October 22nd, 2011
I remember when the Yankees signed Tony Womack as a free agent to become their starting second baseman for the 2005 season. He was coming off a career year with the NL Champion Cardinals but he was 35 years of age, had no real pop in his bat and didn’t seem to me to be the kind of player Yankee fans would embrace. I was right and Joe Torre evidently agreed with me because Womack lasted only a couple of dozen games as New York’s starting second baseman.
I have to admit, at first, I wasn’t a big fan of Womack’s successor either. When the Yankees brought Robinson Cano up and installed him at second base, he started off pretty slow at the plate, experienced rookie-type-lapses of concentration in the field and he had the most annoying nail-biting habit of any Yankee in history. I was screaming for the Yankees to make a deal to bring back Soriano, confident that “Canoe,” Derek Jeter’s nickname for his new teammate, would be back in Triple A before the 2005 season was over.
This fully underscores why the Yankees paid Joe Torre millions of dollars to make field decisions and never responded to my written offer to manage their team for free. Torre’s patience with his young second baseman was rewarded, when Cano did start hitting, finishing his rookie season with a .297 batting average. He also fielded brilliantly and became a key reason why the Yankees made it to the 2005 postseason.
Cano then got better in both his second and third seasons in the Bronx before he digressed in 2008. I’m not sure what happened to him that season. He made more mistakes in the field and seemed to concentrate less at the plate. Cano had always been an undisciplined hitter, swinging at nearly everything pitchers threw him but during that ’08 season, he was swinging at literally everything.
Fortunately for New York, Cano has been superb ever since, making a gigantic leap during the past three seasons to becoming the best all-around second baseman in the Major Leagues. He makes plays in the field that I’ve never seen made by any second baseman, ever. He has also become one of the game’s great offensive forces, with that special ability to both score and drive in 100 runs per season. Cano is so good and so gifted, it has become easy for fans like me to take some of the extraordinary things he does both at the plate and defensively at second base, for granted. But I don’t think I’m being unfair when I call him out for his propensity to not hustle on the base paths. When he hits a field-able ground ball he often jogs to first and when he hits fly balls deep that have a chance to go out of the park, he goes into his home run trot much too soon. If he’d get rid of both bad habits, he’d be an absolute perfect second baseman. But even if he doesn’t, he’s pretty damn close to perfect anyway.