Gene Collier: Robinson Cano flap runs coast to coast

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Perhaps to maintain one of the baseball's unofficial traditions, the first major kerfuffle of spring training again involves the New York Yankees, but this time with a new and potentially even more revolting little wrinkle.

Maybe you saw where Lloyd McClendon wants Kevin Long to shut up about Robinson Cano, but I hope he doesn't, because that's the part I'm actually enjoying.

Long is the Yankees hitting coach, with whom Cano worked for many years turning himself into a $240 million second baseman, or at least that's what the Seattle Mariners decided to pay him when he landed on the open market after last season.

In remarks over the weekend to the New York Daily News, Long enumerated Cano's many admirable baseball qualities, but somehow couldn't help but mention that running hard to first base on grounders isn't always one of 'em.

That Player A or Player B might not bust it the entire 90 feet to first on every doomed grounder of every summer night isn't breaking news in New York or any place major league baseball is played, but, after a vicious winter when it seemed as if the psychic warmth of pitchers-and-catchers-report might never be felt, it's a little sad to hear that one of the fattest contracts of the offseason went to a guy who might or might not run out a grounder, depending on his mood.

You can't expect Cano, now making $461,538.46 a week (before taxes), to run out every grounder. Sure he's Robinson Cano, but, in this way he's also Robinson Cannot. Long said he spoke to Cano about it last year, even using the 'D' word (dog) and that he thought Yankees captain Derek Jeter had as well, but it didn't get through.

"Even if you run at 80 percent, no one's going to say anything," Long told the News. "But, when you jog down the line, even if it doesn't come into play 98 percent of the time, it creates a perception."

McClendon, the new Seattle skipper and a solid baseball man whose arrival in the Pacific Northwest created but a fraction of the stir caused by Cano's, had a message Tuesday for Long: Shut up.

"I didn't know that Kevin Long was the spokesman for the New York Yankees," McClendon told ESPN.com. "That was a little surprising. I was a little pissed off, and I'm sure [Yankees manager] Joe [Girardi] feels the same way. He's concerned with his team and what they're doing, not what the Seattle Mariners players are doing."

OK, but Mac couldn't stop himself, either, instead engaging Long by casting the whole ground-ball hustle issue as a matter of effort percentage. Long said 80 percent is OK, but then here's what McClendon said:

"I understand; I get it. I was a major league player. There are times when you hit balls and you're frustrated as hell and you don't give it 100 percent. As long as you don't dog it down the line, what's the difference between 65 and 85 percent? Just run down the line. Sometimes, that stuff is blown out of proportion.

"To me, the most important thing is the guy goes out there for 160 games a year, he hits .330, he drives in over 100 runs and he hits 25 to 30 home runs. I just need Robinson to be Robinson. Like all the rest of my guys know, just don't dog it. Am I expecting you to give me 110 percent down the baseline every night? No. I'm expecting you to give me a good effort."

I don't know that anyone's noticed, but this coast-to-coast conversation is one of the most candid treatments of this topic in a long time. So 65 percent of total hustle is OK on grounders, too? Eighty is clearly approved by the quasi-spokesman of the 27-time World Series Champions. Somewhere in there, I guess, is what former Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield once described to me as "a professional pace."

What about zero percent?

That's what National League MVP Andrew McCutchen gave one night last May when a third strike eluded the catcher, you might remember. Instead of bolting toward first, McCutchen walked to the dugout, where he sat for most of the next 48 hours via the hot indignation of Clint Hurdle.

To his credit, McCutchen was contrite, saying "that's not who I am."

It is, however, who a lot of players are, and too many managers tolerate this insolent laziness within the vagueries of their little percentages system.

"If you can't run hard to first base a couple of times a night," Tim McCarver once said, "you're really not earning your money."

It's irritating that the Yankees are now publicly irritated at Cano just months offering him more money annually than what he signed for in Seattle, but, for full disclosure, the absence of the sprinting-to-first imperative among modern players doesn't irritate me the way it used to.

I once threatened to start the final paragraph of every live baseball column I wrote with these words -- The following persons failed to run out grounders last night:

But really, why give up all that space?

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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