Following the Mariners first full-squad practice of spring training Tuesday, new manager Lloyd McClendon made one thing clear: If someone criticizes one of his players, he won’t hesitate to strike back.
McClendon lambasted Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long after Long two days earlier said second baseman Robinson Cano sometimes doesn’t run full-speed to first base when he hits routine ground balls.
“Last time I checked, I didn’t know that Kevin Long was the spokesman for the New York Yankees,” McClendon said. “That was a little surprising. I was a little pissed off, and I’m sure (Yankees manager) Joe (Girardi) feels the same way. He’s concerned with his team and what they’re doing, not what the Seattle Mariners players are doing.”
In 2011, Long released Cage Rat, a 198-page hitting guide and autobiography that drew from his experience working with Cano, shortstop Derek Jeter and disgraced third baseman Alex Rodriguez. The book provided McClendon an easy target for mockery.
“I wonder if (Long) had any problems with Robbie when he wrote the book proclaiming himself the guru of hitting,” McClendon said.
The verbal fight began Sunday when Long made known his disappointment in Cano, a player he grew close with after taking over as Yankees hitting coach in 2007.
“If somebody told me I was a dog, I’d have to fix that,” Long told the New York Daily News. “When you choose not to (run hard), you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that’s your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to.”
“I’m pretty sure Derek Jeter talked to him a number of times,” Long said. “Even if you run at 80 percent, no one is going to say anything. But when you jog down the line, even if it doesn’t come into play 98 percent of the time, it creates a perception.”
Cano held back Tuesday when asked about Long — who later backtracked slightly on his criticism — after his first practice of spring training.
“I don’t really pay attention to that,” Cano told reporters at his first press meeting. “I just want to talk about Seattle. I’m here now. Whatever they said, I don’t want to pay attention to that.”
McClendon did. His response was lengthy, honest and blunt.
He said it wasn’t appropriate for a hitting coach to speak ill of a player on another team — regardless of their relationship when they shared a dugout.
“I was very disappointed,” McClendon said. “I have been in this game a long time and the one thing I was taught is you worry about your players and getting them ready and not players on other teams . . . 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.
“One of the messages I’m trying to send my players is that we don’t have to take a backseat to anybody. That includes the New York Yankees or anybody else. My concern is the family atmosphere and the players we build here. Any time anyone attacks my players, then I’m going to defend them.”
“If you don’t like it, tough s—.”
McClendon is surely aware there weren’t many reasons to criticize Cano during his nine seasons with the Yankees. The Dominican Republic native posted a hitting line of .309/.355/.504 with an .860 OPS, won two Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers, was selected to five All-Star Games and helped New York win a World Series in 2009, its first in nearly a decade.
Before the team practiced Tuesday, McClendon said he laid out to Cano his role.
Hit like he did in New York, and everything will be just fine.
“I get it. I was a major league player. There’s a time when you hit balls and you’re frustrated as hell and you don’t give it 100 percent,” McClendon said. “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.
“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. Am I expecting him to give me 110 percent down the baseline every night? No. I’m expecting you to give me a good effort.”