By Danny O'Neil
The Mariners came out swinging in spring training.
At least their manager did.
Lloyd McClendon took exception to the fact that Robinson Cano's former hitting coach with the Yankees took exception to the fact that Cano didn't always sprint his very fastest to first base when he grounds out.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon took exception to critical comments made about Robinson Cano by the second baseman's former hitting coach with the Yankees. (AP)
And for all the attention that will be rightfully heaped on the message McClendon sent by barking back at the pin-striped criticism, a tip of the cap is in order for the ruthless efficiency he exhibited in the verbal defenestration that had Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long bowing out.
"I'm not going to get in a media war with Lloyd McClendon," Long said, according to the New York Daily News. "He'd probably win that anyway."
Yes he would. At least if we're judging by Tuesday's comments in which it appeared that Long started a gun fight only to find out he was packing a wooden spoon, which McClendon snatched away and used to paddle Long. It was a verbal TKO as impressive as it was important.
But we're getting ahead of things. Let's rewind to where things started, which was Monday's edition of the New York Daily News. Long was quoted saying that of all the things that Cano addressed and improved over his time with the Yankees, the one thing that never really changed was his propensity for not running out ground balls.
"If somebody told me I was a dog, I'd have to fix that," Long said, according to the newspaper. "When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that's your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to."
Long even invoked the hallowed name of Saint Derek Jeter to point out that the current embodiment of all things Yankee had said something to Cano about hustling.
Now, McClendon had a variety of options at this point. He could profess ignorance as to what Long had said or that he had no idea what Long was talking about or even that he had no idea who Long was. Instead, McClendon treated Long's criticism like a belt-high fastball, turning on it with sufficient power to warrant a paragraph-by-paragraph breakdown.
What McClendon said: "Last time I checked, I didn't know that Kevin Long was the spokesman for the New York Yankees. That was a little surprising. I was a little pissed off, and I'm sure Joe feels the same way. He's concerned with his team and what they're doing, not what the Seattle Mariners players are doing."
Why it worked: McClendon makes it clear that Long was speaking out of turn, something that was both surprising and aggravating. Bonus points for McClendon's mention of Joe, which is Yankees manager Joe Girardi. That would be Long's boss, and by referring to him by first name McClendon makes it clear that they are peers, Long an underling.
"I wonder if he had any problems with Robbie when he wrote that book proclaiming himself as the guru of hitting," McClendon said about Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long. (AP)
Why it worked: The snide reference to Long's book "Cage Rat" is nothing short of phenomenal, implying that Long is now biting the hand that in some way helped feed him because Cano's success was part of Long's credentials. Recycling the spokesman line was the only flaw.
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."
Why it worked: It's not just what McClendon says here, pointing out that his history as a player makes him capable of understanding Cano's motivation. It's also what McClendon doesn't say because while he as a major-league player, Long was not. A 31st-round draft pick, Long played eight seasons in the minor leagues. McClendon caps it off by stating the whole issue is pretty insignificant.
What McClendon said: "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."
Why it worked: It puts the focus on his player's strengths, pointing to his history and his accomplishments and minimizing any concern he might have over perceived flaws. It also sets a standard for what McClendon will expect.
But more than anything, it showed the Mariners what they can expect from their manager. He's someone not only willing to come to their defense, but capable. Very capable as everyone found out Tuesday, even Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long.
No wait, especially Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long.