This past weekend, I met up with a few friends from college who I hadn’t seen for quite some time. We were at the first birthday party of the son of two other college friends of ours, and it was wonderful to reminisce on those days while also catching up with how all of our wayward lives have gone in the near-decade since graduating. This is honestly not an unusual experience at all for folks in their early-thirties like me, but it is interesting whenever you actually go through it.
A shared bond that I had with one of those friends is a love for the Yankees — especially that era of Yankees from our years in college from 2008-12. And while the stars were still undoubtedly Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, for a few years, there was no better player than Robinson Canó. Both the Captain and A-Rod were still among the league’s most remarkable talents, but in 2010, Canó blossomed from All-Star contender on a World Series champion to a legitimate MVP candidate.
For years, there wasn’t a much prettier sight around Yankees baseball than Robbie’s sweet, sweet swing. I don’t know if it was quite as captivating as Darryl Strawberry’s was for a previous generation of New York City baseball, but it was pretty damn close. Canó could hit the ball anywhere he wanted, and by the time he had fully matured during his prime, he could take it out of any ballpark, too.
From 2010-13, Canó was about as good a player as you’d find around the game. He was a brilliant defender at second base, and he’d found his power, too. The numbers speak for themselves. During that time, Canó hit a combined .312/.373/.533 with an MLB-best 176 doubles, plus 117 homers, a 142 wRC+, and 24.8 fWAR — better than the likes of MVPs Joey Votto, Buster Posey, and Andrew McCutchen, a future Hall of Famer in Adrian Beltre, and one of the biggest breakout stars of the time, José Bautista. Only Miguel Cabrera and Yadier Molina posted a higher fWAR.
This wasn’t just a cherry-picked selection of years either, as Canó was almost as good on the 2009 championship team, and he continued to excel in years after 2013, as well. The only problem was that he’d moved on. The Yankees had reaped the benefits of a well-timed extension (on their part) that underpaid Canó as he led the charge to the postseason year after year. By the end of 2013, the Yankees had aged out of their dynasty core and despite Canó’s best efforts, they missed the playoffs without enough other contributors stepping up.
The Yankees had a limit of how far they’d go to keep Canó. You can fairly quibble with whether or not they should have stepped up their bid to at least make him think about staying since they might not have even had to match Seattle’s gaudy offer. However, they didn’t come close, and both sides moved on. With the money that they could’ve used on Canó, the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltrán a couple weeks after coming to terms with Brian McCann. Two contracts were fine, the other was not, and the Yankees totaled zero playoff wins between 2014-16. Even with all the tumult surrounding Canó’s PED controversies in Seattle and Queens, I know that I’d have rather seen him at second than Ellsbury in center (or more frequently, the IL).
Of course, I’m also not going to act like I’m not biased in this instance. I loved Robinson Canó like I haven’t loved any other Yankee, really. That’s partly because of how my personal Yankee fandom evolved.
I’m old enough to remember that the Yankees were four-time champions between 1996-2000 but unfortunately, at the time, I wasn’t the kid who adored baseball. I was the kid who sucked at baseball and didn’t really care much for it because of that. (As for Mario, Zelda, and Pokémon? I could talk your ear off about that.) When I randomly decided to start watching baseball on one of the occasions that my uncle had it on around a holiday in 2001, I got hooked at the wrong time — or as wrong a time as there could be for a Yankees fan of my generation, anyway.*
*I’ve been around enough Orioles, Twins, and Pirates fans to know better than to actually play the “woe is me” card about a team that regularly made the playoffs and had tons of compelling players. These guys were still a lot of fun, and they never bored me.
The Yankees lost Game 7 of the World Series in my first year of actively following them. Next came an ALDS stunner against the Angels in 2002 and despite Aaron Boone’s heroics, more Fall Classic frustration in 2003. We will not speak of 2004. I really liked Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, and the older generation of Yankees stand-bys who were still around, but I wanted an up-and-coming player to intently follow throughout his pinstriped career. Although I thought I’d had that in Alfonso Soriano, I was happy to see A-Rod come to New York in return.
Then up came Canó in 2005 with the Yankees struggling out of the gate and playing a washed-up Tony Womack at second. He seized the job and I fell in love with his swing. He was so close to winning that Rookie of the Year honor, and I grumbled to anyone who would listen about how a closer of all players should not have snatched that away from him. I bought his jersey, t-shirt, baseball cards ... anything. I was all in. When the Yankees did win that World Series in 2009, I was elated that Canó got to record the final out after all he’d done to help them get to the top over the past few years.
In 2012, my personal fandom changed a bit, as that was my first year writing for Pinstripe Alley. The nature of SB Nation team sites certainly encourages you to retain fandom in the way you craft your articles and approach to following the ballclub, but there’s no denying that it gets a little different.
For example, when Canó was promoted in 2005, I’d only barely heard of him. From years of following the Baby Bombers march through the minors, I knew a great deal about the likes of Aaron Judge, Gary Sánchez, Luis Severino, and Greg Bird when they gradually made their debuts between 2015-16. It was still a thrill! (The 2017 team is still probably my favorite non-2009 ballclub in my years of fandom.) But it was a different, slightly-more-professional thrill, and it didn’t help that while I was well-aware that baseball was a business when the Yankees bid farewell to Canó in 2013, that cemented it. Anyone could leave if the Yankees’ front office felt that it was time. Nothing gold can stay.
So now here we are in 2022. I’m married, my friends have kids, Anthony Volpe is the next hot young thing, and Robinson Canó might be at the swan song of his career after being designated for assignment by the Mets. Although it’s the right baseball move for them, it’s still the end of an era for me, even after all these years away from the Bronx. There will be better Yankees than Canó in the future, and ones who the team might actually keep in pinstripes. There will be plenty who I’ll like quite a bit, too!
But there’s no one who I’ll naturally love more than Robbie Canó.