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 08

Josh Thole Injury Tempers Win

Not to be lost in the excitement of the Mets’ come-from-behind victory last night on Jordany Valdespin’s pinch three-run homer is the injury to catcher Josh Thole that could keep him out for at least one week.

THOLE: After collision. (Getty)

Thole, involved in a collision at home plate with former Met Ty Wigginton, complained of headaches and dizziness and returned to New York today to be examined for a possible concussion. Thole has a history of concussions, having sustained one in June of 2010 while at Triple-A Buffalo when he was hit in the head on a backswing.

In all probability, the Mets will place Thole on the seven-day disabled list – new for players suspected of concussions – and bring up a catcher from Buffalo, perhaps Rob Johnson, who once caught R.A. Dickey when both were with Seattle.

Major League Baseball, like other professional sports, are taking the issue of concussions more seriously. The multi-million dollar lawsuit by former players against the NFL has caught everybody’s attention.

The Mets should be more cautious than most with concussions for their handling of Ryan Church’s concussion several years ago. Injured trying to break up a double play in Atlanta, Church flew to Denver after that series. He played sporadically for several weeks before the team finally placed him on the disabled list.

Not surprisingly, the Mets caught considerable flack for their handling of Church, although the outfielder never publicly criticized the team at first and said he was all right to play.

The Church incident was poorly handled by all parties, from the Mets for not being more cautious and simply taking the word of the player initially, to Church for trying to play through the injury, and Church’s agent, for not suggesting, and then arranging, a second medical opinion after the injury.

While the Church injury didn’t occur long ago – it was during Willie Randolph’s tenure as manager – professional sports have since made radical changes in how head injuries are handled.

 

 

 

Apr 26

Mets Lineup For April 26 Against Marlins

I’ve always loved day games during the week, especially when the Mets were on the road because it enabled me to explore a city, check out a restaurant, and in the case of a getaway game, catch a flight to the next city.

The Mets scheduled today’s game in the afternoon not so New York fans could watch the NFL draft, but so they could fly to Denver and check into their hotel at a decent time.

I’ve always thought every getaway game should be in the afternoon so teams could be fresh for the next series. I wonder how many times a team might have lost because their players were dragging from flying all night.

The Mets are looking to sweep the Marlins this afternoon behind Jon Niese. Here’s his support:

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, cf
Ruben Tejada, ss
Daniel Murphy, 2b
David Wright, 3b
Lucas Duda, rf
Ike Davis, 1b
Josh Thole, c
Jordany Valdespin, lf
Jon Niese, lhp

LINEUP COMMENTS: Ike Davis will move up to sixth in the batting order, but that has more to do with Jordany Valdespin playing left. With Jason Bay out Terry Collins will juggle that position. When Andres Torres returns presumably sometime next week, I would think Kirk Nieuwenhuis will play left field and stay at the top of the order. He’s done nothing to warrant a demotion to the minors or a drop in the batting order.

Apr 25

It Was Wright Or Reyes

Jose Reyes received cheers last night. He also heard boos from the largely uninspired Citi Field crowd. Reyes didn’t exactly pack them in last night, did he?

REYES: Smiles before the boos.

David Wright wasn’t surprised by the lukewarm ovation, saying some people would never forgive Reyes while others understood why he left.

Reyes simply said the Mets never made him an offer, which he took to mean they didn’t want him. There can be no other explanation.

In retrospect, despite lip service to the contrary, the Mets were never going to be in it for Reyes. This is a player who makes his living with his legs, but missed considerable time the previous two seasons with assorted muscle pulls. The first years of his career were the same.

Reyes is a breakdown waiting to happen. He is a high maintenance sports car frequently in the shop.

What Reyes didn’t say last night, was he was in it for the last dollar and the Mets knew they couldn’t swim in that end of the pool. No, the Mets didn’t go out of their way last year to keep Reyes, but he didn’t exactly go out of his way to say he wanted to stay.

It was an inevitable divorce; two parties seeing the end and doing nothing to stay together. Passive aggressive? Not committing is a statement.

The Mets, not knowing their future finances, did know they couldn’t keep Reyes, then re-sign Wright, and then fill in the rest of the pieces. It just wasn’t going to happen. It couldn’t happen with Johan Santana and Jason Bay on the payroll, and after all that money wasted on Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and others. Even with Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez gone, the Mets couldn’t afford to keep both. Not with what they knew at the time.

The choice was Reyes’ flash and speed against Wright’s power and consistency. While both had sustained injuries, the Mets decided Wright might last longer at the top of his game than Reyes, even with the latter having a stellar year and winning the batting title.

Reyes had injuries the previous two years and had already been on the disabled list twice last summer. When he returned the second time, he turned it off as to not risk hurting himself and his chances in the market. In doing so, they had to wonder if this decline would continue and what he would be like at the end of his contract.

Conversely, Wright hurt his back, but it was in making an aggressive play. These things happen. Wright lost his power stroke hitting 14 homers last year, but after 29 the season before. The Mets’ gamble, enhanced by moving in the fences, was Wright could sustain being a power hitter longer than Reyes could be a speed threat.

Power is more marketable, and so is Wright’s personality and grit. Reyes tweaks a hamstring and is out for two weeks; Wright played a month with a small fracture in his back and this year with a broken pinkie.

Wright plays with passion; Reyes plays with flair. Which would burn out first?

The Mets might have gotten their answer when Reyes took himself out of the season finale after bunting for a hit to preserve his batting title. I can’t imagine Wright pulling himself from a game for such a me-first motive. Reyes turned his back on the fans who supported him and came out to say good bye.

Maybe the Mets and Reyes weren’t loyal to each other, but the fans were loyal to Reyes and he dissed them. Mets fans have, and always will have, an inferiority complex. It comes from being the second team in town. And, in leaving, Reyes reinforced that insecurity and told the public Miami’s millions were more important than the Mets’ millions.

He was saying New York wasn’t good enough. Meanwhile, Wright has been saying New York is all he wants.

It really wasn’t a hard decision after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 24

How Will You Remember Jose Reyes?

We all glanced at the schedule when it came out to see when Jose Reyes would return to New York with the Marlins. David Wright says he misses his friend, but remembers the dynamic Reyes from a different perspective than we do.

REYES: Sitting alone after leaving his last Mets game (AP).

I’ll always remember Reyes as a dynamic player with an electric smile, but also prone to moodiness, injuries and taking plays off. Such as not covering second base in a late-season game against Washington which led to a big inning and another loss during the Mets’ historic 2007 collapse.

Reyes returns tonight and I wonder what the reaction will be. I doubt it will be as warm as the one Shea Stadium gave Mike Piazza when he returned as a San Diego Padre in 2006. There will be cheers, but I can’t see there being overwhelming affection.

While Wright says he wants to remain and retire with the Mets, Reyes never said anything like that last summer. I always got the feeling Reyes already had one foot out the door. Of course, the Mets never did, or said, anything to indicate they wanted to keep him.

Maybe that’s the feeling Reyes had when he bunted for a base hit and took himself out of the game to preserve his batting title in the season finale. That’s his last moment with the Mets, and not a classy way to say goodbye. It reminded me how LeBron James left the court in his last game with the Cavaliers. Both looked like they couldn’t get out of town fast enough.

I don’t like that it is, but taking himself out to preserve his title will be my enduring image of Reyes as a Met. That, and hardly running in the second half. Clearly, the injury prone Reyes wanted to protect his fragile hamstrings and not damage his stock in the free-agent market. That was selfish and disrespectful to his teammates and fans. Your remembrances might be different.

Anybody who understood what was going on with the Mets last year knew Reyes was gone. The team was in financial distress – still is – and wasn’t about to give Reyes a $100-plus million contract. With his recent injury history to his legs and declining base stealing totals, the Mets couldn’t afford to go six or seven years with him. As a rebuilding team, they couldn’t risk sinking that much money or years into a player who already had shown signs of breaking down.

That wouldn’t  be good business.

The Mets always treated Reyes well and gave him a long-term deal early in his career (2006) when they weren’t obligated. They could have played the system and lowballed him. Reyes grew up poor, was a new father, and insecure about his money. The Mets helped him; it was an investment in the future.

Years later, Reyes had no intention of leaving money on the table. He knew the Mets wouldn’t be the highest bidder. He was probably checking the real estate listings in Miami last August.

“It’s sad what has happened there.” Reyes said. “I loved New York. I loved playing for the Mets and I loved the fans, but there was no way it was going to work our for me to stay.”

Well, there was. He never told the Mets what it would have taken to keep him and had no intention of giving a home team discount.

It was a business decision – by both parties.

Reyes is a sensitive guy. Always has been. When he said he couldn’t wait to come back, you can take that a number of ways. And, you wouldn’t be wrong to think it is to stick it to the Mets.