yankees considered it an irresistible business deal. They said goodbye to the legendary old ballpark, full of history and memories, because the lure of greater profits across the street.
Yet, Canó was somehow the villain because he picked the highest bidder?
It didn’t mean he didn’t love playing for the Bombers. It didn’t mean his .309 average was any less brilliant during his time in Pinstripes. Canó played in 99 percent of the Yankees’ regular season games between 2007-2013, so go ahead and say he didn’t care. Just try.
Nor does it tarnish Canó’s Yankees history that he’s a Met now, warmly embracing his new life in Queens. If David Cone could be a beloved figure in both boroughs, so can Canó. Same for Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden. Now it’s Canó’s turn to prove New York is big enough to accommodate its dual-borough stars.
Actually, any real Yankees purist should be rooting for Canó to make it to the World Series, because that would represent the ultimate showdown in the Big Apple: an old fashioned street fight between the locals. Yogi Berra used to talk about the old Yankees-Dodgers wars from the 1950s, when traveling for the Fall Classic was as simple as catching the subway.
“Those were the days,” Yogi would say. “That was the best rivalry in baseball, us and the Dodgers. Yankees and Mets fans should want the same thing now. That’s why I never understand when I hear the fans badmouth each other.”
Canó can help make that happen. He’s paired with some of the young sluggers in the Mets lineup, including Peter Alonso and Michael Conforto. Together with a killer starting rotation, the Mets should be in the thick of the race in the NL East, which means anything can happen once the calendar flips to September. That’s the last stop to the promised land – October.
You don’t have to ask Canó if he gets it. As if on cue, he blasted a home run in his very first at-bat as a Met, against Max Scherzer no less. It was anything BUT a renunciation of his Yankee pedigree. No, it was a continuation of a career that deserves respect.
Of course you can say the Mets gave up too much to the Mariners to get Canó, including two first-round draft picks. There’s merit in that counter-argument. But this much is also true: the Mets got themselves a heck of a hitter. No Yankees fan could possibly disagree.
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