Jun 01

History Revised With Carlos Beltran Returning

Covering baseball for over two decades taught me several things, some simple and others more complex. Several of these valuable lessons will come into play tonight with Carlos Beltran’s return to New York to face the Mets as a member of the Cardinals.

Baseball has its ironies and Beltran comes back playing for the team that bounced the Mets from the 2006 NLCS. He also finds himself playing behind the pitcher, Adam Wainwright, who threw the knee buckling curveball that froze Beltran and forever placed him into the darkest recesses of Mets lore.

BELTRAN: Had some magic moments with that swing.

As far as irony goes, this is pretty delicious stuff, but not so savory are the remembrances of Beltran by Mets’ fans of his tenure here and comments made, and written, by several members of the New York media, beginning with WFAN’s Craig Carton, nothing more than a shock jock who vainly tries to entertain with vulgarity and cheap, crass humor.

This morning he crudely made fun of a mole on the side of Beltran’s face.

Making fun of a person’s looks or physical abnormality in the attempt of humor is simply low. It also does nothing to add to the supposed theory of New York fans and media being sophisticated. How sophisticated is it to joke about a person’s physical appearance or blemish? Are we still in the fifth grade, Carton? And, what is it Boomer Esiason always ends his show with? Stay classy New York.

Nothing classy about Carton this morning.

I don’t think much about Beltran’s reception tonight. He’ll get his fair share of cheers. Boos, too. There will also be indifference, which, to an athlete is more venomous than hate.

When it comes to Beltran’s career with the Mets, there’s nothing about it that warrants hate. Beltran was signed after a historic playoff run with the Houston Astros. The Mets, then on the verge of developing into a contender, were at an interesting phase in their history and Beltran was signed as a cornerstone.

The Mets wrestled Beltran from the Yankees that winter, but there would always be the wonder if he really wanted Queens because his agent, Scott Boras, made a last minute pitch to the Yankees.

Beltran struggled his first season with the Mets – a lot of players do in making the transition to the city – but what highlighted that summer was him playing with a broken face after a horrific outfield collision with Mike Cameron.

Say what you will about Beltran’s quiet, and low key demeanor and persona, but he played hurt and when healthy produced and posted significant numbers. He might have been one of the Mets’ best position players they have ever had if he was healthy his entire tenure here.

Beltran had an incredible 2006 season, which unfortunately for him has been reduced to one at-bat. More of those sophisticated fans at work, right?

The Mets haven’t been close to the World Series since, but that hasn’t been Beltran’s fault as much as it was their inability to bolster their rotation and bullpen, to overcome a long string of serious injuries and poor signings and acquisitions.

To say Beltran’s at-bat against Wainwright slammed shut the Mets’ playoff aspirations is an oversimplification because there is that matter of blowing a seven-game lead with 17 remaining in 2007 plus another late-season collapse in 2008. Totally unfair to pin that all on Beltran.

Beltran was a very good player on a flawed team and should be remembered for his ability to perform while frequently injured. Outside of the episode when Beltran had surgery on his own – and can you blame him considering the Mets’ shoddy history of handling of injuries? – he was pretty much a team player.

Much has been attempted to be made of about a divide in the Mets’ clubhouse between the Hispanic and American players with Beltran being made a cause. In reality, the central figure in that friction was more Carlos Delgado, brought on by his differences with then manager Willie Randolph.

Delgado had some clubhouse lawyer in him, while Beltran’s personality precluded him from being a vocal presence. And, Delgado had a deeper influence on Jose Reyes than Beltran, so keep than in mind, too, when laying the groundwork for Reyes’ departure.

Beltran was a very good player who didn’t live up to the expectations created  by that monster postseason when he was with Houston. He was never going to live up to those lofty expectations or that salary.

The important thing to remember, however, is he tried. And for that, he deserves your respect and cheers tonight.

 

 

 

 

May 16

David Wright Should Be Named Captain At The Right Time

I’ve advocated David Wright as Mets captain several times on this blog, first at the end of the 2006 season. There’s nobody else remotely close to consider, but like the others this would be an awkward time.

WRIGHT: Captain material.

Before, there was the fear of how much weight he would carry in a room that featured veterans Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado. Jose Reyes, you might recall gravitated toward Delgado for advice despite his well publicized friendship with Reyes.

Then, when Beltran was injured and everybody knew he was leaving, there was the risk of alienating the temperamental Reyes.

Reyes is gone now, but the Mets still aren’t moving, and won’t do so until Wright’s contract is resolved. How embarrassing would it be for the Mets to name Wright captain and have him leave as a free agent? That could only happen to the Mets.

Continue reading

Apr 08

Lucas Duda Powers Mets

Out of the ashes of last season we might have uncovered some life, that being Lucas Duda’s power. The guy is frighteningly strong and homered twice yesterday to beat the Braves.

DUDA: In HR trot.

With last season a washout from the beginning, it was a matter of time before Carlos Beltran was traded and that opened the door for Duda. That, and Ike Davis’ freakish injury.

After the Beltran trade the Mets finally acknowledged Duda’s future was in right field and played him there at the end. When you have a losing team, you must always think ahead and that’s what the Mets were able to accomplish last year with Duda.

“Lucas benefited from last summer when he was in the lineup every day and he realized he belongs,” manager Terry Collins said. “He put good swings on mistakes, he’s got the strength to hit it out of anywhere. He’s got a chance to be some kind of power hitter.”

Duda took advantage on the shorter dimensions with one of his homers, but the ball was still crushed. Later, he admitted to a confidence burst.

“Any time you produce a little bit you get that confidence going, and its carried over,” Duda said. “I think everybody [has doubts]. I don’t think you’d be human if you don’t.”

With Duda, Davis and David Wright, the Mets have some potent power potential in the middle of the order. They’d have even more if Jason Bay would produce.

 

 

Mar 19

Settlement favors Mets. Will it change things?

Whenever a mediator – in this case New York Gov. Mario Cuomo – brokers a settlement between two warring parties, despite the agreement and presumption of peace, there is a winner.

Cuomo said, “nobody gets everything they want in a settlement,’’ but the Wilpons got what they needed in Irving Picard’s “Battle for the Mets.’’

Sure, Fred Wilpon wanted to come away unscathed, but in the end the settlement was kind to him and the Mets. Wilpon gets to keep his team and could be on the hook for just $162 million, far more palatable than the initial $1 billion lawsuit, and later the $380 million ceiling ruled by Judge Jed S. Rakoff.

Picard saw earlier decisions going toward Wilpon; the Mets saw a long and costly trial.

“The closer you get to trial the closer you get to the reality of trial,’’ Cuomo said.

The reality of it is Wilpon could owe less than $162 because the settlement allows him to go after the $178 million they claim to have lost in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scandal.

Of the $178 million, Picard has already recovered $10 million. So, in essence Wilpon and Picard have formed an odd partnership.

On top of a shrinking settlement, the Mets don’t have to pay anything for three years. While this settlement eases the financial burden on the Mets and possibly offers more a sense of economic clarity, it doesn’t assure the Mets a climate of  “normalcy,’’ as suggested by Cuomo.

Since Carlos Beltran took that curveball from Adam Wainwright to end the 2006 NLCS, normalcy for the Mets has been blown division leads in 2007 and 2008, a shoddy bullpen, a string of injuries, a line of incomprehensible and suffocating contracts, two managerial changes, a front office overhaul and a slashed payroll of $50 million.

The Mets’ austerity forced the trading of Beltran and closer Francisco Rodriguez, and free-agent departure of Jose Reyes. It could also lead to trading David Wright.

What happened Monday was a victory for Wilpon, but it doesn’t immediately change the state of his team of the field. The Mets are projected to finish last in the National League East in their fourth straight losing season.

That is what normalcy has been recently for the Mets and that isn’t about to change. The three-year relief from making payments is likely to be the same window before the team becomes baseball relevant again.

This was a stressful and expensive ordeal for Wilpon, who saw the very real possibility of losing his team. This settlement gives him a second chance. Hopefully, he’ll make the most of it.

 

Feb 22

On the power of positive thinking.

My expectations for the 2012 Mets are admittedly low, but that’s just me, and readers of this blog realize I don’t jump off the deep end when it comes to this team.

However, I will take if they continue the aggressive play they performed last year under Terry Collins. The Mets didn’t win, but there was a crispness to their play at times.

There was a marked difference in the improvement in hustle last year from the Jerry Manuel era. Collins also promised a greater concentration on fundamentals and at times we saw that last summer. The 2011 Mets did have their comeback moments. There were times when we felt good about them.

They did win 70 games despite missing Carlos Beltran for half a season; had Jose Reyes on the DL twice; lost Ike Davis for five months; had David Wright injured; watched Jason Bay give them nothing again; traded closer Francisco Rodriguez, who was having a good year, at the break; didn’t have Johan Santana all year; watched Mike Pelfrey regress and had Jon Niese injured. There was also a bullpen collapse and Daniel Murphy’s injury.

Come to think of it, considering all that, they were lucky to win 70 games. If you were told all that would happen coming out of spring training you would have jumped at 70 wins.

Reyes will be difficult to replace, but a healthy Wright and Davis could offset the loss of Beltran. Anything Bay and Santana gives them has to be considered a bonus. Pelfrey and Niese just have to be better, don’t they?

If the Mets play fundamentally sound and pitch better they could approach .500. The season is six months long, and one or two more wins a month gets us to the breakeven record. No, .500 doesn’t get you into the playoffs, but it is the first step in rebuilding.

I want this team, as Fred Wilpon once said, to play meaningful games in September. If that happens, Citi Field could be a fun place to visit this summer, and that’s what this franchise needs.