Cano was personable as always, contrite when talking about his mistakes, giddy about how the Mariners are playing in his absence and hopeful when talking about a chance to contribute to the team when he's eligible to return on August 14.
The large pictures on the wall stared down ominously at Robinson Cano as he walked into the room, accompanied by Mariners chairman John Stanton.
In “The Legends” conference room in the upper levels of the Mariners’ offices at Safeco Field, photos of the organization’s hall of famers are adorned prominently. It wasn’t that long ago, roughly two months, where it was possible to envision a photo of Cano flashing that high-wattage smile someday joining the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Dave Niehaus and more on that wall.
Well, the simple fact that he was there, in street clothes and meeting with local media for the first time since being suspended for 80 games for violating the Major League Baseball joint drug testing policy makes that scenario seem unlikely. His legacy as one of the most productive second baseman in MLB history is now tarnished.
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Seated at the table, rubbing his surgically repaired right hand that still showed minor swelling from a procedure in early May, Cano was personable as always, contrite when talking about his mistakes, giddy about how the Mariners are playing in his absence and hopeful when talking about a chance to contribute to the team when he’s eligible to return on August 14.
That easy trademark smile came back a few times during the 20-minute interview that wasn’t allowed to be publicly broadcast in video or audio format. While it wasn’t forced, it was obvious that the situation, his embarrassment and failure had drained some of the energy and joy from it and him.
“I wanted to meet with you guys before I go home because you are the guys that are always with us at home and on the road,” he said. “For me, it’s very important that I meet with you guys. I wanted to do this earlier. But I don’t want to be a distraction for the team. So I was waiting for the right time.”
His hands shook as he unfolded a piece of paper with typed out words and handwritten notes scribbled in red and black ink.
“I want to read some stuff that I wrote down so I don’t forget,” he said.
Here’s what he read:
“The city of Seattle has become my second home for my family and I. I’m grateful to the organization, my teammates and the fans and as you guys know, I’ve been getting tested for the last 12 seasons and I’ve never had an issue with MLB policy. I was being treated for some medical ailments and I was being supervised by a doctor. But at the same time, I understand that everything that goes into my body, I’m responsible for that.
I wanted to apologize genuinely to the city of Seattle and to all the fans, and the young baseball players in the (United) States and the DR (Dominican Republic) and most importantly to my teammates. I wanted to show my face to you guys. I don’t think for me it’s fair to just come back and walk into the clubhouse. I’m here now to take questions. One thing I want you to know, because of my agreement with MLB, I’m not allowed to go into details.”
Officially, Cano tested positive for Furosemide during the offseason. It isn’t a performance-enhancing drug, but a diuretic that masks the effects of performance-enhancing drugs.
After an investigation by the testing agency and Major League Baseball, the positive test was upheld and a suspension was levied. Cano appealed the suspension, claiming that drug was prescribed for high blood pressure, but then dropped the appeal just a few days before suffering a broken hand in a game in Detroit on May 13. His suspension was announced two days later. Since then, he’s been reduced to morning workouts at Safeco, an hour or two with his teammates and then exiled from the building once baseball activity begins. He watches every game from home.
“For me, this is the hardest thing that I’ve been going through in my life besides the death of my grandpa,” he said. “As you guys know, I love this game so much. For me, baseball is everything. You know I hate to sit in the dugout and have a day off. Being away from the game and not being able to sit in the dugout and cheer for my teammates, that makes it even harder.”
None of Cano’s teammates were aware of what was going on with him until the day the suspension was announced on May 15.
“It’s not a good feeling what I went through for a month and going out to play every day and knowing that you are waiting and having to see what’s going to happen,” he said. “The hardest thing was not being able to say anything to any of them, and they’re my friends. But I wasn’t able to say anything until they made the decision. That was the hardest thing for me to do when you come in every day and knowing that you want to say something but you can’t.”
The announcement of his suspension was a gut-punch to teammates, leaving some angry, others disappointed and all of them stunned. He knew he had to stand in front of all them and ask for forgiveness.
“It was really hard,” he said. “I didn’t know what to really say. You don’t even want to go in there. You’ve been part of the team and one of the leaders and this kind of thing happened. Like I told Jerry (Dipoto), I want to go in as a man and talk to them and apologize to my teammates.”
Days later, players like Felix Hernandez were wearing Cano hats in the clubhouse to show their solidarity with him. It meant something to him.
“We all make mistakes,” Cano said. “There is always someone out there making a mistake. If it didn’t happen to me, it could happen to somebody else. I mean we can judge anyone. We don’t know the situation that person is going through. I get it – a lot of people might judge me. The fans and anybody else can say what they think if they choose to. But at the same time, like I told the guys when I met with them – I do not want any of them to go through that situation. The way they’ve taken this, they’ve been on my side and I’m glad.”
But some of his former teammates in New York, like Mark Teixeira, were not on his side, accusing him of past PED usage. Even Yankees general manager Brian Cashman offered similar hints.
“Every time you hear a negative comment, it’s going to hurt anyone,” Cano said. “But I don’t really pay attention because what I really care about those who come out and say positive things like CC (Sabathia) and Mariano (Rivera). Because if you focus on the negative, then you’re always going to live in the past. I’m one who looks ahead. I don’t really care what they said. They can say whatever they want. I hope none of them or their family go through a situation like this because it’s easy to go out and judge anyone.”
It wasn’t just former teammates, but former opponents like Frank Thomas and Michael Young, who said that everything Cano has done in his career is now in question because of the positive test.
“Like I said, I’ve been tested for 14 years in the past and never had an issue with the MLB testing policy,” he said. “They are free to say whatever they want. That’s something I can’t control.”
But he can control the message to others about his situation.
“I would say to young guys, one, you have to be careful and make sure about anything you’re taking,” he said. “Secondly, we all make mistakes. And third, I don’t want any of them to go through this situation. I think all of us in here make mistakes and some things we regret at times. But for me, I’m going to keep my head up and be the same man I am. This is not a thing that is going to put myself down. I’m going to keep going out there and do what I do in the same way that I play.”
The plan for Cano is to fly to the Dominican Republic in the coming days. He’s been working out at Safeco Field every day at 10 a.m., but he wants to increase his workload. He can do that by going to his father’s baseball academy.
“I want to see live pitching,” he said. “I think it’s going to be easier for me to go home and see pitching. This guy throws like 90-92, guy that played professional in the Dominican, throws a lot of strikes.”
His commitment to preparation is for one reason.
“I’ve got to be ready from the beginning to help this team compete,” he said. “They’ve been playing so good and I need to help this team get to the playoffs.”
But how will he do it? There’s been much discussion about Dee Gordon’s success at second base since Cano’s suspension. And there is the looming issue of Cano being ineligible for the postseason. Would he be amenable to playing a different position on occasion to give Gordon requisite reps at second base?
“I haven’t talked to Jerry yet, but I would do anything for the team,” he said. “This is not about myself, this is about us as a team. We are playing for the city of Seattle — all of us, the city, my teammates and myself. I’m focused on bringing a title to Seattle so I would do whatever it takes to help this team to win. I understand I’m not going to be able to play in the playoffs so you got to give a chance to Dee to go out and play because when we get to the playoffs he’s going to have to come back and play second base.”
Is he worried that his return will mess up the team’s chemistry or success?
“We had that chemistry before I left and they kept it the same,” he said. “We are all on the same page here. We all want to win and make it to the playoffs. And that tells you what a great team we have to see what they’ve done even when I’m not able to play for 80 games. But seeing the guys go out and give everything they’ve got made it easier for me as a teammate because if we were losing and I had to sit and watch those games I’d be telling myself, if I was there it would be different. But you have to give the credit to the players, the manager, the coaching staff and the organization with the way they have pulled this team together even without me or anybody else, they can compete with anyone.”