Growing up, Robinson Canó was perhaps my favorite position player in baseball. He made every play in the field look easy, had the sweetest swing of his generation, and, to me, represented not a transition but a continuum. I was a little young to really remember and understand the greatness of the 1990s dynasty, but Canó, the first impact player produced by the system since the final World Series championship in 2000, represented what would hopefully be a new wave of Yankee greatness, complementing the still-excellent holdovers from those glory years, like Derek Jeter or Jorge Posada.
The Yankees did win one championship with Canó, and he reached personal heights with the Yankees that were as good as anything we’d seen this century from a player not named Alex Rodriguez. Canó even helped bring me into the sabermetric fold — Ben Lindbergh’s 2014 article on just how meaningless Canó’s lack of perceived “hustle” was remains, in my opinion, a foundational work of modern baseball analysis, and a piece I read over and over.
After Wednesday however, when Canó tested positive for PEDs for the second time in his career and was suspended for 2021, he might go from one of the best Yankees — and indeed best players — of the twenty-first century to a footnote in baseball history. He almost certainly won’t make the Hall of Fame, despite a resume that, without two positive tests, would get him in.
Manny Ramirez was also one of my favorite players growing up — yes, you will have to excuse the Red Sox cognitive dissonance, it’s just sports — and he was a better player than Canó. There were rumors he was caught as a PED user around the time of the Mitchell Report, but that alone didn’t seem to hurt his perception within the game, just like it didn’t with teammate David Ortiz.
Instead, what’s hampered Manny’s legacy is his pair of PED suspensions towards the end of his career, in 2009 and again in 2011. That brought his career to an abrupt end. Whatever else that Hall of Fame voters, and the posterity of the game itself, ignores when it considers the legacy of the greats, incessant PED rumor or flat-out PED proof doesn’t get ignored, and there’s pretty good proof that Manny Ramirez was using. He hasn’t managed to get over 30 percent of the vote on any Hall of Fame ballot.
That’s likely the future for Canó as well. He was probably a longshot with the BBWAA voters anyway given his previous PED suspension, but this is the nail in the coffin. While JAWS isn’t a perfect system, it indicates that he has a solid Hall of Fame case, and a couple more seasons of adequate performance would get him the career WAR and counting stats needed to cement the case. Now, his career path is a question mark. He’ll be 39 on Opening Day in 2022, likely without a position unless the NL adopts the DH. Maybe the Mets try and fit him on their roster, or maybe they fork over the $48 million they still owe him and tell him to go away.
Yankee fans will still have the memories they made watching Canó - him hitting ninth in one of the most star-studded lineups I’ve ever seen in 2006, the World Series in 2009, the Home Run Derby in 2011. This second PED suspension largely relegates him to baseball’s memory, though, not enshrinement among the greatest in the game’s history.