After reading that Robinson Cano felt disrespected by the Yankees, I couldn’t help but think of my time with Pedro Martinez during the TBS post season coverage this year.
Pedro and I were at a pre-production meeting, going over thoughts for the night’s post season match up. Tigers versus A’s. We were talking about Prince Fielder, and how he was struggling to produce at the plate. I mentioned that Prince was reported to be going through some serious personal life issues. I said that we should bring up the fact that he’s been reported to be dealing with some issues, not go into detail, but make the point players are people and they struggle with personal burdens that can effect their play. I would hate to see Prince get pegged as the reason the Tigers choke in the post season, and subsequently vilified for failing the town when, chances are he’s not as checked in as he’s been in the past for reasons beyond the ball field. Sucks, but it’s part of being a human.
Pedro said no. Said that players have to play through personal issues all the time and they must deal with that stuff and that it’s not an excuse. I said I wasn’t trying to make an excuse. I’m sure Prince wanted to do his best, but the fact was that, if you’re personal life is in shambles, it kinda sucks the joy of the game out of you, and who knows how many extra miles Prince opted out of this season—little maintenance issues you have to stay on top of during a 160 game campaign—because he was to stressed or tired from battles elsewhere.
What Pedro said next I’ll never forget: I was too sensitive to ever make it in the big leagues because I would have never survived arbitration.
I wont lie, that was hard to hear. Hard because, on one side, I’d just been told by an idol that I wasn’t cut out to be a big leaguer. Hard because, on the other side, he’d said it to a room full of producers, ex-players, and accomplished baseball broadcaster who were all wondering how “this career minor league guy” made it to TBS when they could have had Bobby Valentine or someone. Hard because I actually thought I had a decent point about the amazing amount of focus and investment just ONE season in the bigs takes, and how fans tend to use small windows of time to build narratives about a player’s entire career.
Pedro, who is amazingly sweet and kind, even in this particular exchange (he didn’t mean it vindictively), has less broadcasting experience than I do. Even so, he wasn’t buying any of my points.
I let it slide at the moment. Maybe he was right. Maybe I was too sensitive to be a big leaguer. Actually, I probably was. But we weren’t in the big leagues anymore, we were in the broadcast pre-production meeting. We were talking about our respective points of view that we felt the audience might find interesting or beneficial. In these meetings, we come up with multiple angles in hopes that we might give the fan a more complete/robust understanding of what is going on in a player’s world. Of course people are going to accept what Pedro has to say over what I say—he’s a god compared to me. But in the broadcast booth, it’s not about showing that the guy on the panel next to is less accomplished than you, it’s about being informative to the fans, and sometimes that means accepting a point you may not agree with because great broadcasting isn’t about telling the fans what to think, it’s about giving them options so they can choose for themselves.
I actually left the production meeting frustrated (and a little sad… sensitive, remember), waited a few minutes, and then found Pedro in his dressing room. I forced a sit down meeting with him. No way I could let this fester. We had to get some things cleared up.
You can’t imagine how weird that was: me, Dirk “The Non-Prospect” Hayhurst, baseball’s most over-hyped washout, sitting down a legend synonymous with greatness and explaining to him what rookies shouldn’t do in broadcast meetings. “Everyone has a point of view and they are all valid—yours and mine. You’re the man, no denying it. I can’t out expert you and I’ll never try. So my angle is usually the human element, or I make fun of myself and take the punches on this show—speak from weakness so you guys can always speak from strength. That’s my lot, and I get it. Don’t take that away from me, or what I’ve done in my career. I gave it my best, I suck, I know, but I observed a lot in my short time and I’d like to think it’s valid.”
Pedro was on his feet in a flash. Not to Don Zimmer me, but to hug me.
“Papi! You have such a good heart!” He said, “I would have loved to have played with you. Thank you for telling me this!” And THEN he proceeds to tell me about how cruel the game can be and how hard it can make you. He tells me about how, all they do is bring up how terrible you are in arbitration so they can pay you less, after they tell you how amazing you are for playing well.
He tells me about how, after he pitched his ass off for the Boston Red Sox and was ready to negotiate for what he was worth, these people who once loved him and had his back and praised him as the best had nothing but bad things to say. Things like why he wasn’t worth the money. Why he was going to underachieve in the coming years. Go ahead, try and find another team that will love you like we did.
It sounded brutal. It sounded like something tough to survive for sensitive folks (and I now think all players are sensitive underneath those gilded jerseys). It sounded like the kind of thing that would prompt you to tell a less accomplished player that teams can disrespect you, even when they have amazing respect for you—it’s business, and it’s cruel.
(FYI: After that, Pedro and I were as thick as thieves. He talked to me about pitching in ways I never knew. I talked to him about how great he was doing with making his points and knowing when to cut and continue his answers. We had a lot of fun and I hope we work together again soon. He’s a really awesome guy, seriously).
Anyway, I tell you this story because I feel that the disrespect concept is very much what happened to Cano. From my understanding, the Yankees actually put out the 300 million dollar offer from Cano, not him. I don’t think he ever actually thought he could get that. I also think he thought that the Yankees would match whatever big offer was out there, if he could go out there and get it. I think he wanted to stay in New York, and that they’d match whatever leverage he could put against them. When they didn’t, and they made a firm, sterile (and smart) financial decision that served their best fiscal interest, he probably felt betrayed. He was part of the family for so many years and then, just because he’d played amazingly well and earned the right to push for top dollar, he was suddenly no longer part of the family, or worth the money it would take to keep in it. We love you, but not that much.
I don’t think it was smart for Cano to say anything in the media about it. Saying you feel hurt by a massive corporate entity because it didn’t give you the completely unfathomable (for those of us who’ll be lucky to see a million over our lifetime) amount of money you wanted never sounds good. But, I get it. Baseball is full of these paradoxes. The organization promises their undying love… until you get too expensive or suck. A player says he loves a town and wants to play their forever… until they can’t afford him anymore. Fans worship a player as being a class act… until he starts to lose, or wants a raise.
In many ways, acting like any player/franchise/fan relationship will last forever is disrespectful to the history of the sport—a cruel, capitalist venture that tries to convince us otherwise by liberally applying sepia tone, organ music, and concepts like respecting values it never actually had any intent to hold to in the first place.
Dirk’s next book, Bigger Than The Game, out February 25th. Pre-Order and save 15-25% off the cover price.