Oct 01

Missing David Wright

WRIGHT: Says goodbye. (AP)

                                     WRIGHT: Says goodbye. (AP)

It was a special night for a special player and an even better person.

David Wright’s eyes welled up and his voice cracked as he tried to fight back tears as he addressed the Citi Field crowd there to honor him. It was a very human thing to do, which is why they filled the park one last time Saturday night to thank the man who was a better person then ballplayer, and was one of them.

”You had my back from day one,” Wright told the crowd who was there for the fireworks and cheer him because the Mets stopped playing meaningful baseball in May.

”You guys welcomed me, a 21-year-old kid from Virginia. You welcomed me as a New Yorker.”

Mets fans loved him and Wright loved them in return, and he did so by staying when others would have left, by always playing hard, by representing himself and his team with class and dignity, and by treating people with respect.

All the things fans want from their heroes Wright gave them, whether it was signing autographs, visiting children in hospitals, or posing for pictures. And, above all else, wanting to be a Met.

”I’ve always tried to picture myself in the stands or picture a kid watching me play for the first time in the stands, and tried to play the game the right way,” Wright said. ”I think that I’ve always treated the game that way. If there’s a kid in the stands that is looking for a player to try to emulate like I used to as a young kid, I wanted to be that player.”

Wright was never a ”look at me” player on the field, or a ”don’t bother me” personality off it. I spent a lot of time with Wright when I covered the Mets, and my best conversations with him weren’t always about baseball.

It was late in the summer of 2006 and the Mets had just clinched the NL East. His face was wet from sweat and champagne and he puffed on a cigar as he leaned against the rail in front of the Mets dugout. I remember asking him about the upcoming playoffs, and he said, ”I don’t know. I just want to enjoy this for now.”

We talked for a few more minutes before one of his teammates walked up and sprayed more champagne. The next year, the Mets blew a seven-game lead with 17 games remaining. Wright hit over .340 during that stretch, but was the go-to guy for the media covering the team. He was asked about manager Willie Randolph’s future and he was clear who was to blame: ”This was on the players.”

It didn’t matter the issue, Wright was always there for a quote, and he didn’t hold back. He had no sympathy for players who cheated with performance-enhancing drugs. Whether the Mets won or lost, and they did a lot of losing, Wright was always accessible.

When the Mets swept Chicago in the 2015 playoffs and the Cubs gave him the third base bag, I needed a quote and he answered my text. He was always good that way. When Mets public relations Shannon Forde passed away, I went to the memorial service at Citi Field and was surprised that Wright had flown up from spring training to give a eulogy.

On second thought, no, I wasn’t.

Wright never did anything to embarrass himself or the Mets, and was deeply hurt in 2011 when owner Fred Wilpon told a national magazine Wright was ”not a superstar.”

He felt slighted, again a very human emotion.

Even so, because Wright wanted to retire a Met, he re-signed with them in 2012 for an eight-year, $138-million extension and will be paid through 2020.

There are some cynics who foolishly said Wright hung on for the money and the Mets’ Citi Field party last night was a sham, for them to sell a few more tickets before getting on to the business of hiring a new general manager and starting over once again, this time without the face of their franchise.

They’ll do so because Wright’s body betrayed him.

In late-April, 2011, Wright was injured attempting to make a diving tag at third base. He remained in the game and as was his nature, he kept playing through the pain. He played for nearly a month before finally getting an MRI that revealed a stress fracture in his lower back.

He returned from the disabled list in late-July, 2011, played that year’s final 63 games. Over the next two seasons, he ended up on the disabled list multiple times with shoulder and hamstring issues.

In early-2015, Wright reinjured his hamstring sliding into second base, and during that time was diagnosed with lumbar spinal stenosis, which causes intense muscle and nerve pain in the lower back and legs due to a narrowing of the spinal column.

He returned to return in time to give the Mets two moments to remember on the field and a demonstration of his value in the clubhouse. In his first game back off the disabled list, Wright hit a monstrous homer in Philadelphia. He also homered in the World Series.

However, there might not have been a World Series had Wright not lectured Matt Harvey on focusing on what was important. Harvey, who was coming off surgery, suggested through his agent, Scott Boras, that he should shut it down for the season to protect his arm.

Wright told Harvey the pitcher’s indecision had become a distraction and October opportunities are rare; he was the Mets’ captain and was demonstrating the leadership the team wasn’t getting from general manager Sandy Alderson or manager Terry Collins.

Wright demonstrated more leadership during a spring training game that spring in Port St. Lucie. Wright entered the clubhouse to get something from his locker when he spotted Noah Syndergaard sitting alone at a table with a plate of food.

Incensed, Wright told the rookie he should be in the dugout with his teammates watching the game, asking questions, learning things. While Wright was talking, Bobby Parnell picked up Syndergaard’s plate and dumped it in the trash.

”The winning attitude,” Syndergaard said of what he learned about the incident. ”That is something David talked to me about when the whole situation went down. It taught me how to be a student of the game a little bit more. You go out [to the bench] to try to learn something new. You don’t need to be inside eating lunch. Something could be happening that you could potentially learn from.”

In both cases, Wright didn’t bring up either incident and downplayed his role.

Jacob deGrom said it isn’t even close, but Wright, ”is the best teammate I’ve ever been around.”

The only problem is Wright hasn’t been around.

In early-2016, after only 134 at-bats, Wright sustained a herniated disc in his neck that required season-ending surgery. While rehabbing, Wright was diagnosed with a right shoulder impingement. Later that summer, Wright underwent rotator cuff surgery and all of 2017 was lost.

There were whispers Wright would never play again, but he wasn’t ready to call it a career. He was determined to play again, to have his daughters, two-year-old Olivia Shea and four-month-old Madison see him play, even if they didn’t know what they were seeing.

Wright could explain it to them later.

Before the weekend, Wright said: ”As a young player … you think you can play forever. For me, unfortunately, my body is not allowing it to happen.”

However, the Mets wanted to give Wright one more moment in the sun. Overanxious, Wright swung at the first pitch and grounded out to third in a pinch-hitting appearance Friday night.

Last night was choreographed.

When the Mets took the field, Wright ran out to third base, but his teammates stayed behind. Next, Jose Reyes ran out to shortstop and the two embraced. Suddenly, it was 2006 again, and the two teammates who were supposed to play together for decades were back in their twenties.

Wright, who needs two hours of stretching and exercises just to get ready to play, reached his goal of starting one more game. Few players leave the game on their own terms, and Wright didn’t, either.

”I am at peace with the work I’ve put in,” Wright said. ”I’m not at peace with the results. I want to keep playing.”

Wright finished with a .296 average, 242 homers, 970 RBI, .376 on-base percentage and .867 OPS. He is unquestionably the greatest player to begin and end his career with the Mets. His career was on a Hall of Fame trajectory before the injuries, but Wright never lamented his misfortune. He never made excuses. He just kept working harder.

He didn’t want to go out that way, but he didn’t beg for this weekend. He earned this weekend.

“If you’re not a person like David Wright is, you don’t get to get honored like this,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “These guys are going to play baseball for a small part of their lives, and then they have to be human beings the rest of it. They should all look up to David in that regard.”

And, Wright knew what he meant to the Mets.

“It’s been a long road to get to that goal, but the love and the support I’ve received from inside the organization, outside the organization has been first class, and words can’t express the gratitude I have for everybody,” Wright said. “I said it when I was a younger player and I’ll say it again: I truly bleed orange and blue, and throughout this process, the love and the support and the respect from inside and outside the organization have meant the world to me. Thank you to everybody involved, and you’ll never have any idea how much it means to me.”

If you have any sense of compassion, all you had to do is look into Wright’s red eyes as he held the microphone and addressed the crowd, even the cynics.

His words choking back the tears, Wright said: ”To the fans, words can’t express my gratitude and appreciation for always having my back. You’ve accepted me as one of your own, and that right there is a tremendous honor.

“This is love. I can’t say anything else. This is love.”

Jun 11

Timing Of Gonzalez Release Is Bizarre

Not that Adrian Gonzalez was going to turn their season around, but the timing of the Mets releasing the 36-year-old first baseman after Sunday night’s game – even with three strikeouts – seems a little odd.

For a team in desperate need of offense, why would you release a player who is third in RBI with 26, especially with the leader Asdrubal Cabrera leaving Sunday’s game with an apparent hamstring injury and the second-ranked player in Yoenis Cespedes suffering a setback in his rehab and is out indefinitely?

GONZALEZ: Gone already. (AP)

GONZALEZ: Gone already. (AP)

Bringing up Dominic Smith, who wasn’t impressive in his trial last season, doesn’t appear to be the answer, especially when the Mets are also throwing out the idea of trying Jay Bruce and Jose Bautista at first base.

Smith, who was injured and missed most of spring training because of a strained quad muscle, never had the opportunity to compete with Gonzalez and learn from the All-Star.

As is often the case with GM Sandy Alderson, the announcement was made after the media availability to Gonzalez was over and reporters didn’t have a chance to speak with him.

The Mets will also bring up Ty Kelly with Smith and for the second time in a month, catcher Jose Lobaton was designated for assignment.

As far as Cespedes goes, there’s no timetable for his return any longer. Cespedes played in a rehab game Friday with Double-A Binghamton without incident and sustained a setback Saturday. He’s now in Port St. Lucie working with the Mets’ rehabilitation staff.

“We had been excited about the prospect of getting him back in a few days,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “But we can’t let these injuries stop us from doing what we need to do. We have other Major League players who can step up and get the job done, and that’s what we need to do.

“As this continues to move forward, and it continues to drag on, there has to be a level of understanding that it’s maybe something you battle throughout the rest of your career.

“But I don’t think we’re at that point yet. The goal is still to get him to where he can be out there and feel normal.’’

Cespedes missed 81 games last season and has already missed 24 with more games coming off the schedule on a daily basis.

Feb 14

Alderson Wrong Again: Mets Do Need More Pitching

Of all of baseball’s many clichés, “you can never have too much pitching,’’ which Mets GM Sandy Alderson, whom his biographer claims in one of the smartest men in the game, refuted today.

DE GROM: Leads rotation loaded with questions. (AP)

DE GROM: Leads rotation loaded with questions. (AP)

Alderson told reporters today in Port St. Lucie: “Notwithstanding many opinions to the contrary, I’m not convinced we need more pitching.’’

There aren’t many things I agree with Alderson on recently, and this certainly isn’t one of them.’’

Let’s look at the facts:

  • Every possible pitcher in the rotation and that includes Jacob deGrom early in his career has undergone some type of surgery or been placed on the disabled list.
  • Noah Syndergaard missed nearly five months last year with a torn lat muscle, and only pitched two innings after coming back from the disabled list. He reported to spring training in good shape, but we don’t know how he’ll respond to a full camp much less a full season.
  • Matt Harvey has worked only one injury-free season since 2012 and twice had season-ending surgery.
  • Lefty Steven Matz has been to the DL four times since his major league debut in 2015.
  • Zack Wheeler has started 17 games in three years.
  • Seth Lugo is trying to rebound from a partial tear of his right ulnar collateral ligament.
  • Robert Gsellman sustained a torn left hamstring last year and had trouble with his mechanics.

 

That’s seven possible starters and doesn’t include Rafael Montero, who has consistently labored with his command.

Jake Arrieta is the top free agent remaining, but we’d be spinning our wheels to think that will happen, and Alderson is already on record as saying the front office doesn’t want to forfeit a compensatory draft pick and a half-million dollars of international bonus pool space.

So, given the current status of the Mets’ pool of potential starters, how can Alderson responsibly say he doesn’t see how they don’t need more pitching.

 

May 30

With Offense Humming No Need To Rush Cespedes

With the Mets’ offense humming along, there’s no reason to rush Yoenis Cespedes back from the disabled list, especially since he’s still experiencing soreness in his right quad.

Cespedes hit today in Port St. Lucie and will be re-evaluated tomorrow. He won’t be back this week as the Mets originally hoped, so the delay will last until next week.

CESPEDES: No need to rush him now. (AP)

CESPEDES: No need to rush him now. (AP)

“He’s making strides,” manager Terry Collins said. “We’re getting close. The one thing I learned a long time ago is you can’t control the healing process of any player. Just because Yoenis isn’t here, doesn’t mean we can’t win.”

However, the Mets have the potential to push the recovery timetable but should exercise patience. The offense has been hot for much of the month, with everybody in the outfield, Lucas Duda and Neil Walker all producing for the better part of the last two weeks.

Overall, the Mets have homered 12 times in their last eight games; they lead the majors with a .394 on-base percentage with RISP and are second in hitting (.310) in that situation.

What has let down the Mets has been their pitching, both starting and the bullpen, and Cespedes has no bearing on those numbers.

The Mets have already pushed Cespedes back several times, so the prudent decision would be to wait another couple of weeks and re-test him then.

Do they want to bring him back and risk an injury that could sideline him for another month or two?

Mar 30

Are Mets Rushing Wheeler?

Evidently, Mets GM Sandy Alderson didn’t learn much from Matt Harvey’s innings limit fiasco in 2015. That’s what I took from his comments Thursday with the news Zack Wheeler made the Opening Day roster and rotation.

WHEELER: Why the rush? (AP)

WHEELER: Why the rush? (AP)

I’m happy for Wheeler because it has been a long, two-year road following Tommy John surgery. However, I’m not sure he’s physically ready and it appears the Mets might be pushing him, and possibly for the wrong reasons.

Alderson suggested the decision to take Wheeler north was made in part as a psychological boost to him, but is that a good enough reason?

“From our standpoint, it’s been a long trek for Zack, and we felt if it was kind of an uptick physically, then emotionally and mentally it would be a real positive for him to begin the season and not just be relegated to Port St. Lucie again,” Alderson told reporters. “He’s feeling good and we feel real good about it.”

I’m glad Wheeler feels better – who wouldn’t be? – but is he strong enough? And, do the Mets have a definitive plan to keep him strong and healthy?

Maybe I missed it, but I couldn’t find anything after translating Alderson.

“Assuming things go well, [Wheeler] will pitch until he reaches a limit,” Alderson said. “We have a target, but targets move, so I think it will depend a lot on how he’s performing and how he’s feeling, try to build in a little bit of flexibility. I don’t think he’s going to pitch 200 innings.”

Of course not, but that’s Alderson being sarcastic.

The target initially was 110 innings. Then up to 120 to 125. But, if targets “move,” as Alderson said, then it isn’t really a limit, is it?

Weeding through Alderson’s words, one can’t find when he would be shut down, or if he will even sit at all. That is reminiscent of what happened with Harvey when his agent, Scott Boras, came forward with an innings limit to catch Alderson off guard.

Because they are blessed with depth in Seth Lugo and Rafael Montero, they have the luxury of being able to shut him down.

Wheeler’s in the rotation and will make his first start, April 7, against Miami. Figuring six innings a start, Wheeler would reach his limit after 20 starts, which puts him around mid-to-late July.

What could be a driving force to go with Wheeler is because Steven Matz has been shut down for at least three weeks with a sore left elbow. But, they are trying to fill the void of one injured pitcher with another questionable pitcher.

Where’s the logic in that, especially when they have the Lugo and Montero options?

“It’s been a long road,” Wheeler told reporters. “I know I’m starting probably because Steve got hurt, and that is unfortunate and I wish him a fast recovery. But I’m here and healthy and want to pitch, and that is what I’m about to be able to do.”

I hope this all works out for Wheeler and this doesn’t come back to bite him in the elbow, or Alderson in the butt.