As the debate swirls over what kind of contract Robinson Cano deserves, let's not lose sight of something important. Not only is Cano the best player on the Yankee roster, but he is the greatest Yankee second baseman of all time. This doesn't mean that the Yankees should bid against themselves and give him an albatross contract. Rather, it's just appropriate to recognize how good Cano has been.
After nine seasons with the Yankees, Cano's career line is .309/.355/.504. He has hit as many as 33 HRs and driven in as many as 118 runs. Last year, his line was .314/.383/.516 with 27 HRs and 107 RBIs. He has never struck out 100 times or more in a season.
He can be a frustrating player because he is so talented. No matter what he does, fans will always want more. The same phenomenon surrounded Mickey Mantle, who was booed in the late ‘50s for anything less than a Triple-Crown season. Jogging to first base doesn't win Cano points with many fans, and he is such a smooth fielder that some see his smoothness as nonchalance.
Perhaps Cano's most amazing attribute is his durability. This year, he played in 160 games and only six were as DH. For his career, he has averaged 153 games per season. The secret of his durability may be his build and his arm. At 6 foot and 210 lbs., he is built more like a free safety than a second baseman. His arm is so strong that he is able to fall away towards the shortstop side of the bag when turning a double play. This lets him avoid the injuries that many second basemen suffer from contact with sliding baserunners. (Fans with long memories will recall Horace Clarke falling towards the shortstop side, too. Clarke, however, couldn't pull it off because he didn't have Cano's arm).
Cano's rivals for the title of greatest Yankee second baseman are Tony Lazzeri, Bobby Richardson and Willie Randolph.
Lazzeri, who played for the Yankees from 1926-37, hit .292/.380/.467. He batted fifth or sixth in the lineup and was the forerunner of the Cano-type second baseman: a good-fielder who hits for both average and power. Over his 14-year career, he averaged 17 HRs and 111 RBIs. Since Lazzeri is in the Hall of Fame, he warrants serious consideration as the Yankees' greatest second baseman. Unfortunately, he is remembered more for his bases-loaded strikeout against Grover Cleveland Alexander in the 1926 World Series than for his overall excellence.
Richardson, who played from 1955-66, was the classic smooth-fielding second baseman with a decent bat. His career line is .266/.299/.335 and in seven World Series, he hit .305/.331/.405. His durability rivals Cano's and he played in 160 games or more three times. Richardson's career shows how much baseball has changed. He batted leadoff or second for the pennant-winning teams of 1960-64 despite a low on-base percentage. While his numbers don't light up the screen, Richardson hit at the top of the order for some very good teams so his value may have been greater than his numbers suggest. He retired young (31) to spend time with his family and to pursue his religious calling.
Randolph, who played for the Yankees from 1976-88, hit .276/.373/.351. He was a smooth fielder in the Richardson mold and batted leadoff or second on the good Yankee teams of the late ‘70s. Unfortunately, he was often injured and averaged only 122 games a season. As a quiet member of some noisy teams, his contributions are sometimes overlooked. When his career ended, he managed and coached for several major-league teams.