By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – For the first time since being named Seattle's manager, Lloyd McClendon had his entire team in front of him Tuesday morning as the Mariners took the field together for the first day of full-squad workouts. Unlike previous managers, McClendon did not give the customary address to his team. Instead the players hit the field, did their stretches and reported to the appropriate stations to run drills. No first-day speech, no expectations laid out to the group together, and certainly no rah-rah.
That doesn't mean McClendon did not leave a message for his team, however.
It may take time for word to reach the players but they will hear how McClendon defended one of them Tuesday morning and they will appreciate what they hear. Robinson Cano is now one of them. His former hitting coach with the Yankees, Kevin Long, took an unnecessary shot at him earlier this week, bemoaning to the New York Daily News that while he considered Cano "practically a son," it frustrated him that he could never get through to Cano about his lack of hustle to first base on grounders.
"Any time anyone attacks one of my players then I am going to defend them," manager Lloyd McClendon said in response to critical comments made about second baseman Robinson Cano. (AP) | More photos
Cano is aware of the comments but preferred to move on.
"I don't even pay attention to that," he said Tuesday at his Cactus League introductory press conference. "I just want to talk about Seattle. I am here now. Whatever they say I am going to pay attention to."
His skipper's reaction was quite different.
"I was very disappointed," McClendon said after practice. "I have been in this game a long time and one thing I was taught is you worry about your players and getting them ready and not players on other teams. Like I said earlier, I didn't know he was the spokesman for the New York Yankees, but it is what it is. My concern is Robinson Cano in a Seattle Mariners uniform and what he is moving forward. I don't give a damn what he did for the Yankees. I have no concern whatsoever."
McClendon could have elected to not make a comment. Some may have preferred to stay out of a back and forth in this situation. For McClendon, however, that would have not quite been walking the walk he has been talking since being named manager.
"One of the messages that I am trying to send to my players is we don't have to take a back seat to anybody. That includes the New York Yankees or anybody else," he said. "My concern is my players and the family atmosphere we build here. Any time anyone attacks one of my players then I am going to defend them. If you don't like it, tough (expletive)."
Message to the Mariners: Your manager has your back. No doubt he expects you to have your teammates' backs as well. When he talks about building a family atmosphere he is not talking about Sunday barbeques and a kid-friendly clubhouse – although that could be a part of it, too. He is talking about the now 68 and soon to be 25 men in the clubhouse. It is not all about individuals. That group is expected to be family.
As for the issue of not always hustling, something Cano was known for in New York, it will be interesting to see what happens now that he is in Seattle. McClendon met with Cano Tuesday morning about the expectations he has for his second baseman.
"My talk with Robbie was real simple. I expect everyone, including Robinson, to give me a fair effort down the line," he said while allowing for the fact that occasionally emotions may get in the way of going all out 100 percent of the time.
"There's a human effort that comes with the game," McClendon explained. "You roll over, hit a ground ball to second base and your head drops. You are a little disappointed. In the big scheme of things, would I rather have a guy out there for 160 games hitting .300 and driving in over 100? I will take that."
Not a bad tradeoff if it happens. It is a give and take and a big-scheme approach as McClendon said, and in that big scheme of things McClendon's message should far outlast the headlines he helped create when he chose to have his player's back.